Enemy number one is sin! After the reality of sin, we must constantly be on guard, day in and day out, morning and evening and in all circumstances to fight forcefully against the devil of discouragement.
SAUL AND YOUNG DAVID. Even though chosen to be the King and leader of the Israelites, King Saul experienced frequent bouts of discouragement that easily led to depression. Young David would come to King Saul’s aid by playing a musical melody on the harp. This would assuage and alleviate Saul at least temporarily of the bad spirit of discouragement.
Like Saul, we all confront persons, places, circumstances, health situations, that can easily lead us down the road of discouragement.
SAINT IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA AND DISCOURAGEMENT. The great Saint Ignatius of Loyola understood keenly the reality of discouragement. So much did he understand this reality that he penned fourteen rules, The Rules for Discernment of Spirits for the first week, and several of these rules deal with this topic. One of the manifestations of a state of desolation is that of discouragement, sadness, lack of faith, hope, and love, a tugging toward the sensual— in a word, seeing the world as if it were a dark and endless tunnel.
NO SHAME TO BE IN DESOLATION OR TEMPTED TO DISCOURAGEMENT. None of us should be ashamed if we find ourselves tempted to be immersed in a state of discouragement. Often it is the devil himself who can provoke discouragement. However, it is incumbent upon all of us to be aware of this often subtle temptation, and we must fight forcefully against it. Indeed, if we give in to discouragement then it can really wreak havoc in our lives.
SPIRITUAL STRATEGY. This being said, we would like to offer to all a game plan, a strategy that we can utilize so as to prove victorious in our battle against the all-present reality of discouragement.
1. VIGILANCE AND BEING AWARE! The first principle that should be enunciated in the battle against discouragement is the admission of the simple fact that in our lives there will be constant temptations to give in to discouragement. With this heightened awareness, we will not be taken off guard when the devil of discouragement is knocking at the door of our hearts. Keep the door of your heart locked, key and bolt from this devil!
2. PRAYER AND CONSTANT PRAYER. Jesus says that we should pray always and without giving up hope. Saint Paul reiterates the same idea when he says we should pray constantly and give thanks to God in all occasions.
3. THANKSGIVING: CULTIVATE AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE. Following up on the previous idea, we should live in a constant mode of thanksgiving. God is so good in all places and at all times. All that we have in our lives in our natural talents, but most important, in our supernatural life of grace, are gifts from the Father of all good gifts. It might seem almost paradoxical, but when we are in the so-called mode of discouragement, we should call to mind at least some of the gifts bestowed generously on us by God, and often the discouragement will disappear, like the early morning dew that evaporates as the sun breaks through the clouds. Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His love endures forever.
4. EXAMINE YOUR CONSCIENCE. Another helpful step in conquering discouragement is that of self-knowledge that can be attained through a Daily Examine of Conscience. Saint Ignatius says those who are serious about growing in the spiritual life should never neglect the Daily Examen. This can prove of incalculable benefit for the simple reason that the Daily Examen well done will help us get to the root cause of why we are tempted to give in to discouragement. The classical spiritual writers insist on the capital importance of self-knowledge. The desert Fathers coined the two-word axiom: KNOW THYSELF!!!
5. SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR. Also the saints insist that those who are pursuing an authentic life of holiness must seek out some periodic and systematic spiritual direction. We all of us have blind spots and cannot really see ourselves as we are. An experienced, spiritual, and well-educated spiritual director can help pull us out of discouragement, as well as help us from falling into the pit of discouragement.
6. TRANSPARENCY WITH YOUR SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR. As a follow-up, it is extremely important and necessary that we do not hide, blur, or camouflage our state of soul with our spiritual director. Saint Ignatius in his rules for discernment highlights the fact that the devil wants us to keep to ourselves our interior state of desolation that often is discouragement. Then the devil can easily turn a mole-hill into a mountain. On the contrary, revealing our state of discouragement to a well-trained director can lift the dark clouds and allow God’s light, peace, and joy to return to our soul. In all humility, we need each other to help us through the pits, valleys, dark nights and struggles if life.
7. CHECK YOUR HEALTH AND REST. Often we may experience discouragement for the simple reason that we feel weak, sickly, depleted of energy. Two suggestions: get a physical checkup to see if there is something wrong on a physical plane. Next, make sure you get a good night’s rest. You would be surprised how a good night’s rest can literally change the tide. Many temptations descend upon us for the simple reason that we are not sufficiently well-rested!
8. GET OUT OF YOURSELF AND SERVE, HELP OTHERS! A trained spiritual director in Chile, Father Aldunate, S.J. was able to reform countless numbers of wounded people who suffered desolation, discouragement, and depression. He formulated this program: 1) Confession, 2) Daily mental prayer and sharing, 3) Serving/helping others! What a simple but great and extremely efficacious program this Chilean Jesuit priest formulated. First, get back in the state of grace through the Sacrament of Confession and then Holy Communion. Next, mental prayer, we call it meditation, for an hour; Fulton Sheen called it the Hour of Power! Finally, get out of self and get into the lives of others by serving them. How? Help the poor, visit hospitals, go to nursing homes, to name a few, and finally, smile at the discouraged! This program worked miracles, and it still can today, if we are willing to follow it!
9. TALK TO THE SAINTS. Often those who suffer discouragement experience at the same time a certain feeling of loneliness. They feel that nobody seems to care about them, or, if they do, it is very little. Even if this were the case, we are never really alone because we have the saints. The saints are God’s friends in heaven, but they are our friends too! Despite their many trials in life, the saints lived in an atmosphere of almost constant joy. Why? Because they were convinced that God really did love them. When discouraged, remember that God loves you infinitely! But also remember that God’s friends—the saints in heaven—also love you and they are your friends. Get into the habit of talking to the saints.
10. OUR LADY: CAUSE OF OUR JOY. Of course our essay would be incomplete if we did not invite Our Lady into our lives. After he died, Saint Dominic Savio appeared to Saint John Bosco and told Bosco that his greatest joy on earth was his tender and loving devotion to the Blessed Mother—Our Lady Help of Christians. In the midst of the dense clouds of confusion, depression, and discouragement, let us lift our gaze to Mary and cry out: Hail Holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope!