While 2022 held a good deal of sky-reaching highs, it had its lows too. One of those lows was an onslaught of personal discouragement that followed me from 2021. This wasn’t present in every area of my life, certainly, but it was certainly present. One area I felt it most acutely was in my professional work, specifically a change in some relationships that I first talked about here. In spite of praying and reaching out and putting all kinds of effort into widening my circle, I hadn’t experienced the success of connection I’d hoped for on that front. This loneliness in my work-life stayed consistently in my circumference, like a biting, too-cold wind from the north that constantly made me cross my arms to ward off its chill.
Add to this my internal critic reminding me daily of my shortcomings and mistakes, likely contributing to the problems at hand, and well . . . my heart found itself weighing ten pounds rather than ten ounces like the anatomy books report.
For years, I’ve prayed incessantly for a change to my situation. Unless the Lord brought me some fresh vision and camaraderie, doing what I’ve been called to do felt impossible. Then, at the tail-end of 2022, something did change. In my prayers, my heart warmed from a message I didn’t hear audibly but still sensed in the realest of ways. That message, from the Lord, was, I see you, I hear you, and I want you to believe that I have much good in store for you still in this area of your life.
While this was always true regardless of my feelings, something shifted and lightened within me. After inhaling those hopeful words, my heart and soul let out a long exhale as I really believed the message. Even my pants fit better than they did before.
What’s vitally important to know is that as of today, in 2023, my circumstances haven’t changed one whit. With no clear answers or resolution to the problem at hand, the external picture of my situation ain’t too pretty. But internally, this fresh hope shifted the winds from the frigid north to the more springtime south, blanketing my discouragement and unbelief that things will ever get better.
Perhaps a good question to answer is simply, how? How did my hope shift when my circumstances remained the same?
In his gorgeous book, Gentle & Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, author Dane Ortlund discusses something that I believe sheds light on the subject.
In 1 Corinthians 2:12, Scripture says, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.”
About this passage, Dr. Ortlund explains, “To grasp the role of the Holy Spirit, according to this text, we must bear in mind that the Greek word underlying understood (oida) should not be restricted to merely intellectual apprehension. This verb simply means ‘to know,’ and as is generally the case with the Bible’s language of epistemology, knowing here is something holistic — not less than intellectual apprehension …it is experiential knowing.”
The Holy Spirit infuses Scripture into us in a way that gives color to our lives so that what we know becomes what we actually experience on a very personal level. And in this case, my spirit of discouragement is no match for the Holy Spirit who kindly helps me see and know that God can be trusted again and again and even here too.
While I can name for you what hasn’t changed — my daily struggle — I can also name what has changed. I have a richer, deeper dependence on God as I’ve considered “opening the vents of my heart” (to use a phrase of Dr. Ortlund’s) to more fully receive God’s kindness and truths by the power of the Holy Spirit. This doesn’t mean I’ll never face discouragement again. I’m certain I will. But this is one way my faith reserves are building and growing so I’m able to recall the ways God has kept His promises for me in the past. When future discouragement leans in, I’m able to lean into Jesus Christ, who is God with us, all the more as I trust Him all the more.
After all, Jesus knows what it’s like to be us and understands every bit of what we’re going through.
If you’re carrying around a good deal of discouragement in one or more areas of your own life, take heart. A turnaround could be right around the corner — either in circumstances or, like me, in your perspective of your circumstances. It is my abundant prayer that by the power of the Holy Spirit, you know that the Lord sees you and He hears you today. Don’t doubt for a millisecond that He doesn’t have great things in mind for your future too. He loves you wildly.
In the meantime, you and I can keep ourselves in the Word, letting it be the compass that guides our hearts and keeps them headed in the right direction. We can process our discouragement with safe loved ones. We can name good things God gives us today: a bang-up sunrise, chickadees bopping around the bird feeder, a sweet or funny message from a child.
Through the Holy Spirit, we can know that God’s reserves of mercy and comfort stretch higher and deeper and further than any season of discouragement.
Thanks be to the good Lord above.