Every now and then I find myself struggling with discouragement. I suppose that’s true for most people. Sometimes these times of discouragement seem to come out of nowhere. Other times they’re due to the emotional drain of a flopped project, a soured relationship, or simply a realization of how truly human I am in a world where human often seems not good enough.
Ministry leaders are particularly prone to discouragement due to the intense demands on their time and families as well as the extremely relational nature of the work. The truth is that most of us really do want to please people, but there’s absolutely no way to please all the people all the time.
It’s on these down days that my affirmation file comes in very handy. I keep this tattered file in one of my desk drawers. It has made a number of moves through the years as I’ve followed God to different places along my ministry journey. The label on the tab says simply ‘Affirmation/Encouragement,’ and it’s filled with cards, letters, and notes of appreciation from various people I’ve met along the way. Over the past few years, an increasing percentage of these items are in the form of email and Facebook print-outs. Most of the notes are from people I know pretty well, although some are from those with whom my life intersected only briefly as I led a workshop, officiated a funeral, or ministered in some other way.
I’ve kept a file like this for as long as I can remember, and I strongly recommend that you keep one too — for several key reasons:
1. You need reminders of the really good moments in your life. One of the enemy’s greatest and most effective tools is that of discouragement. Written words have value long after the ink dries. When discouragement comes I essentially have two choices: I can wallow in self-pity (which accomplishes nothing helpful), or I can focus on my blessings, strengths, and past accomplishments. I like to think that the apostle Paul might have kept an affirmation file too. Writing to the Philippians, he said:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. – Philippians 4:8, ESV
Paul is often described as a sort of spiritual superhero who, like Superman, underwent an almost instantaneous transformation when he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. Clearly, as one who had a legacy of persecuting believers, Paul could have focused on his past sins and selfish actions. Instead he made the choice to channel his energies into being different and doing good things, all for the sake of the gospel message.
2. You need perspective in times of self-doubt. We often go through seasons of life in which our struggles seem never-ending. Re-reading the materials in my affirmation file helps me remember that God uses me to make a difference in the lives of others, even at times when I’m totally unaware of my influence. I find that I am my own worst critic, and the notes in my file remind me that plenty of people are with me, for me, and behind me — encouraging me to finish strong in this marathon of life.
3. You need “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” Those are words from one of my favorite hymns, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” I draw a lot of strength from the power of God’s Word. So many of the items in my affirmation file contain a Scripture verse that is just what I need to hear in days of trial. Many of those verses are near and dear to my heart. They are constant reminders that God’s Word never returns void.
An added benefit of keeping an affirmation file is its intrinsic ability to help me practice gratitude to others. A hand-written note or other expression of encouragement can absolutely speak life into someone’s day.
May you find joy and encouragement as you live and lead, and may you find joy as you affirm others along life’s path.
Garrick D. Conner