While my wife was recovering from endless bouts of chemotherapy, she had a deep longing to walk around the block. For her, walking around the block signified a regaining of strength. It spoke of an ability to journey victoriously through her cancer and chemotherapy. To a person not in that situation, walking around the block may sound simplistic and naïve. It may appear a trite and foolish goal, but to her, it was significant and meaningful.
Several times a week we would attempt to walk around the block together. She was often wrapped in a blanket or a heavy coat, and her headscarf covered the effects of her treatments. She would walk slowly, carefully, clutching my arm as she went. We paused many times along the way. A journey of a half block would take close to 20 minutes.
Each time we stepped out of the house, I’d ask to how far she believed she could walk. We developed our own lingo. One day the goal of her walk would be “The red door”; the next day, “the black fence.” These mini-milestones marked her progression; they served as guides, leading her toward the ultimate goal of walking around the block unrestricted.
Sometimes she wouldn’t reach her goal. She would declare that she wanted to go the black fence, but find herself unable to move past the red door. Importantly, she never judged herself. Instead of looking at the part of the journey she did not do, she focused on what she did do; each day brought enough for itself.
Of course, there were other days where she would reach the red door and say, “I think I can go to the black fence.” Whether she did this the next day was immaterial; she took each day as she could. Eventually, as she recovered and grew stronger, the walks began to expand.
Spiritual discouragement stops us in our tracks because we believe that unless we can ascribe to our wildest depictions of spiritual heights there is nothing of value in our journey. We believe that a journey of small steps is nothing compared to those of long-distance travellers. Thus, we view spiritual discouragement as a declaration as to what is wrong in our faith-lives. It is a voice of condemnation. We want to pray but cannot. We would love to hear God’s voice in the bible, but can’t bring ourselves to open the book. Discouragement screams its negativity against us. It highlights what should be, but isn’t. “Should-be” is the death-knell of any spiritual vitality.
Instead of seeing discouragement as something that we need to fight against, what if we saw it as something we need to journey through? What if the place of our discouragement is the place where God invites us to journey deeper in faith? What if it is an invitation to grow, to be stretched?
What benchmarks might you look to as you begin to journey through your spiritual discouragement? If you struggle with prayer, for example, what “red door” can you move toward? It might be offering a small, dedicated, prayer on two days of the week. Perhaps the “black fence” is a prayer on 3 days of the week. The point is, Jesus calls us to walk with him in whatever way we can manage.
If we see our spiritual discouragement as an invitation to begin a journey, then we free ourselves from self-condemning expectations. No one expected my wife to walk around the block the day after chemotherapy, and no one expects you to combat your discouragement with feats of spiritual wonder. Within your journey, you have the freedom to take the day’s as it comes. There are no requirements, no judgements, just a loving invitation to journey with Jesus.