by Dr. Gail Bones
Disappointment is inevitable. But to become discouraged, there’s a choice I make. God would never discourage me. He would always point me to himself to trust him. Therefore, my discouragement is from Satan.” – Charles Stanley
But now don’t be discouraged, any of you. Do the work, for I am with you. – Haggai 2:4 GNB
The news about the project I’ve been pouring myself into for years now was challenging. Well—to be entirely candid—it was more than challenging. I was disappointed. I’d been feeling rather like a caterpillar inching its way from here to the ocean, and thought I was finally starting to hear the sound of the pounding surf dead ahead.
What I heard instead was: You aren’t there yet.
Or maybe it felt more like this (mixed metaphor advisory in effect throughout the rest of this post): I spent one whole summer when I was home with my little ones working on a patchwork quilt. I’d found a way to painstakingly combine scraps into an attractive pattern, pieced the top, added the batting and backing, and was now eager to take the last step of stitching the layers together.
As I spread the queen-sized quilt out on the bed and stood back to admire my handiwork, my eyes were drawn to a big, fat, unmistakeable mistake—an unintentional break in the repeated design. Oh no! This eyesore was embedded right in the middle of the blanket and there would be no easy fix. Although friends were quick to cite the myth of the Amish humility block—an intentional mistake supposedly made to express the truth that only God is perfect—I found this provided no real relief for my disappointment.
Since it was my own quilt for my own bed, I had only to consult with myself to see if my OCD tendencies would allow me to fall asleep at night under the weight of this jarring break in what was meant to be soothing symmetry. But now, fifteen years of undisturbed sleep later, I only notice it once a season when I pull out the summer bedding and groan over my blunder once more.
Taking Another Tack
Today, however, for my current project, the opinions of others are mission critical. Instead of clear sailing for this portion of the journey—an open ocean with the wind at my back—what I was hearing was that I was going to have to take another tack. Get crosswise to the wind, if you will. Travel that rickrack path again.
The bearer of these unpleasant tidings was more than pleasant. In fact, she could not have been more supportive, affirming, and wise as she made concrete suggestions about what I needed to do to fix the problem. But after an hour of trying to take notes and listen with my head and not my heart, I confess, I began to sink into the slough of despond.
I was discouraged. Disheartened. Crestfallen.
I needed a friend whom I could count on to give me some fresh courage, fresh heart, and help me pick that fallen crest back up. I was secretly hoping I could find someone who would help me ease myself off the hook. Encourage me to take the easier path. Supply excuses I hadn’t even thought of yet. Give me permission to bail out.
But God led me to choose the exact right friend to call. She’d mentored me as an English teacher, and I knew I could count on her to deliver painful truth with the right amount of dry humor to make it palatable. Her emotions, unlike mine, were not on overload, so she was able to dispassionately identify my options.
My friend rightly saw that the foremost way she could help me was by filling the hole I’d fallen into. Discouragement is the Devil’s signature move and my discerning friend wasn’t going to let him have his way. I see an image in my mind of me surrounded by four high dirt walls and her standing outside the pit, providing me an increasingly higher place to stand with each shovel full of earth she tosses in.
She layered in the good stuff, equipped to do this because she is more than an acquaintance: she is a Spirit-filled friend who knows me deeply. You learn a great deal about another person after 20 years, especially when you spend time studying the Bible together and praying for one another.
She reminded me she admired my work, and generously gave me specifics about strengths she saw . She reminded me that God had called me and anointed me for this ministry so I could rely on him for the results. She reminded me that neither my salvation nor God’s approval were linked to my efforts.
By giving me the gift of encouragement, she filled a sinkhole so I could climb out and find a solid place on which to stand once more. This spiritual step was necessary before I could even begin to attend to her practical suggestions. But once my feet were back on level ground, I could receive her wise advice.
“The way I see it,” she said, “you have three choices here. You can argue with the boss; but we already know how that always goes. You can cut and run; although I don’t see any benefit in bolting at this late stage in the game. Or, you can do your best to do exactly what you’ve been asked to do and rely on the Lord to give you the wisdom to know how to do it.”
She’s right. I’m staying the course, no matter the outcome. To live crosswise is to have a trusted team of friends and prayer warriors around us to help overcome discouragement as well as every other form of opposition to the work God gives us to do.
As I gear myself up to take a new tack, God’s Word is providing the necessary wind in my sails:
“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10.
Question from The Perennial Gen editors: Hey Readers, how has being the kind of friend Gail describes here affected your life? It’s not easy to show up when someone is down to do the work of building up your friend AND at the same time speaking some frank truth? Have these efforts strengthened the friendship or diminished it?