by Scott Nelson, Lead Pastor
Hitting the Breaking Point
As this pandemic continues, many of us have faced deep discouragement. There’s a lot that we are facing. There is concern about health, we are worried about vulnerable people, we are stuck at home with our kids, we miss our loved ones, some marriages are struggling, those in recovery are struggling, there is financial uncertainty, people have lost jobs, and the future seems so uncertain. I have made over a hundred phone calls in the last month, and although most people are encouraged and staying connected, many people have been very discouraged at some point.
I have been there as well. When it was first announced that we had to shelter in place, there was so much work to do for the church. Our church leadership sprung into action, setting up church online, increasing media, setting up phone trees, making sure people were in Life Groups, and planning for delivering care packages. So many people stepped up, and our church is doing great. After about two weeks, I started to feel some anxiety about the future; this often came in the form of tightness in my chest. I ignored it because I had work to do–ever been there? But about a week ago, there was more bad news reported (big surprise), and I spiraled down pretty quickly. I hit my low point, and it was very discouraging. Thankfully, I had recently been surrounded by people who talked about dealing with discouragement in healthy ways. I accepted that I was discouraged and didn’t try to “quick fix” myself. I allowed myself feel down for a few days, and I was constantly in prayer and in God’s word. I talked with other people, but I mainly talked with God. And every time I did, I felt so much better. I also stopped watching the news!
My point in sharing the story is not to get more support (I have a lot of that from my church family). In fact, I’ve been overwhelmed with support. My point is that the support we get from God is the ultimate support we need to overcome discouragement at its core. We absolutely need each other, and people are a gift from God. But people are not a replacement for the hope that God gives us. We need something more. This something more is available to all but accessed by few.
When I hit my low point, I could feel an invitation from God Spirit. This was a call to the inner journey. The inner journey is harder, takes more time, and often reveals things that I don’t want to see. Questions and self-doubt flooded my mind. Why was I so downcast? There had already been such bad news, why was this one day affecting me so much? Why couldn’t I focus on the good things? The Holy Spirit didn’t answer my questions but invited me deeper, and He walked with me every step of the way. This is the journey I believe God is inviting each one of us to take with Him.
The Bible says that God loves us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). It says to draw near to God, and He will draw near to us (James 4:8). Of course, He has already drawn near to us through His Spirit and His Son; we just need to respond. James went on to write that we need to humble ourselves before the Lord, and He will lift us up. It is in surrender that we find strength, it is in discipline we find joy, and it is in God‘s presence that we find God’s help. There are no substitutes (and I think most of us have tried). God Himself is the antidote to our discouragement. The shortcut way doesn’t work; the Spirit’s hope rises as we draw near to Him from the deepest areas of our souls.
My discouragement low point was not over in a couple of hours. It took a few days. For many people it takes much longer. I cried out to God, I struggled, I was mad at myself, and I just wanted it to be over. But on this inner journey, I was invited to look at the dark areas of my soul. I couldn’t hide any longer. With God’s help I realized that, especially in times of high stress or crisis, I try to over-control the situation. Unfortunately, sometimes this works. But generally this is not the right thing to do, and it leads to me being frustrated, impatient, and overly-critical of anyone who cannot keep up with me. I just wanted God to make me better, and He answered back that I was being made better on a deeper level. He didn’t want to just take away the bad feelings; those feelings were an invitation to a deeper darkness that He wants to remove from my life.
I will share more thoughts on this subject next week. I want to close this week with an invitation. How are you doing? Have you shared your times of discouragement with others? Have you heard the voice of God inviting you into the inner life? I would love to hear your thoughts.