I have been discouraged lately. There isn't any big reason for the discouragement. Just a few things haven't gone quite the way I thought they would and, as the pace of my life is picking up a bit, I'm having a little trouble keeping up. I kind of hoped that for once in my life I would embark on a new project (teaching preschool, facilitating a bible study, etc) really organized and on top of things. Not happening. I also find my finances discouraging. Every time it seems that we are getting our heads above water, something happens that dunks us under again. The truck needs a new battery; the washing machine overflows. Yes, overflows. On a small load of laundry. It's kaput.
The problem is that for me a little discouragement can be a dangerous thing. As a recovering perfectionist, I have a tendency, when things aren't exactly as I envisioned them, to throw the towel in and say to heck with it all. I get all fired up about being on the path that God intends for me to travel, determined to do His will no matter what. Then life doesn't really go at all the way I imagined it would and I want to jump back on the hamster wheel and earn both worldly approval and quite a bit more money. I reason that staying home with my kids really isn't that important and probably I would not even be missed if I stopped with my ministry, preschool and volunteer work. My thoughts can get out of control really, really quickly.
Luckily, I'm a recovering alcoholic. As such, I seek through prayer and meditation to improve conscious contact with God as I understand Him (namely Jesus Christ) praying only for knowledge of His will for me and the power to carry it out. And when it comes to the temptation to start seeking money, power, and a 401k, His answer is always the same: NO. I just can't seem to change His mind about that.
Yesterday I noticed discouragement was a trend among those closest to me in my church family. We all have been given "big picture" ideas of what God wants us to do with our lives and are all trying to follow Him and be obedient. And we all are facing trials that invite doubt, confusion, and frustration. I am so grateful that my eyes were opened to this common thread because it allowed me to see our situations more clearly.
We are followers of Christ. Following God is hard. We are devoting our lives to Him completely, loving Him with all our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits. It is by nature sacrificial. If it were easy, everybody would be doing it. If the moment you signed on to be a Christian you were handed a check for a million dollars there would be very few atheists. We will have those mountaintop moments when big "wow" things happen, when material blessings shower upon us, or when we feel absolutely at peace with where we are in life. But life isn't that way all the time... for anyone.
So I started getting into the Word and praying. God led me to several verses about not loving money (okay, already, I get it). He led to reach out to others and to give and receive encouragement from them. He led me to look to my blessings and to praise Him. In very little time, I was feeling crazy in love with Him again, rededicated to taking it step by step, one day at a time and being content in every circumstance. Ten minutes later, my washer overflowed.
That's what I love about the enemy; he always takes it just one step too far. Whatever your specific beliefs are about the devil and evil forces in general, I think you would be hard pressed not to admit that there is some force of darkness that tries to steal our joy. I personally believe in the devil, demons, and all that Biblical stuff. I believe that evil hates it when we are charged up for good and will try to throw a monkey wrench. But this time it was too late. I was too excited, too aware of the Truth, to give in and be grumpy. I grabbed some towels and laughed. I rejoiced that I get to get a new washing machine, maybe a cool, eco-friendly front-loader this time. Because I know God is going to provide for my needs and the needs of my family. It doesn't really matter if I have a washing machine. It matters that I have a God that loves me, delights in me, and wants me to rejoice! He is my encouragement, my strength, and my sweet, sweet song.
I had a great day today. I felt so blessed by every single one of the munchkins in my preschool class. I felt privileged to spend my day with them, watching them grow and teaching them that Jesus loves them. After our short time together, I got spend the rest of my day with my own little ones, building Play-Doh rainbows and singing silly songs. I was holding Baby Girl in my lap tonight after her bath. I gave her a big hug and said, "I love you." She smiled and asked, "And Jesus loves you?" Yes, he does. And that is encouragement enough.