I read a story, the origin of which I do not know, that tells of a day when the Devil offered for sale all the tools of his trade. Those who came to shop, and perhaps to buy, were surprised that the highest price tag was attached to a small, wedge shaped implement. It did not look important at all, but the purchase price was more than all of the other implements combined. The Devil explained that this was his most effective tool for breaking into people’s lives. He called it discouragement.
We can all understand the meaning of that story because each of us has dealt with the problems it describes. Just about everyone is struggling with some sort of discouragement. Such battles are hard to fight, but we can take some comfort in knowing that we are not alone.
Yet each and every one of us needs to learn how to deal with discouragement. First, we need to know that discouragement is more often an emotional reaction than a rational conclusion. When a person is physically and emotionally exhausted, it is impossible for him or her to see life as it really is. He or she isn’t prepared to draw rational conclusions about anything.
Could it be that our discouragement stems from the same kind of miscalculation? We look around us at all of the trouble and decide that this a crazy world in which it is needless to hope for change and improvement. But that maybe more of an emotional reaction than a rational conclusion. Suppose a person could ignore all of the laws of health and still remain healthy. Suppose that person could be unkind to his children, unfaithful to his wife, and still have a good home. Suppose he or she could continually betray all of his friends and still be trusted. Suppose you could plant weeds and get roses. Or walk off the top of a building and not fall to the ground.
If things like that could happen, then this, indeed, would be a crazy world. But things like that do not happen. We live in a world that is anchored by moral as well as natural law; therefore, some things are predictable in both realms. Walk off the top of a building, and you fall to the ground. Repeatedly betray your friends, and you end up without any. Keep on breaking the laws of health, and eventually you will break your own health.
Long ago, St. Paul said it like this: “Make no mistake about it, no one makes a fool of God. A man will reap whatever he sows.” We are seeing that law at work in our world today. We have planted seeds of selfishness, greed, indifference, racial prejudice and class distinction. Now we are gathering the bitter fruit of resentment, hatred, and violence. What else could we expect?
This world hasn’t gone crazy, we have. The law of cause and effect is holding firm. We are simply reaping what we have sown. If we want a better harvest, then all we have to do is plant better seed. If we really want a family, a society, a world where peace and prosperity prevail then we must plant the seeds of righteousness, justice, understanding and good will. These are the facts of life with which we have to deal. Our discouragement about our family, our society, our world is not so much a rational conclusion as it is an emotional reaction.
Also, we need to understand that our discouragement is, in large measure, a product of our impatience. We want a better family life, a better society, a better work, and we want it now or, at least in the near future. If that does not happen, then we are tempted to abandon hope and give up the effort.
What a typically human response that is. If we are going to believe in kind work for a better home life, a better society, a better world, then we must be prepared to give it our long-term faith.
Remember that little wedge shaped tool! The Devil did not sell it. He still has it and is using it, right now, on some of us. There is much to be done. We will not get it all done in our time, but we can work at it and leave the rest to God.