With Our Chins Up! (Part 1)

We are told of a story that it had been decided that hell was going out of business, and, on account of this, all the devil’s tools were being put up for sale.

All his favorite instruments of evil were laid out in a most attractive display – malice, hatred, pride, envy, jealousy, lust, anger, deceit, and dishonesty, along with many others, and each had quite the high price tag.

But in a special display case lay a harmless-looking wedge-shaped tool that had clearly been used more than the others and carried the highest price of them all.

When asked what it was, the evil one proudly replied that the wedge was discouragement, and then went on to say why it was priced so high: “It is more useful to me than any other,” said the devil. “With it, I can pry open and get inside a man’s soul when everything else fails. But once inside, I can use him in whatever way I wish, and the tools I could not get to work on the outside suddenly begin to work, and work quite well. The thing is so worn because I use it on nearly everybody, since very few people realize that it belongs to me.”

Obviously, this is a fictional story, but the point is well made, as discouragement is one of those things we all must deal with to some degree or another throughout our lives.

It pertains to our spiritual pursuits as well as material; sometimes discouragement can serve as wake-up call to re-organize our priorities, especially in the case of those who are too worldly and have little place for God in their lives, so what we get discouraged about can be useful in revealing what we hold important. Nonetheless, we can meet with discouragement also through no fault of our own; sometimes it comes as a consequence of our personal limitations or the limitations of circumstance, or a combination of the two.

True, the more important the undertaking, the greater the discouragement we risk meeting with, because failure seems to cost us more, as we are more personally invested in it. And since we know that the most important undertaking is the salvation of our souls, the discouragement that comes with this pursuit can hit fairly hard.

The devil is well aware of that and so he will do anything that will get us to abandon the cause.  Accurate portrayals of the lives of the saints often show that, as they acquired virtue in other regards, discouragement continued to be a frequent temptation; they had to wrestle against the thought that their labors were worthless, that God had abandoned them, or that they made a mistake and must drastically change their course and pursue something else, especially when the harvest seemed so meager when compared to the effort expended.

Nonetheless, discouragement is a real point of contention throughout our lives when it comes to doing God’s work, in whatever capacity God may call us to. This is why it is noteworthy that the Church prays at the foot of the altar: Quare tristis es, anima mea, et quare conturbas me.

So although we may have diverse work to do for the kingdom of God, we also share common responsibilities as members of the Church through Baptism and citizens already of heaven: we all must maintain a state of grace, but not only that, to increase it in our souls, by God’s help, through prayer and the Sacraments, and also through the circumstances He disposes for us to patiently endure.

Sometimes just doing that poses its own challenges, but God’s best gifts always go beyond our natural abilities to manage (ask anyone raising a family how true that is), and that is to remind us that it is His work, not ours, and He is well within His right to craft His work in whatever way He sees fit for our benefit.

So there are plenty of opportunities for discouragement through life if we lose (or never gain) a proper perspective.

When push comes to shove then, discouragement really involves how we handle failure, either real or perceived, both personally, like in trying to overcome the sin we never seem to be able to overcome, and also amongst those we may have care over, like when spouses have to come to terms with each other’s limitations and love each other anyway.

After that, effectively battling discouragement entails understanding how God tends to encrust success in failures, by which we gain a realistic perspective on His expectations, while always leaving room for growth.

January 18, 2021