“The most wonderful time of the year!” This well-worn phrase describes what we’re all conditioned to expect out of the holiday season. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case for everyone.
The Holidays can be a discouraging time for some because they tend to amplify feelings which otherwise tend to remain dormant: we see our shortcomings more plainly, compare ourselves to family members who appear to have it all together, or are reminded of past traumas and wounds that feel reopened as everyone else celebrates.
Defeating Discouragement is a new series that addresses the types of discouragement we deal with, and explores scriptures that teach us how God provides a path out.
I waited patiently for the LORD to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.
Psalm 40:1-2 NLT
Russ, Nathan and Cameron kick-off this series discussing what it means to humble ourselves by choosing God as our way out of discouragement.
In this episode we cover:
01:13 – Why the holidays are a discouraging time for many
04:57 – How to become aware of discouragement
08:07 – The four states of discouragement – Understanding and identifying our cycles of sadness
- Emotional Discouragement – the day to day obstacles, difficulties, and disappointments
- Seasonal Discouragement – discouraging memories surfaced by specific time of year
- Situational Discouragement – moments of relationship rejection, personal failure, or missed opportunities
- Chronic Discouragement – a constant state of mental and emotional discouragement
10:38 – How does God make us emotionally strong?
11:18 – Choosing God – How God lifts us out of discouragement
18:24 – Why it’s hard to admit you’re discouraged
21:47 – How comparing your life to others makes you discouraged
27:24 – Why you can’t lift yourself out of the pit
Make sure to subscribe to the show to keep up with the next episodes on Defeating Discouragement.
Russ Ewell: Welcome to Deep Spirituality, we’ve got an interesting series of podcasts that are going to be coming to you called the Defeating Discouragement series. It’s going to be in five parts. We think it could be more depending on how long Cameron Straw talks who’s with us today. And how long Nathan Schaffernoth talks, who’s with us today. This is an important podcast because it’s the holiday season. Now if you’re listening to this when it’s not the holiday season, that’s fine because it’ll still work.
One of the songs that comes to my mind when I’m thinking about the Defeating Discouragement series is the Faith Hill song, “Where are you Christmas?” I want to say it’s from the Jim Carey Grinch movie.
It simply starts out:
“Where are you Christmas? Why can’t I find you? Why have you gone away? Where’s the laughter you used to bring me? Why can’t I hear music play?”
Most people know to some degree or another that the holidays can be one of the more discouraging times for a tremendous number of people: People who’ve experienced loss throughout the year of a sibling, of a daughter, a son, a spouse, a grandparent, uncle, an aunt. A lot of people remember back to holiday seasons when traumatic things happened to them, like hospitalization and sickness. In the midst of all the celebrating, sometimes people in pain suffer more because they see everybody else having an incredibly great time but they’re in misery. There are those who are alone – maybe they’re not alone physically, but they’re alone emotionally. So this is a series that’s been put together for that reason, to be able to hopefully encourage all of you out there personally but also to help you encourage other people.
Christmas time is one of the most incredibly encouraging times if we can make sure we beat discouragement. As Faith Hill sang about, we want to make sure that we help everybody listening and all of us in the room be able to regain laughter. Laughter not at a joke, but laughter. This, the joy of inside being at peace, being free, being forgiven, being hopeful, believing, having a dream, having a vision, having a sense of destiny. And that really is what helps us “hear the music play.” One of the things we’re going to do at the very beginning of this series is give you a smaller short introduction or devotional. This first episode is called Choosing God from the Defeating Discouragement series. And really the sub thought or the subtitle to all of these is “Ending the Self-Defeating and Debilitating Cycle of Discouragement.
Now, discouragement is a really interesting thing. I remember becoming a Christian, and about eight days after I became a Christian, I left town where I became a Christian and went home. And when I got home the church that I went to was a lot different than the one I was part of, less dynamic, less diverse, less inspiration, less involvement. It was a pretty tough go. And I began to miss church. I had to drive 20 minutes, which is nothing really now. But at the time when I was a student and driving my parents’ car, it was a long way, and I was just discouraged by being there. I remember I walked up, and I was talking to one of the Christians in that church, and he said, well, how long have you been at Christian?
I said, well, about 10 days. He said, wow, you’re really fired up. You’re really excited. And I said, well, thank you. And he said, I used to be like you. I just hope you can keep that.
That was discouraging. And so when I look at discouragement, I remember how I felt. I began to doubt God, doubt the Bible, doubt the church, the need to go to church. I had all of those things go through my mind and I think that holidays and milestone days sometimes can be the times where the forces of darkness go to work on us the most to discourage us into unbelief. And so one of the things I’ve been learning is to ask the question and really answer it: Why am I discouraged? At the time I went through that, I didn’t actually know I was discouraged because discouragement for me doesn’t usually produce sadness.
It produces a tendency to quit. And so I don’t go around depressed; in fact I can be happy, but I’m quitting and I’ve learned that when I start wanting to quit, I’m discouraged. Now what about you? Do you know when you’re discouraged? Are you aware of it, maybe as you’re going home for the holidays? Sometimes arguments break out between us and other people because we’re discouraged, we aren’t aware of it, and what’s really coming out is our bitterness, resentment, and cynicism about being discouraged. So, in Psalm 42, let’s start there. The psalmist asks this question:
Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and  my God! Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you— even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan, from the land of Mount Mizar.Psalm 42:6-7 NLT
The Psalmist says, my solution to my discouragement is I’m going to remember you.
You remember that wonderful movie, the Christmas classic, A Wonderful Life. At the beginning, Franklin, is the top angel talking to God, and he brings Clarence. Clarence is going to go down and help George Bailey. Franklin says, a man down on earth needs our help. Clarence, the angel who’s not quite got the skillset, says, Splendid. Is he sick? And Franklin responds,
“No, worse. He’s discouraged. At exactly 10:45 PM Earth time, that man will be thinking seriously of throwing away God’s greatest gift.”
And by talking about that, he was talking about the fact George Bailey wanted to kill himself. You know, we’ve been reading and I hope you’ve been paying attention to it: Life expectancy in the United States has declined again. In 2017 an escalating drug and suicide crisis along with a variety of health effects have made the life expectancy of Americans worse than it’s been in a century. And one of the things we have been reading about is diseases of despair that are causing the decrease in life expectancy: overdoses, alcoholism, and suicide. Discouragement is a disease of despair. And the way I tried to break it down for our discussion today is there are four states of discouragement.
The Four states of Discouragement: Understanding and Identifying Our Cycles of Sadness
- Emotional Discouragement – the day to day obstacles, difficulties and disappointments.
- Seasonal Discouragement- discouraging memories, surfaced by a specific time of year.
- Situational Discouragement – moments of relationship rejection, personal failure or missed opportunities.
- Chronic Discouragement – a constant state of mental and emotional discouragement. It never goes away.
We’re not talking here about emotional health things. I’m not a psychiatrist or psychologist and this is not a mental health podcast. If you have those kinds of situations and those kinds of needs, you should go see a mental health provider or professional who can help you out.
This isn’t going to solve that problem. But what a lot of us don’t understand is a great majority of us experience discouragement that can feel powerful in its impact and can even feel like we’ve got some kind of a problem. But what we really are dealing with is emotional discouragement, seasonal discouragement, situational discouragement or chronic discouragement. And so we’ll be talking about those more in the podcast as we go along.
Once we get caught in that cycle of sadness, it can sabotage our lives. See, when we get involved in one of those levels of discouragement, we usually end up in one of three places. We end up with an unfinished life, an unmotivated life, or unavailable.
Unfinished means we’ve got unconquered discouragement that convinces us to procrastinate, avoid or quit. I know that’s me. We get unmotivated. If you’re in a cycle of sadness and you just don’t get out of it, you don’t know how to get out of it, you get unmotivated.
Unconquered discouragement crushes our capacity for hope. We become pessimistic and cynical.
Unavailable. Unconquered discouragement deceives us into emotional isolation. This is one that’s highly, highly underrated. When we get really sad and get discouraged, we might be very social and very personable, but we’re emotionally unavailable. A lot of people think, well, I just don’t know how to share my emotions. I want you to check your discouragement level. You may be so discouraged you shut off the rest of the world.
Let’s nail these last three or four scriptures, and then we’ll get into our discussion.
How does God make us emotionally strong?
That’s the thing we’ve gotta be looking for. Psalm 62:5:
For God alone my soul waits in silence and quietly submits to Him, For my hope is from Him.  He only is my rock and my salvation; My fortress and my defense, I will not be shaken or discouraged.Psalm 62:5-6 AMP
A lot of the times we don’t understand that one of the reasons we collapse spiritually or lose our capacity to stand strong in the face of discouragement, in the face of sin, in the face of failure is because we really don’t have a great relationship with God. We’ve got a functional relationship with God, but it’s not the kind of relationship with God that keeps us emotionally strong.
Choosing God Again
What difference does prayer make? Prayer can make a difference. Listen to Hannah and the description of Hannah when she prays in 1 Samuel 1:15 -16:
“Oh no, sir, she replied, I haven’t been drinking wine or anything stronger, but I’m very discouraged and I was pouring out my heart to the Lord. Don’t think I’m a wicked woman for I’ve been praying out of great anguish and sorrow.1 Samuel 1:15-16 NLT
Hannah’s one of the incredible stories of overcoming and conquering discouragement. She doesn’t hide her discouragement. She prays her discouragement.
How does God lift us up out of discouragement? Listen to this wonderful scripture.
I waited patiently for the Lord to help me and he turned to me and heard my cry.Psalm 40:1 NLT
That’s amazing. The psalmist describes God as physically turning. He wasn’t looking at God, but he had such an intimate relationship with God, it was such an emotional connection, that he literally could feel God turning to him.
I waited patiently for the Lord to help me and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me. He steadied me as I walked along.Psalm 40:1-2 NLT
He steadied me. And Psalm 40:3, how does God give us new hope? This is our final scripture and then we’re going to get Nathan in here and Cameron in here. They’re going to talk it up, give you a lot of practicals, give you a lot to think about.
He has given me a new song to sing.Psalm 40:3
Remember when you used to sing in the shower? You used to be happy? If you’re discouraged, you’re not singing in the shower right now. If you are, it’s Swing Low, Sweet Chariot or something.
He has given me a new song to sing a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed.Psalm 40:3
If you’re low right now, let God pick you up.
They will put their trust in the Lord. Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord who have no confidence in the proud or in those who worship idols.Psalm 40:4
I can’t wait to get into this discussion with Nathan and Cameron. Let’s go. Let’s talk about choosing God.
Nathan: Well, those are some awesome scriptures. The thing that really kind of resonated for me is, I think discouragement is embarrassing. In the first scripture you talked about, the question was “Why am I discouraged?” and I can hate wanting to admit that I’m discouraged because to me, that means I’m weak. That means I can’t handle it. And things that I’ve recently been discouraged about is I have these back issues that just sprung up out of nowhere, about over two months ago, and it’s become a chronic thing. They sprung up out of nowhere. Literally, I was sitting in a booth at a burger joint. Then by the next morning, like three in the morning, I’m passing out because of pain and hitting my head on the window near my bed and going into the hospital.
It was because the doctors said that I have two and a half bulging discs in my back. And so I don’t know what constitutes a half of a bulging disc, but you know, that’s what he said. So for me, it’s been about two, two and a half months coming up on three months. It’s been discouraging having kind of this chronic issue. Cause before I didn’t really have many health challenges. I’m 29, I grew up playing sports, being active, doing a bunch of things, whatever. So that’s been super discouraging, going through physical therapy, going to the doctor’s getting X-rays and MRIs and even just finding out what is the solution, what’s actually going on.
And then even last week I had a toe infection which really sucked, and then as well, my wife and I, we’ve been trying to start a family for about a year and a half now. And no luck whatsoever, but seeing our different friends around us start their families. Last Friday, the toe thing was the thing that broke the camel’s back. I just started breaking down crying Friday night and just like, man, I just feel so discouraged and so sad and I feel like I can’t be there.
And so when the scripture is talking about being in the pit, I love the pit. The pit is where it’s at when I’m discouraged cause that’s such a visual representation, at least in my mind, I feel like I am stuck in a pit. But for me to admit that I feel discouraged, it feels like saying “I can’t handle this.” Or that if I were to share this with somebody, they would say, that’s not that big of a deal. You shouldn’t be feeling bad. You’re fine. The rest of your life is great, you know? And so because I grew up going to church my whole life, a lot of religiousness inside of me, there’s that internal dialogue inside me head like things are going on and I’m just going to deny what I feel, deny my discouragement.
Russ: What do you mean?
Nathan: Say, you know, I’m not discouraged or I should be able to handle this more. I should be able to, you know, fill in the blank.
Russ: Keep on smiling.
Nathan: Exactly. Just kind of stuff it deep down inside and not just be honest about this is where I’m really at.
Russ: Because part of it is you don’t want to be judged as being like a complainer. Because there are people going through much worse. So you sitting there going, I can’t talk to them.
Nathan: Well it was funny because even when I was going into the hospital and they always ask you what’s your pain scale? One to 10 or whatever. I said, well, you know, if 10 is like a gunshot wound, and I’m like a … And they were like, no, no, no, that’s not what we grade it by! I’m comparing myself other people in the emergency room. And they’re like, no, no, no, it’s all relative. But I think that speaks to how much I’ll compare myself in my head to other people and be like, well, I shouldn’t be as discouraged as that dude over there.
Russ: So why didn’t God help?
Nathan: Because I didn’t want to be honest. I think the thing that I was coming to as you were reading the Scriptures is the Psalmist actually went admitted that truth to God in his prayer. He prayed and humbled himself like, you know what, I actually am discouraged. For me there are things I had to really pray about and be honest about. And obviously I was breaking down the last Friday and so I’m still struggling with discouragement because I don’t want to just be humble and say, I cannot do this without you God. I hate saying I cannot do this. Admitting my weaknesses, admitting my insecurities and saying that I’m incapable.
Cameron: Because it was just even hard to admit that you are discouraged?
Nathan: Oh totally. Yeah, totally to say that I’m super discouraged.
Russ: So you’re saying that one of the things that people want to learn from, and what you’re sharing is incredible, one of the things you’re saying is that God can’t help you if you won’t to admit it.
Russ: And the tendency is for people to hide their weaknesses, but they don’t realize by hiding those weaknesses, they’re limiting what God can do to help them.
Nathan: Yeah, and I think for me it came down to am I willing to be humble? I think one of the scriptures we’re talking about was talking about humility. But I have an unwillingness to be humble when it comes to mano a mano with me and God and just being like, you know what? I am discouraged and I can’t handle this. I need you. I desperately need you.
Russ: Some of that I think is when a person grows up in the church, they learn behavior before they learn heart.
Russ: And so what happens is when you reach a point in your life where you go through things that are outside your control, it’s hard to behave well. It sounds like what you were describing, which was really so vivid and well illustrated and spiritually explained, is that you reached a point of pain where you couldn’t just behave.
Russ: Yeah. And I think a lot of people that grew up in the church, they haven’t yet experienced their pain. I don’t want to be negative here, but it’s coming. Because everybody is going to experience it.
Nathan: Life happens to everybody.
Russ: That’s exactly right. But I think the thing you should be encouraged about is that – I’ve been through that, the whole crying thing. I got a long list of things that I’ve cried about and some of them were ridiculous, but others of them were on your level. But when you start to cry, you’re releasing the stress and your body and your mind and your heart are saying to God, I can’t do it. And I think that’s a good thing. But oftentimes it’s not rewarded. What are you thinking?
Cameron: These are really good and I can relate to Nate a lot with the chronic discouragement, but also the chronic illness, if you will, or chronic pain. I mean, I’ve had all kinds of issues since I was a kid. I wasn’t always aware of those, but turns out it was depression, anxiety along with a bunch of gastrointestinal issues. I have this thing called histamine intolerance, which is crazy, so I can relate to the chronic discouragement a lot and the emotional discouragement because I think I get used to being discouraged. And it kind of dawned on me actually this last Saturday. I haven’t played basketball a long time, but I was playing basketball at Stanford, and I didn’t do the best because it’d been like six months and at the time before that was probably six months before that. But I’m playing and I give up one of the game winning shots. And my team is not happy with me. I go back to the sideline and my teammates are kind of angry and one of them’s talking and then I’m like, yeah, my bad man. He’s like, you know, it’s all good, I just hate losing. And I was like, yeah, me too. And then I realized, no, I don’t! I don’t hate losing. I’m used to losing. So I realized, this guy competed at a higher level. I have not gotten there. And I started thinking about my life and this is where I think prayer is important.
I was able to pray about this and learn a few things, like, wow, I’m chronically discouraged. I’m used to being discouraged. From health challenges, things not getting better, I don’t have all the successes that you would normally see when I compare my life to most people.
Russ: Cameron’s doing air quotes just so you know.
Cameron: Yeah, I don’t have the worldly ‘accolades’ I guess you could say. I mean, I graduated college, but that took me a long time,.That’s maybe the only thing I have on that accolade list. So I think the holidays especially could be a time that I’m very aware of all these things that I don’t have that other people have. So there’s a self focus and there’s an other-people focus thing that I get into and I compare myself. And so I realized in that prayer that okay, I’ve been used to discouragement and I think the holidays can bring that up for me. I call it Single Awareness Month.
Russ: Single Awareness Month? What are you talking about?
Cameron: Well, you know, cause Valentine’s Day is one day, but then from Thanksgiving to December, you’re seeing all the couples. If you’re alone, if you’re single, which I have been a lot of holidays. I’m not this all day, which is nice, but …
Russ: I just want for the record, to say Cameron’s a very young person. For those out there who think he’s 60, he’s not even close.
Cameron: Yeah. Imagine though, you’re seeing, like for me, all my siblings are now married, so they’re doing their own thing and their holiday, the kids running around. I don’t necessarily want kids yet. I can want that marriage and want that life and, and I see that I don’t have it. So I find myself wanting around this time and comparing myself.
Russ: And that is discouraging.
Cameron: That can be for sure discouraging.
Russ: I know this is going to sound infantile and stupid to say this, but why is it discouraging?
Cameron: I think it’s discouraging because I can go, I’m not good enough. It makes me think about my failures.
Russ: So sometimes marriage and kids can be another accomplishment. Which is sad because we really shouldn’t see marriage and kids as an accomplishment, but I think that does happen.
Nathan: You’ve reached a new life stage and you’re farther along, and I’m back here.
Russ: It’s the same thing you said about graduating college, like who in the world cares when you do any of it. But what happens is people are competing all the time. I grew up competitive, very competitive. And what I was always doing was measuring myself by other people, which is what you’re describing. And I would tell you this, it doesn’t matter what you accomplish, you’ll accomplish a lot or a little. Everybody feels like they don’t have enough. I remember when I got to college and I sat in the room with some people and I thought I was pretty awesome. And I was like, they’ve accomplished so much more than me. And suddenly I was shoved back to eighth grade.
Cameron: There’s always someone ahead.
Russ: Yes. And what I want to ask you is this, why hasn’t God helped?
Cameron: Well, I think he has. I think my thing is my focus. I’m focused on the people. I’m focused on the problem. I’m focused on my pain even. And I lose God and I lose purpose. And so the thing I like about God, I was reading Philippians chapter 1 recently, and it helped me, because Paul’s in jail and he’s rejoicing. Philippians 1:12-18, this is what really what helps me because I can get down on myself and think I have a right to be discouraged. And I’m like, well, I’m in pain. I’m sad. But then you read something like Paul or Jesus and you can’t make excuses anymore.
But in Philippians 1:12, he says,
“Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else, that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”
So here’s Paul in jail and he’s like seeing that the palace guards get to know God because of him. He’s seeing that other people are encouraged because of his chains. And that’s the thing that I think when I’m discouraged, I’m totally losing sight of that. And I have lost sight of it. Currently I’m working on it because I’ve been so not about my purpose. I’ve not been thinking about anybody else. I’ve not been thinking about my relationship with God and how this could even help me get closer to God. And then I’m just like you said. I love the word you used was ‘cycle’ of discouragement or debilitating cycle of discouragement. That’s exactly what it is. It’s just one thing after another and it just tallies up.
Russ: Well we won’t be doing this today, but I think what you just underlined is the need for encouragement. And that what we need to be doing for each other is encouraging each other. Whether someone’s single, if you’re single out there, you need friends who encourage you. And let me tell you what, I think one of the things that isn’t talked about enough is the extraordinary blessing that it is to just have life. And if you’re single, there’s an adventure in dating all that. It’s a lot of fun and I think people ought to enjoy it. I’m going to be married 30 years, in a few months. And I liked being single in the sense that I didn’t think it was a curse or anything else. The problem is there’s all those judgments that people are making about, well, why haven’t you done this? Why haven’t you done that? Here’s my thing. Everything evens out at about age 50. So at age 50, nobody’s remembering that. Everybody catches up. It’s like these actors, men and women, who will be like, I was the person in high school everybody made fun of and bullied and thought was ugly. And then you’re looking at this person, you’re like, what happened? Well, what happened is life evens out. And so I want to tell people out there that are saying, I’m not good enough, I’m not coming home with the the job or the number of kids or the marriage, and all that, you just gotta pay attention to Psalm 40:2 … ‘He lifted me out.’ And that’s why you want to choose God.
The problem with a lot of us, and I’m talking about myself here, too many times, I’ve tried to lift myself out of the pit.
Nathan: You just try to call it claw your way out and you end up slipping back down.
Russ: You keep slipping. Exactly. What I like here – and Cameron, you’ve done a great job describing this – He lifted me out of the pit of despair, which Nathan talked about. But you know, you talked about “out of the mud and the mire.” The mud and the mire. If you’ve ever been stuck in mud and it gets on you, it’s really difficult to get out. But guess what, everybody? This is Deep Spirituality. Choosing God, the Defeating Discouragement series. We’re going to help everybody get out of the mud and the mire. We look forward to talking to you again in episode two.
Cameron: We hope you enjoyed this episode. Be sure to check out our website deepspirituality.net where we have devotionals, videos, and articles. Also subscribe to our Youtube channel. Just search “Deep Spirituality”and click subscribe. You can also find us on all your favorite social media platforms, so be sure to give us a like or a comment. We’d love to hear your feedback and listen to what you enjoy or anything we can improve on. And of course, if you enjoy this podcast, don’t hesitate to leave us a five star rating and review on iTunes. Thanks again for listening.