Responding Correctly When Discouragement Comes
By LESLIE LUDY
It was a balmy Sunday morning last summer. I was sitting in church with my children, listening to the sermon with one ear while keeping the other tuned in to my kids. Four-year-old Kipling seemed incapable of sitting still, shifting his weight from side-to-side, and whispering loudly that he was bored and wanted to color. Six-year-old Harper was sulky and pouting, upset that I was holding three-year-old Avy on my lap instead of her. And eight-year-old Hudson kept digging noisily in his backpack, looking for his pen, despite the many “warning looks” I kept sending his direction. Since my husband was preaching, the responsibility of my kids’ behavior fell squarely upon my shoulders. It seemed that every few minutes they would do something “unacceptable” — such as whine, squirm, crinkle their notebook paper loudly, or drop their water bottle with a crash onto the floor. Pretty soon I had tuned the sermon completely out, devoting all my attention to the task of keeping my kids from distracting everyone around them. After several minutes of continued noise and wiggles, I started feeling like a miserable failure. Glancing across the aisle, I observed at least two other families whose young children were sitting perfectly still, as if to emphasize the fact that mine were not.
Then, the inner “conversation” began.
“Everyone is judging you. They think you can’t keep your kids under control,” whispered the voice of Discouragement loudly.
“Well, so what if those people’s kids are acting better than mine? They have two parents sitting next to them to keep them under control, and I’m here all by myself with four kids!” I protested angrily.
“If you were a better mother, your kids wouldn’t be wiggling like this,” Discouragement continued. “They are old enough to know how to sit still in church — their wiggles are a reflection of all your parental shortcomings!”
“Just because my kids are squirming right now doesn’t mean I’m a failure,” I argued, attempting to scrape together some dignity. “There are lot of other areas in motherhood where I’m succeeding!”
“Oh really?” mocked Discouragement, calling to mind all of the areas in my mothering where I currently felt I was falling short. For the next five minutes, all of my mothering imperfections flashed through my mind, pulling me deeper and deeper into a feeling of hopelessness and gloom.
By the time church finally ended, I hadn’t retained any of the sermon. Only one clear emotion was permeating my perspective — discouragement. Suddenly it didn’t seem like I was doing anything right, that all of my efforts to be a good mother were falling short, and that my kids would never turn out to be anything but squirmy, wiggling, noise-making reprobates. A dark cloud hovered over me for most of the afternoon.
But later that evening, after spending some time praying and talking it over with Eric, I began to see things more clearly. The only “failure” I had been guilty of was the way I had responded to the voice of discouragement. Rather than applying truth to the lies that were being whispered to my soul, I took them to heart and yielded to them. Instead of immediately turning to Jesus Christ as my defense, I had looked to my own mothering skills to somehow find a defense against the accusations coming my way. And because I was looking to myself instead of Christ, I had come up short. No wonder my perspective was out of whack!
When the voice of discouragement attempts to dampen our perspective, it’s critical that we don’t take the bait. So many mothers I know often feel like “failures” in many areas. I understand, because I am susceptible to the very same feelings! But we must realize that the enemy’s desire in hitting us with discouragement is to get our eyes off Jesus Christ and onto our own shortcomings. We must always remember that being a good mother doesn’t mean being perfect. It means becoming dependent upon the only One who is. Whenever I lean fully and completely on Jesus Christ, He faithfully leads me into His perfect pattern for motherhood, one situation at a time, even if I experience some failures along the way. So when Discouragement seeks to point out everything I’m doing wrong, my response should not be self-righteousness, self-defensiveness, or angry resentment toward “those people” who are surely judging me for my failures. Rather, I must simply stand firmly upon the fact that, as child of God, I am in Christ Jesus — and He is perfect, even though I am not! (See Romans 8:1.)
Our job is not to try to become supermoms or Proverbs 31 women in our own strength. Our job is to surrender to God without reserve and to trust Him with every detail of this heavenly calling. It doesn’t matter if we feel like failures in certain areas. What matters is that we are keeping our eyes on Him, and keeping our hearts fully surrendered to His loving, faithful guidance.
Whenever I hear the voice of discouragement knocking, here are some practical ways I’m learning to purposefully align my perspective with the truth of Jesus Christ:
1. Turn Outward
One of the most cunning strategies of the enemy is to use discouragement to turn us inward and place our focus on self, instead of where it should be: on Christ, and on others. So when discouragement tempts me to evaluate all my shortcomings, indulge in a bit of self-pity, or defend and justify my mothering skills, I’m learning to say an immediate no and turn outward instead of inward. It might be as simple as taking a few minutes to get my focus off myself by praying for an unsaved loved one or lift up the specific prayer needs of my husband, children, and extended family. Or I might take some time to write a quick note of appreciation or encouragement to someone in my life. Making the deliberate choice to bless someone else through prayer or encouragement can go a long way in preventing discouragement from turning me inward and gaining a foothold in my soul.
2. Rejoice in His Perfection
Another great strategy for combating the voice of discouragement is to meditate upon His perfection, rather than dwelling on all my imperfections! It is a tremendous blessing to realize that being in Christ means that I have access to the throne room of grace — not based on my merit, skill, talent, or ability to be a perfect mother — but simply because I am clothed in His righteousness. I often turn to the Psalms for this purpose, especially the ones that focus on the majesty, glory, perfection, and faithfulness of our God — such as Psalm 29, 96, and 103.
3. Remember the power of Prayer
If there is a particular area in which I’m feeling discouraged (such as my kids’ inability to sit quietly in church), I find that wrestling in prayer over that issue does wonders for my perspective. When I allow Him to carry my burdens, rather than racking my own brain for a solution, I discover a peace that passes all understanding! A lot of times, when I am not sure what to do about a particular mothering challenge, simply praying about it consistently will bring the answer I seek—whether God gives me a practical solution, or whether He simply moves upon my children’s hearts and changes their behavior supernaturally. I have found that no area of mothering is too small or insignificant to bring before Him in prayer, and He is always, always faithful to meet my every need as long as I am faithful to cast my cares on Him!