Discouragement: An Avoidable Spiritual Disaster
Death can come about it many forms. Some of its more obvious, drastic causes that immediately come to mind are things like heart attacks, gunshot wounds, or car accidents. Yet everyone knows that death can also come on slowly and subtly. While most people take every precaution to avoid a traumatic death, who’s to say that the door knob you just touched doesn’t have a deadly virus on it, waiting to invade your body from the inside and cause a life-threatening illness? Swift or slow, painful or painless, death is inevitable for us all.
But there is something else which is just as inevitable as death—Satan’s attempt to bring about the death of each person’s soul. While it is possible for us to avoid this death, it is impossible for us to avoid his deadly efforts. When looking out for the pitfalls and dangers to avoid in the spiritual life, most of us focus on avoiding the major traumatic injuries: sins against purity, excessive anger, or pride, for example. However, many people forget that even if the devil can’t cause any of these traumatic spiritual injuries, he has many deadly viruses up his sleeve, which can silently and subtly lead a soul to destruction. One of the most powerful spiritual microbes is the contagion of discouragement. It is a spiritual disease of which many are unaware, and is as deadly and effective as it is unknown. But just as we need to strengthen our immune system to effectively combat disease, so we need to immunize our souls against the diabolical diseases the devil has in store for us.
Discouragement can strike the most devout of souls. In fact, the devout are highly susceptible, since it is a tactic that can be extremely effective on souls that are impervious to other more obvious deceits of the devil. It can even be mistaken for devotion if it is not recognized for what it really is. However, discouragement is really a form of pride. It removes the love and trust in God from the soul, and makes one adopt the attitude that everything depends on the individual. Rather than trusting in God’s mercy for the past and His grace for the present and future, one ends up despairing over the human inability to change the past and the frailty of human weakness in the present and future. It paralyzes the soul by causing it to obsess over past failings, and ultimately it removes the real motive for serving God—love—and replaces it with an imposter motive—servile fear.
Christ’s love for us caused Him to go as far as the horrendous death of the cross. Do you think the One who said, “I am come to cast fire on the earth” (Lk. 12:49) and who looked lovingly on the children playing in his lap wants us to cower in His presence like maltreated slaves? Our goal in life is to imitate perfectly one person and to imprint His image on our souls—that person is Christ. But if you’ve ever imitated a sports player, a singer, or an actor, you know that you don’t achieve a successful imitation by focusing on how poor your imitation actually is—that gets you nowhere. Instead, you try to remove elements of yourself from your impersonation in order to become more like the person you want to imitate.
Similarly, discouragement gets you nowhere in the spiritual life...nowhere we want to be headed. St. Thérèse of Lisieux recognized how powerful of a killer discouragement can be, which is why she made a resolution on her First Communion never to become discouraged. St. Louis DeMontfort says in his spiritual masterpiece, True Devotion to Mary, that one of the wonderful effects of consecrating oneself to the Blessed Mother is that she will “take away from your heart all scruple and all disorder of servile fear … She will introduce into it pure love, of which she has the treasure, so that you shall no longer be guided by fear … but by love” (True Devotion to Mary, TAN Books, 139).
God knows our weakness and our frailty. So does Satan. God wants our weakness and frailty to be the reason why we put all our trust in Him and realize that we can do nothing without Him. The devil wants our weakness and frailty to be the reason why we despair and think that getting to heaven is a lost battle when we actually have much time left to fight. These are two drastically different ways to approach our weakness. Make the right choice; it will make you profoundly peaceful and happy now and in eternity.