After several months of intense ministry, I took a deep breath. Although I could feel I was almost maxed out and something in my soul was off kilter, I continued to do what needed to be done. Because that is what we do. Because the needs are so great.
I didn’t realize the full scope of the danger headed my way – the approaching spirit of discouragement.
When we serve without an emotional break, we can easily overload and spill over into a melted mess. The same encouragements we use for others don’t work for us, because we have no energy left to help ourselves. And helping ourselves seems counter-intuitive to our call. We are to bear fruit; we are commanded to help others.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Yet even Jesus took an occasional mini-break. He rowed across the lake for some R and R. “The crowd that stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized only one boat had been there, and Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but they had gone away alone” (John 6:22).
Maybe I needed to set time-management boundaries, but I’ve been stressed before and this felt different. Deeper somehow. I couldn’t discern my real need, and I was too busy to dig for it.
Although my prayer life seemed a bit dull, I pressed on with a few whispers each morning. I read my Bible and spent time in reflective journaling, but most of my prayers were for the women I help. Nothing for me, and I began to resent the fact that I was so busy serving God, I couldn’t find time to help myself.
I didn’t see the tidal wave gathering, but one of my clients did.
During another busy day, I ran out to check the mail and pulled out a card from my client. She is especially discerning, so I wasn’t surprised she would send me a greeting card. But it was her words that struck me – so on target for how I was feeling and what the real problem was.
“I notice you. I see what you do, and I appreciate you. You deserve to be noticed.”
As I read her words, I realized at the core of my discouragement was a date: February 10th – my five-year anniversary date working at the ministry. Friends on Facebook and LinkedIn noticed the date and sent me online congratulations, but no one at the ministry remembered or acknowledged my work.
No cards. No flowers. Not even a stinkin’ piece of chocolate.
As I felt ignored, the resentment grew – until I read my client’s words.
I saw then how that tiny hurt on February 10th had begun to fester into an untreated wound. Instead of dealing with it, I just kept working harder and longer hours – not taking care of myself because no one cared about me anyway.
Sometimes we do that to ourselves. We mistreat ourselves because of how others have mistreated us. What I needed was to be noticed and celebrated for my work. What I did was punish myself and let it affect my soul. That led to discouragement, resentment and a growing hidden anger – so dangerous because it could have blocked the work of the Holy Spirit in me.
As I considered the truth of my client’s words, I opened my planner and marked off a couple of days for my own retreat.
It was time to take care of myself, to celebrate what God had done through me for five years and to let go of any angers.
So I spent those days digging in my garden, ripping out weeds and asking God to rip out of me the resentment from the missed anniversary. I sat on my deck with my journal and wrote out praises to God for all he had done in the women I served. Birds came to sing with me and the early spring sunshine warmed my bones.
Prayers flowed out of me abundantly as I focused on God’s work and confessed my self-centeredness. The Holy Spirit warmed me with the words of the Psalmist,
“When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.” Psalm 73:21-24
When I returned to work, I felt enriched – freed from that nasty resentful spirit and ready to serve again. Lesson learned. Gratitude renewed.
But just in case I forget, I keep my client’s card on my desk – to encourage me and remind me Who I’m really serving.
Who can you encourage today?
What can you do when you feel discouraged or resentful? Have you tried turning to God’s word for encouragement?