With the numerous mass murders that have currently filled our news headlines and the cut-throat, hate filled presidential candidates who are suppose to be our beacons out of this darkness, its no wonder that discouragement fills the air these days.
Last week I went to the movies with my youngest son to unplug and saw Finding Dory. It didn’t disappoint. It was full of masterful animation and music to delight your eyes and lift your heart. What I was surprised about is how the story line stirs the soul with a really great lesson on adversity: Despite having a disability and chronic challenges – Dory never gets discouraged, she “just keeps swimming.”
It reminded me of an old fable that goes something like this:
The devil offered all the tools of his trade to anyone who would pay the price.
They were spread out on the table, each one labeled: hatred, malice, envy, despair, sickness; all the weapons that everyone knows so well.
But away from the rest, lay a harmless looking wedge shaped instrument marked discouragement.
It was old and worn but it was priced far above the rest.
A prospective buyer asked the reason why?
The devil explained, “Because I can use this one so much more easily than the others. No one knows that it belongs to me so with it I can open doors that are tightly bolted against the others. Once I get inside I can use any tool that suits me best.”
It doesn’t take much to get discouraged these days. Even those gladiators among us, have their fragile moments. Moments of somber and sober reflection are not bad. It’s good and healthy to pause in the action of your life and consider the wins and the losses in order to re-calibrate yourself. These moments are only a problem when they develop into a full-on cascade into dark, dysfunctional despair.
“Why me?!” Begins this Devil’s journey.
Discouragement is a potent and cunning enemy of confidence, enthusiasm, and hope.
When we are discouraged it is very tempting to only consider the failings. And when we think about remedies to our problems to just dwell upon our weaknesses, lack of talent, or bad experiences … we run to where our pain is. And where there’s pain there’s discouragement. The Devil is right, once he’s got us soft on discouragement the others – hatred, malice, envy, despair, sickness – are not far behind.
That doesn’t have to be.
One of the most endearing qualities of Dory is her optimistic, “can-do” attitude. She is not highly functional and happy because everything in her life is perfect. She has a serious a short-term memory disability, which has caused her to be separated from her family and for her to face many scary challenges. This profound and unfortunate disability didn’t keep her down though. She was not deterred from getting what needed to get done done because of her positive and hopeful attitude.
So what does that say to us?
In those inevitable fragile moments when new disappointments or challenges are placed before us, we can choose to grab hold of our unconquerable, invictus spirit that lies within us all and “just keep swimming” out and way from our troubles.
Even if you are already familiar with William Ernest Henley famous poem, Invictus, it’s worth another look. He wrote it as he struggled with a life-threatening illness. It captures the unbeatable spirit we all need to be reminded that we have.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
This undefeatable mindset is not only within us all, I believe, it where we were divinely designed to dwell. Have you ever witnessed a baby persist undeterred on their quest to figure out how to walk? Not one of us walked out of the womb. Before we were aware of excuses, lack, or inability, there was our hopeful, unconquerable self, bravely and optimistic conquering challenges.
So discouragement must place us in a state that is far from our original invictus state.
How to we get back to that invincible, enthusiastic state of mind?
Discouragement may slip in when we are physically or emotion times when a dam lets loose and we are overwhelmed with stresses. Whether they are normal or flood level times, I recommend that you take the wheel and intentionally stop. Stop and go for a walk. Hopefully you can go to somewhere where you can surround yourself with a bit of nature – water or trees. Just walk. Tell yourself that you are disappointed, that you are frustrated at the challenges but after acknowledging and noting all of what is before you then say to yourself: “Yes, and despite this, I’m going to keep going and make amazing good out of this amazing bad.” At the end of this walk, your problems won’t have disappeared but you will be in a much better mindset to get done what needs to get done.
Discouragement might get a hold of you when tasks start piling up. I say commit to a plan, write it down. There is such power in putting a plan before your eyes. Write all of the things you need to get done, organize them, ask for God’s favor, and then think about those around you that could assist in any of the tasks. Once you have declared the stresses in your life in ink, they loose their corrosive hold upon you.
Another form of this, which I happen to prefer, is to create a vision board. The board itself could be a cork board, a whiteboard, poster board, or simply the back of a pizza box. To this board you write all that you need to get done and what you would like to get done. For example on mine from three years ago, I one entry says: “Marie [my daughter] and college” and underneath that about twenty action bullets relating to sorting that out. Beside the action bullets were names or recourse that came to me overtime. In addition to immediate goals/tasks, I also have “dream goals,” things I would like to achieve. One of mine was “publish a book that would inspire others.” Now I didn’t have any idea how I would achieve that but underneath that grew hundreds of bullets of ideas and strategies. My constant and undeterred effort has resulted in my daughter going to college and my book being written and published. Make no mistake; I had millions of stumbles and many falls along the way. Constantly re-calibrating and dusting myself off led to the result of achieving these goals.
If you utilize the vision board option: it is very helpful to glue or tape pictures of the achieved goal. This helps to keep you motivated and optimistic. In fact, fill the spaces in between your struggles and dream goals with affirmative comments like: “just keep swimming,” “You are loved,” “You can do it!” … Hang it in a place for you, somewhere in a bedroom is good because you see it on a regular basis first thing in the morning and last thing at night. It is wonderful to see worries with a line through them, challenges conquered, and dreams being actualized.
Whenever method you choose, when you write down your worries and challenges you will start feeling less overwhelmed and more hopeful. This coping aid quiets the anxious and negative chatter of your mind, bring solutions to light, and reminds yourself that you are unconquerable and your plan is to succeed.
Even if missteps happen or additional hardships are before you – don’t relent and give up. Adversity is nothing but a learning experience. You fail only when you allow discouragement win. So when you don’t feel like your making progress towards your goals or you blow an opportunity, stop and write down what is happening and examine it. Look for the lessons, where you could have done things different, or what resources (people, education, tools) you can you put in place to sure up the weak spots.
When mistakes or failures happen, think of them as moments of falling forward towards your goal – you’re down but never out. If you approach this process with an earnest heart, failures will evaporate and only challenges will exist and challenges are conquered by spirit that is determined to be unconquerable.
Do your Highest and Best, be a Blessing to Others, and Keep Swimming!