For a couple of days recently, I was down in the dumps, worried over some things happening in my life and in the world. While I wish I could say I handled this bout of discouragement with poise and high doses of hope, patience, and fortitude, quite frankly, the opposite was true—I handled it poorly.
In the depths of frustration, I shot off some emails outlining my lament. I complained to my wife and co-workers. I felt sorry for myself, brooding over just how bad things were. I was a first class whiner.
That said, I firmly believe a failure can be beneficial if we learn from it. In retrospect, here are three things I should have done instead of feeling sorry for myself, and that you should practice if you are feeling discouraged.
1. Pray – Prayer is the breath of the spiritual life. If we aren’t praying, we are slowly suffocating spiritually. Of course, when we face difficulties or discouragements, often the last thing we feel like doing is praying. So what. Man up, overcome your feelings of distaste for prayer, and just do it.
Instead of complaining to your family or friends, pour out your heart before God. I assure you, he can handle it. He is a loving Father, and he desires to help you in your distress. Spend a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament, letting Jesus heal you and strengthen you. Read some Psalms of lamentation, like Psalms 12, 44, 60, or 72 (Those numbers are according to the new numbering. Subtract a number if you’re using the Douay-Rheims version).
Pray the rosary. Our Lady is called the Star of the Sea, the Comforter of the Afflicted, the Refuge of Sinners, Spes Nostra—-our hope. She will console you better than any loving mother could, and send you the graces you need to persevere.
2. Meditate on the Passion – It may seem paradoxical, but the healthiest thing you can do when you are feeling discouraged is to meditate on the passion and death of Jesus. St. John of the Cross said, “Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you, remember Christ crucified and be silent.” Very simply, gaze upon a crucifix and think of the love of Jesus.
In the crucifix, we are reminded that “God so delighted in the world, that he gave his only Son.” We are reminded that Jesus suffered everything we will ever suffer or could suffer, but infinitely more intensely. He suffered the emotional blackness of betrayal and the abandonment of his closest friends, the physical agony of brutal torture, the grief of seeing his beloved mother suffering with him. And he suffered these things for the love of you, to redeem you and purchase you with his Precious Blood. “By his stripes we are healed.”
As the reality of the passion sinks deep into our souls, we will be compelled to see our problems in their proper perspective, and then to unite them to the sufferings of Jesus.
3. Give thanks – The best antidote to pessimism is praise. The truth is, we are overwhelmed with good gifts from God, we are drowning in a sea of benefits—and we hardly ever notice. We really only appreciate things until they are gone; we are thankful for two legs only when we break one.
If you are feeling that all is wrong in your life, take inventory of the many things that are right. Name at least five things for which you are thankful. If you do this, you will quickly realize that you could never stop naming blessings as there are simply too many. The good things in life are subtler, quieter than the bad things, but they infinitely outnumber them.
There really is no excuse for gloom in the Christian life. Like St. Peter sinking in the waves, things have a way of overwhelming us at times, but we have a sure and certain hope, a merciful Savior, and innumerable blessings for which to be thankful. Rather than complaining, we should say like the psalmist, “Why art thou sad, O my soul? Hope in God, for I will still give praise to him : the salvation of my countenance, and my God. ”
How do you handle discouragement? What blessings are you thankful for?
PS: If you are feeling down, you may want to read my column in Truth and Charity Forum, entitled “A Call to Hope.”