Words-what is discouragement

What is Discouragement and How to Not Let it Define Us

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What is discouragement? It is a curtain of doubt that falls on us when our optimism over a certain outcome is ripped away. 

I can vividly remember situations where I have felt discouragement. A season of hope that was replaced by uncertainty and confusion.

The moment my husband walked into the room after Hurricane Katrina and said, “the city is flooded and our house may be under water.”

The moment the doctor walked in and said, “there is something on the ultrasound that I don’t like.”

The moment my brother said, “Dad fell and is not doing well.”

You have probably experienced and can recollect moments of discouragement too. We all feel discouraged sometimes. But we can turn our disheartened spirit towards hope and encouragement despite our circumstances.

 “This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.”

Hebrews 6:19 NLT

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What is Discouragement?

The definition of discouragement is a loss of confidence and enthusiasm. The origin of the word discouraged is courage that is taken away.

What is discouragement? When our courage is taken away and replaced with an unknown and less desired feeling. Discouragement can cause fear, anxiety, confusion and sadness. It is the opposite of feeling inspired and encouraged.

Discouragement hits when we feel pretty good about a situation and something or someone rips our enthusiasm away. We lose control. At times we are immediately discouraged and other times it creeps up on us unexpectedly.

Before my husband delivered the news that we may have lost our home after a hurricane flooded our city, I was hopeful that our home and life were untouched. My hope was taken away and replaced with sadness, confusion and doubt. I became discouraged over our future; I lost my courage and despair threatened to replace it.

Discouragement is not one of my favorite topics to discuss or write about. I try to be optimistic; just thinking about discouragement can discourage me! But examining the triggers of discouragement can lead us to tools that help us recover from feelings of hopelessness.

Although not all depression is linked to discouragement, repeated, unchecked discouragement can cause us to become depressed and ineffective for God’s work.

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 NLT

Understanding the condition of being discouraged, and how discouragement manifests in our spirit, helps us learn to alleviate its effects or avoid it becoming a permanent state. We can learn how to nurture and uplift our soul.

“It is getting into the habit of nurturing those emotions and connections that give us strength and hope: two emotions overwhelmed when the tide of discouragement comes over us. Is it possible to get into a place of positivity when discouragement already sets in? I think it may be, if you know there is a path to get onto. Some encouragement from others may help, but on one’s own, just knowing it could get better may be the first bit of light at the end of the tunnel.” 

Margaret Wehrenberg, Psy.D

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What Causes Discouragement?

Discouragement is fed by disappointment. Disappointment is a feeling of sadness when our hopes and dreams are delayed, changed or crushed. In life, disappointments come often. Our expectations are not met and we are struggling with the reality of a different outcome.

We usually can juggle disappointments and move on, but sometimes what we are facing is too much and we slide into discouragement.

I was excited about my baby girl growing inside of me. When the doctor told me about the abnormal ultrasound, disappointment engulfed me. I was discouraged and lost belief in a positive outcome.

This is one story of what causes discouragement, but there are so many other ways we become uninspired and our courage is taken, including:

Fear, loss, lack of direction or purpose, chronic issues, lack of control, unhealthy relationships, loneliness, ingratitude and an undefined identity.  

This is quite a heavy list that affects most people at one time or another. When a situation or person causes discouragement, it can leave us feeling lost and overwhelmed.

But discouragement does not have to define us; recognizing what causes discouragement helps us process and grow through our feelings and at times make necessary changes. We are defined by God’s love for us not our feelings.

If in the natural, things are out of our control, (which they often are) remember, things are never out of God’s control. We can’t control many situations, but we can control how we process disappointment.

 “Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”

Mark 10:27 NLT

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What does God say about Discouragement?

When I wonder what does God say about discouragement, I am led to the Bible. The Bible is our source to gain courage when it has been depleted. It guides us to truth and helps us see that God wants us to be encouraged.

But moments of doubt and discouragement help us grow closer to God and fully appreciate and embrace the life He offers.

“Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.”

Romans 15:4 NLT

When my home was destroyed, I turned to scripture. When my baby’s future was in doubt I turned to scripture. In the first instance the outcome was disappointing, we lost our home, but God’s words were still a comfort. In the second instance my baby was perfect and God’s words sustained me in the waiting.

The word of God gives life and is the perfect landing space for whatever you are facing today.

“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”

Isaiah 40:31 NLT

Here are a couple of stories of Biblical characters that may encourage you. Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Caleb, a young man sent by Moses, were both able to overcome discouragement through their trust in God.

Joseph, an Example of How to Overcome Discouragement

In Matthew 1, Joseph the son of Jacob from the lineage of Abraham is introduced. You can imagine his disappointment when he learned that his fiancée, Mary, was pregnant. But instead of total despair, he turned to God and received a message.  God provided clear directions to help him move forward, out of discouragement and into a divine purpose for his life.

“Joseph’s presence at Christ’s birth witnesses to a severe test that had emerged triumphant. Mary was the pure young woman he had fallen in love with, and was about to make his wife. Yet the Child she was about to bear would not be his. Seeing her “great with child,” without fanfare Joseph was minded to put her away. He never acted rashly with his espoused, although he was baffled by her condition. This serves for all time as an example of godly wisdom and tender consideration for others.

Bitterly disappointed that Mary had apparently betrayed him, yet believing, he made no haste. As a praying man he waited upon God, and his love for and patience with Mary were rewarded. God understood his mental difficulties and rewarded Joseph’s conscientious attitude toward Mary by revealing His redemptive plan. God never fails those who carry their anxieties to Him. Joseph received a direct and distinct revelation from God, and at once his fears were banished, and his line of duty made clear.”

BibleGateway All the Men of the Bible

Caleb, an Example of How to Overcome Discouragement

In Numbers 13, we can learn from Caleb, the son of Jephunneh of the tribe of Judah. Caleb and 11 other men were commissioned by Moses to inspect the Promised Land of Canaan. When they returned after scouting out the land, they were discouraged and told Moses that the people were too strong and the Israelites should not proceed into Canaan. Caleb was the only voice to say they could move into the land flowing with milk and honey because of his trust in God.

“Although Caleb was not an Israelite by birth, he was “an Israelite indeed.” He was one of the chief spies sent out by Moses. He was courageous and persevered when the other spies became discouraged. He was invincible in driving out giants, completely devoted to God and vigorous in old age. Six times it is recorded of Caleb, “he hath fully followed the Lord.”

His consecration was thorough. What magnificent adverbs are used to describe Caleb. He followed faithfully, wholly, fully. He never lowered his standards, but was perpetually wholehearted. His courage was unfaltering.”

BibleGateway/ All the Men of the Bible

May these stories of encouragement inspire you today and serve as reminders that God is with us in the mountains and valleys of life. It is in the valleys that we can call out to Him to find comfort and be shaped to fully appreciate our mountain top experiences.

“You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills”

Psalm 104:10 ESV

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How Do You Overcome Discouragement? 5 Tips to Help You Be Encouraged

Since we are all unique as are our challenges, our answers are different to the question how do you overcome discouragement.

After my dad fell and broke his neck, he did not recover. I thought he was going to get better. When my dad died from his injuries, the discouragement threatened to swallow me. But God is always faithful to hear our prayers, and I was able to recover, knowing that my dad was with Jesus. I am now able to share this story with others of how to overcome discouragement.

Here are 5 tips I have personally used to overcome discouragement in my life, and I hope they will help you be encouraged:

  1. Acknowledge that you are discouraged. Often, we can move on from feeling disappointed, but sometimes, when our struggle is particularly tough, we get stuck. That is when discouragement sets in and we need to admit that we are having feelings of doubt. We need to admit our mistakes or setbacks and acknowledge self-doubt. It is not a failure to examine the truth about how we are feeling.
  2. Talk about your discouragement with a trusted friend, pastor, counselor and God, in prayer. Its ok to cry out about how sad you are with an outcome. It is ok to process feelings of guilt. It helps us move on instead of languishing in sadness for too long.
  3. Read, watch and listen to encouraging stories. It is powerful, spiritual medicine to read about others’ hardships and how they overcame discouragement. Studying others’ triumphs lifts me up, keeps things in perspective and helps me persevere instead of giving up. Some of my favorite inspiring stories are from the lives of Corrie Ten Boom, Anne Frank and C.S. Lewis.
  4. Encourage someone else. I know this is a hard one when you feel sad. But when we look to others’ needs and see that we can help, it brings a source of encouragement to us and to them. Sometimes buying someone coffee, listening to their story or a kind word can make a huge difference. Encouragement is powerful!
  5. Accept that we cannot control everything. This is hard to do, but essential to move on from situations that are not going our way. If we try to maintain control when it is not possible, we can quickly become discouraged and move toward despair. When we let go of control, it strengthens our trust in God and frees us to reclaim our courage.

I hope you are feeling encouraged today. But if not, I hope these tools to understand what is discouragement can help you find a path toward overcoming discouragement and resting in God’s hope.

I would love to hear how you have faced and overcome discouragement and any inspiring stories you would like to share!

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25 thoughts on “What is Discouragement and How to Not Let it Define Us”

  1. Avatar

    Beautiful encouragement from God’s word. I feel like my discouragement usually comes from unmet expectations. I am learning just to rest in His promises and sovereignty!

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    I appreciate your tips about helping us deal with discouragement. It’s safe to assume that most of us have felt discouragement at some if not many points along the way this year! But we don’t have to stay there. Thanks for your help!

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    Such an encouraging word that is so needed after a year filled with disappointment and discouragement. I love the scripture verses and Bible stories you share about encouragement. One of my other favorites is the story of Joseph in the OT. He faced so much discouragement but was able to look back on it all and say that God was always working for his good even in the midst of all of it.

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    “…we can turn our disheartened spirit towards hope and encouragement despite our circumstances.” Beautiful post and great tools to help with discouragement. I like that you said to acknowledge it … looking at it is an essential first step.

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    Love this because we do often get discouraged in this life. But by recognizing that we feel this way and talking to others about it we keep it from bringing us down. We can lean on God in those moments as He encourages us!

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    I love how you shared the encouragement you found during such difficult times in your life. Discouragement can get us off track from our faith. We find disappointment in the world but in God we find eternal hope.

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      Beautiful post on overcoming discouragement! Loved the 5 tips on how to win that battle! Very timely post during this time of year. Thank you for sharing! Blessings! 💗

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    This is such an important word for us in the current difficult times in our world. God is sovereign and in control, and we can trust Him with whatever circumstances we face. Thank you for your biblical insight and wisdom.

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    Thank you for sharing this great insight into what discouragement actually is and how we can deal with it. For me, the greatest challenge is to admit, when I am discouraged. But once done, then turning to others to talk through it and also remember those times that God came through for me do help a lot! Great post!

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    I have definitely found myself discouraged more this year than normal! I recently made a plan to start volunteering at a shelter once a week to help me keep my eyes off my discouragement and see instead God’s provision. Such an encouraging post. Thank you!

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    All such good encouragement! Your tip to acknowledge our discouragement really resonates with me. Acknowledging how we feel first in our own heart, and then in prayer to God are necessary but often overlooked steps in healing and overcoming. I really believe that we cannot release what we haven’t held, meaning we have to do a little examining of our heart before we can really begin to heal. Thanks for this reminder to keep taking everything to God. It’s our best line of defense against discouragement!

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    “…unchecked discouragement can cause us to become depressed and ineffective for God’s work.” I’ve had this happen before! Allowing discouragement to take over really hal!ts our ministry. Thanks for this thoroughly encouraging post!

Would love to hear your comments!