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~ Holy Discouragement ~

Who among us have not experienced discouragement? As in the words "discount," "disengage," and "disregard," the "dis" in "discouragement" connotes a reduction, in this case that of courage. Discouragement is a universal human experience. Every prophet, every apostle of Christ, even Jesus Himself knew about discouragement. When we feel it, we can find some consolation in that we are in good company. 

There seems to be something sacred about discouragement. Perpetrators of evil and destruction seem to be immune to discouragement. Reading accounts of Sadam's trial indicates he is not discouraged, neither is Bin Laden. Castro doesn't seem discouraged either. Stalin evidently died in a state of encouragement. Yes, Hitler killed himself, but I don't think it was out of discouragement but to avoid capture. There is no indication in St. John's Book of Revelation that Satan ever experienced discouragement. He, Satan, keeps plugging along courageously despite his intimate knowledge of Christ's plans for him.

So it almost seems that discouragement is a holy experience in a way. The apostle Peter was discouraged and consoled himself by returning to sea to fish. He was joined by a couple of other apostles. Judas was certainly discouraged by Jesus' disinterest (another "dis" word) in overthrowing the Roman occupation and dealt with that by an attempt to sabotage Christ's mission, which he inadvertently helped bring to completion. (More will be forthcoming concerning the recently published "Gospel of Judas.") John the Baptizer was discouraged during his imprisonment, enough to send his disciples to ask Christ, "Are you the One or not?" Jeremiah is known as "the weeping prophet," and tears were indeed the hallmark of his discouragement. Jonah sulked in self-pity after his assignment was completed. Elijah did what I tend to do, retreat into solitude. St. Paul was an exemplar of courage, yet he wrote about his bitterness when not one Christian mustered the courage to testify on his behalf during a trial. That must have been discouraging, and discouragement obviously motivated many of his letters to the early churches, particularly that of Corinth. Even God was discouraged at the rebelliousness of the Israelites in exodus, and Moses asked God to kill him in his discouragement.

The denial of discouragement by some Christian spokespersons and leaders makes me wonder about their spirituality. The leadership of many nations, and I am thinking of my own, deny being discouraged by the unfolding events of the world and their unfulfilled plans for change. Only the perpetrators of evil and genocide seem to not be discouraged. There is no shame in people who profess a devotion to God to admit discouragement. To not do so only aligns themselves with the perpetrators of evil. Holy discouragement, lamentations for one's sins, penance and works of restitution distinguish the godly from the ungodly.

Admitted discouragement, to self and others, nurtures humility. The gates to the kingdom of God require humility and self-denial of any sense of personal power, pride or control. That's why Jesus proclaimed that only those with the heart and spirit of a child can enter. And children are easily discouraged and not ashamed to express it. The secular world wants to evaporate discouragement, like spraying germicide on a fungus. "Get over it," "Move on," or "Have faith" are some of the words designed to "encourage." I don't know about you, but they don't work on me.

Discouragement that is not used to nurture oneself can grow into a paralytic condition of "giving up." To avoid that destructive end, we must use discouragement productively. We the people, and the leaders of our world's governments, can let discouragement wash over us like a cleansing shower. We can walk out of the shower cleansed of pride, of power, of control, of self-importance and self-centeredness. We can then clothe ourselves in humility and surrender to our God, prostrating ourselves in deference to His will, His wisdom, His love, His redemption, His likeness and His desire that we love and treat one another as "I have loved you."

Discouragement has been the motivator of much growth and activism. When Edison was asked about his discouragement over countless failures in manifesting his vision of the incandescent light bulb, he didn't deny discouragement. However, he reframed it, saying, "I learned a thousand ways a light bulb wouldn't work." Through discouragement, we too can learn a thousand ways our pursuit of power and control over our environment and other people won't work to bring about the manifestation of our personal vision for ourselves and others. Pursuing those ways would be a good thing to "give up," up to our God and Creator of all.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
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Spiritual Resource Services  © May 4, 2006

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