We recently came across an intriguing poem by American author and poet Richelle E. Goodrich. Here is the opening: “Discouragement, fear and depression, three villains who lurk in the dark. They slip inside souls with a blindfold and goals, to shatter your dreams and extinguish your spark.”
Do you experience the life-sapping forces of discouragement, fear and depression that way? How do you deal with such forces when they seem to threaten you? Sometimes simple tactics and techniques may actually be most helpful.
The story of the Prophet Elijah’s brush with discouragement, fear and depression seems instructive on this point. In the 19th chapter of the biblical book 1st Kings, we read that the Prophet Elijah is being pursued by Queen Jezebel. He has just experienced what appears to be the greatest triumph of his life, but the Queen is not impressed and means to have him killed. In fear for his life, Elijah flees to the wilderness where he proclaims to God his readiness to die. Apparently it all seemed pretty hopeless.
We can become hopeless, too. We lend our hearts and hands to worthy causes and so little seems to come of it. In the struggle for a better world, or a restored relationship, or a changed social condition, much of our time seems wasted. We pray for peace, but we often feel that we might as well have spared ourselves the effort. We treat people with kindness only to find our good intentions thrown back in our faces. Like Elijah, it seems, we are all acquainted with some form of discouragement or heartache.
But Elijah’s story doesn’t end with despair. Here’s what happened next. Elijah goes to sleep and is tapped on the shoulder by an angel who brought him food and water. Rested and fed, Elijah regains enough stamina to journey on to a sheltered place. There Elijah gains new perspective. He is ready and willing then to hear God’s message to him to get up and get back in the game.
The assurance that seems to come to us from Elijah’s story is that we have resources at our disposal even in the bleakest of times. The simple rhythms of taking rest and nourishment can be restorative. And refocusing upon purposeful work can set us back on a productive and meaningful path. Regaining perspective can remind us that we are part of a story that is greater than our own disappointments and losses.
We are poised to contribute to God’s mission that extends far beyond our lifetime. Certainly discouragement, fear and depression wilt in the face of that reality. Or, as the poet Goodrich says: “So reach for your weapons against them! Take hope and hard work in each hand! Strap faith on your hips and a prayer on your lips and show those debasers how firmly you stand!”