I went through a period every single semester in college when I doubted that I was in the right major.
If you’ve never been through it, it may sound sort of silly. But at least once every semester, I would look at the students within my major and think about how much better they were at English than I was. Whether it was writing a short story or analyzing a book, there always seemed to be some point when I just felt completely inadequate because it felt like people were doing so much better than me.
Then I would start thinking about the most depressing things. I considered how competitive the field I wanted to enter was, how seemingly few jobs there were within it, and I would get so bummed out. I would think, “And I have no backup plan because writing and analyzing are the only things I’m good at, and I’m obviously not even terribly good at that.” I can’t tell you how many times in those four years I asked God why He wanted me to pursue this degree and enter a field when I wouldn’t do well in it.
I’m not telling you this so you’ll shower me with compliments on my writing abilities. I’m telling you this to prove how easy it is for me, and a lot of people, to become discouraged.
In truth, it took a long time for me to even call myself a “writer” because I felt you had to be a good writer in order to be called one at all. A beloved professor of mine, Pamela Duncan, changed my view of that. Even now, I don’t consider myself to be a great writer, but I don’t think I’m horrible at it. I’ll admit that I’m pretty good at it.
Then why is it so easy for me to get discouraged?
Discouragement is born of doubt. When I begin to doubt my abilities, I start to see only the areas and ways that I fall short.
I don’t know how many of you have seen the movie The Replacements. It’s a movie about a professional football team goes on strike and the team is then made up of (you guessed it) replacements. After a bad game, they’re talking in the locker room, and their wondering why they’ve been playing the way they have. Keanu Reeves (I think) says that it’s like quicksand. They keep focusing on the mistakes they’re making and they keep struggling with that on their minds, which is only making them worse.
It’s the very same way with discouragement. We get down and all we do is focus on what’s wrong, and we start seeing more mistakes and sinking even farther down into the quicksand.
When we’re looking for something or at it, we tend to find or notice it a lot more. For example, in my Postcolonial Literature class last year, we read TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (which is a great book), and my professor pointed out the picture of McCann on the back of the book. It was a black and white image, and he was wearing a scarf in it. Dr. Wright said something along the lines of, “These pictures kill me. He wouldn’t wear something like this in everyday life.” McCann came to speak at the annual Spring Literary Festival, and my class was privileged enough to have McCann come speak to our class, where I got to interview him for a project. When he walked in, he was wearing a scarf of the very same style in his picture. Not only that, but when he spoke at Literary Festival events, he was also wearing a scarf like that. Of course, all of us in the class joked about it. Then I started noticing more of those scarves in general. It wasn’t cold out, so it’s not like a ton of people were wearing them, but I would see one in pictures or something. It was on my mind, so I began finding it, not even intentionally looking for it.
It’s not too surprising that when we focus on disappointment and discouragement, we begin seeing it in abundance. If I only focus about the things I’m doing wrong, those mistakes are going to pop up everywhere, and they’re going to seem massive.
The next thing I know, I don’t enjoy whatever I’m feeling discouraged about as much. When I would feel awful about my writing, I didn’t really look forward to writing. I was overly critical of it and doubting myself. And of course, I thought of all the people who could probably write whatever I was working on a lot better than me. I didn’t want to do it. The enjoyment and passion I felt towards it lessened considerably.
“How did you find encouragement, Carrie?”
I’m so glad you asked!
Every time I felt discouraged about my writing, God would show me that I wasn’t as bad as I thought I was. Sometimes it was through a friend who read a paper of mine or needed help with a paper if their own and sought my assistance. Other times, it was making a great grade on a writing assignment. In truth, there are probably other ways He showed me that I’m not remembering because as I say, it happened every few months.
God would remind me that my abilities are a gift from Him and that He was the one instructing me on how to use them. My focus shifted from looking at how I was doing to looking at what God was doing. The sound of the Chatterbox turned down, and I could clearly hear God encouraging me. But I found more than encouragement in God and what He was saying. I found that He was actually cheering me on. He wasn’t just saying, “Don’t worry, Carrie. I’ve got this. It’ll all work out.” Don’t get me wrong; that was part of it. But He was also saying, “Look at how good you are at this! I gave you a gift; keep using it! You’re doing so well.”
God doesn’t just encourage me like this. He’s cheering for you too. Maybe you can’t hear it over the sounds of the Chatterbox, but He is. And the only way you’re going to hear it is if you can manage to turn down the volume of the Chatterbox or start listening for sounds beyond it, sounds that don’t blend in with what it’s saying.
John the Baptist – cousin to Jesus and the forerunner for the Messiah – even doubted. If you don’t believe me, read Matthew 11. John’s situation was one that the Chatterbox lives for. He was in prison, a bad place he probably never expected to be in, and wasn’t seeing in Jesus’ ministry what he anticipated would happen. So he sent some of his guys to ask Jesus what was up.
Jesus sent word back to John of all the good that was happening in His ministry. (I’d be willing to bet that the good Jesus was doing wasn’t making as many headlines as news of the company He was keeping and places He was going did.) It was to encourage John and let him know that his faith had not been misplaced for a second. Was the reality of Jesus’ ministry what John expected? No, but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t exactly what would change the world.
Not only that, but Jesus then praised John to the people around Him. He said many good things about John, but my favorite among the compliments is by far, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist…” (Matthew 11:11, NRSV).
In other words, “That guy that just needed confirmation and encouragement? Out of everyone that’s ever been born, there’s not a single person better than that guy! I love him.”
The next time you begin to doubt and feel disappointed or discouraged, remember that you’re not alone. It really does happen to all of us, yes, even the best of us. More importantly, remember that God’s trying to tell you (and maybe even other people) that it’s okay, that you’re amazing, and it’ll all work out in your favor.
By Carrie Prevette