Today is my day off. It is a day where I get to relax from the demands of ministry. Often there is writing I wish to accomplish, a blog here, a post there. There may be a chapter I wish to read, or a program I will enjoy with my family.
The first phone call came at a little past 9:00am. A parishioner needed to talk through an important decision. That was followed by an email from the parish administrator regarding changes in our upcoming service. Then there was another phone call, another email exchange, followed by several text-messages spattered throughout. By high noon I felt that I had spent more time managing the affairs of the office than enjoying my day away. My demeaner had begun to sour.
By the time I needed to drive my son back to the school to pick up a forgotten item, my face was in full pout. My gaze was distant, my voice was silent. I communicated in every possible way my annoyance and frustration. And then there was the conversation going on deep within. My inward spirit was dour. Each text, call, or demand was seen as a direct attack on my day. I began to rehearse my list of internal condemnation of “I’ll never be a writer”, “My time is of no consequence”, “People don’t support me”, God is closing this door – I shouldn’t even try.” The more I spoke these to myself, the more sour I became; the more discouraged I felt.
There is a type of discouragement that hits us unawares. This occurs when life upturns itself, quickly and violently. Maybe it’s a diagnosis, maybe it’s an accident. The point is life comes crashing into us. Then there is the discouragement that we nurture. It is the discouragement that we speak to ourselves over and over. It starts small, usually with minor inconveniences. But the more we allow the voice of discouragement to speak, the louder it grows. Eventually it takes over.
Of course, we may blame the emails, the texts, and the demands, but the root cause is really ourselves. None of the demands on me were overly strenuous or complicated. A pastoral assurance here, a solution there; in the grand scheme of things these are barely worth a mention. But in those moments, I chose to be annoyed. I chose to see these interruptions as an attack on the sanctity of my own desires. My plans were simply more important, worthwhile, or godly than the needs of others. What is worse, I chose to rest in my annoyance.
Ultimately, the discouragement pointed to my own dethronement; to the fact that I do not reside in the center of things. I do not set the course of stars or schedules. I do not dictate what others will do and when they will do them. And what is more, as a Christian person, I do not decide when I am available to serve and when I am not.
John Lennon once sang “life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.” Perhaps the kingdom of God is like that. The kingdom erupts around us, often while we are going about managing our own affairs. The kingdom crashes into us to upset our pride-based kingdoms. Ultimately this is a good thing, despite the discomfort and frustration it may cause.
Could it be that discouragement highlights that something deeper is going on? Something holy, perhaps? If we can stop the downward spin of internal condemnation and ask ourselves what the Lord may be calling us to, perhaps discouragement could serve our spiritual growth. We may even discover a way of healing, vitality, and spiritual encouragement.