The last day of the year. A 2.5-hour drive to a friend’s house in Sycamore, IL became a harrowing 7.5-hour excursion toward and then away from South Bend, IN. Though I’m unsure of exactly how it happened (but geographic reasoning is not my strong suit), this experience showed me how easily discouragement takes hold of my heart.
Lost and Losing Hope
At the beginning of the trip, I had been reflecting on the beauty of the snow I saw along my route in Illinois—how it rests brilliant and evenly on all things, and endows them with beauty. In that moment, God was rest, a unity of self and landscape.
When I crossed into Indiana, I ran into a heavy patch of Lake Effect snow on the highway, and the snow was no longer beautiful. It was blinding, and as I sat there shaking, gripping the steering wheel, and keeping my distance from the truck in front of me, I began to lose hope.
For a time, I did not know I was entering into a moment of desolation. Honestly, in the midst of this small blizzard, I forgot God for a time. It was only as I was winding my way along Indiana’s country roads in an effort to find the highway back to Illinois that I remembered Him. And I was furious. It had begun to snow again. The sun had suddenly slipped like a dull coin into an envelope of snow clouds, and my GPS had momentarily lost signal. A kind man in a Casey’s noticed my chapped face, and gave a few good directions, but my geographically challenged brain still struggled to grasp where I was going. In the fifteen minutes it took for my GPS to find a signal, I railed against God. “Help me! You know I have no idea where to go! Why won’t you help me? I hate snow!”
Discouragement is from the Devil
During this trip, the devil, whose name is Discouragement, gripped at my heart for awhile. I felt an impending sense of dread. It seemed inevitable that I would go off the road; that no one would be around to help me; that the frigid temperatures and my fear would finish me.
The word despair means “to be separated from hope.” On the last day of the year, I felt that I had, in some small space deep within, turned away from God. I had finally shown the hand that I had, until this moment, kept close to myself. I had finally revealed that deep down I did not trust Him. I did not trust that He was holding me close in these hours of panic. Driving in the snow and in the darkness, fear blotted out hope.
Though I finally made it to my friend’s house, I was shaken by the experience. I was left wondering: What can I do with this utter lack of trust? The way my faith wavers in moments of distress?
Peter and Hope
When I think of discouragement in Scripture, I think of Peter. There are so many moments where I imagine he momentarily experienced deep discouragement: when Jesus entered his boat to preach and Peter had caught nothing after fishing the entire night before; on a harrowing journey across a storm-tossed lake where Peter walked toward Jesus on the water and began to sink when he noticed the whipping wind and the rising waves; when Jesus told Peter, “Get behind me Satan,” after Peter tried to deny that Jesus would have to suffer and die; when before Jesus’ crucifixion Peter denied ever knowing Jesus.
I think of an evening after Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, the evening before Peter and his fellow disciples discovered the Resurrected Jesus on the shore. Peter said to the other disciples, “I am going fishing,” and watched the placid sea all night. He caught nothing.
I wonder if Peter despaired during that night. His relationship with Jesus had been broken by betrayal and fear; yet, in the morning, at Jesus’ familiar words to fish the other side of the boat, Peter jumped out of the boat to get to Jesus. And Jesus proceeded to feed both Peter’s body and soul. He forgave Peter his weakness and called him to feed the flock he would soon serve as pope.
In this scene, Peter’s discouragement was brief. Mine was too. Yet this experience awakened in me a need to recommit myself to hope.
Finding Peace in the Midst of Discouragement
If discouragement is a cross you carry, I want to tell you that you are not alone. We live in an anxious world that chips away at our peace. I pray that each of our hearts is able to rest in a reality bigger than our worries: that our Lord does not stand by watching us in our discouragement, but with a compassion fuller than we can imagine, feels our grief, our anxiety, and even our despair, and actively seeks to comfort us.
A dear spiritual friend, St. Therese of Lisieux, elaborates on this truth: “As the sun shines both on the cedar and the smallest flower, so the Divine Son illumines each soul, great or lowly, and all things work together for its good.” He sees all. He is present in all.
Though I felt incredibly fearful that night, Christ shielded me from harm. Though dark and snowy, He led me to the right road, and ultimately to my destination—to a town with snowless roads, to a house still filled with Christmas lights, into the arms of a waiting friend. Though I still struggle with the temptation toward discouragement, like Peter, I want to continually turn toward Christ, and invite Him to plant His hope deeper in my being.
How do you cling to hope during times of discouragement? Is there a prayer you say or a Scripture you read? Please share with us in the comments below.
Lindsey Weishar is an MFA candidate in Poetry. She enjoys discovering beauty in the little things and endless cups of tea. She has written for Verily and the Young Catholic Woman. A chapbook of her poems is forthcoming from Leaf Press in the spring.