“Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em” How to deal with discouragement


I love this quote. Not that I don’t have lots of go-to Bible verses in my journal for when the going gets tough, but nothing hits the proverbial nail on the head like this one. Can I get an “Amen?”

There are just those days when you think you should just quit writing. ‘Cause writing is, like, hard, you know? Times when you think about finding something else to do. Like solving world hunger. Or getting a “real job,” like plumber, which is one of those professions that brings true joy to people. Nothing like an unclogged septic tank to make you want to do a happy dance.


Here’s the thing: how do you know, when you are doing a thing, that God wants you to keep doing that thing?

Discouragement isn’t really a qualification. Plenty of Bible heroes faced discouragement. Elijah, after the greatest success of his career as a Prophet of God on Mount Carmel, sank into such a deep depression that he wished he’d never been born. (This is in 1 Kings 18-19, if you are following along in your Bibles.) Why? Because his super-duper miracle hadn’t changed a single heart (though it did stop a few). It only made his enemies madder. So, he thought, what’s the point? Why do I even bother?

I love that God answers his epic complaints with: lunch.

So, step # 1 when you want to quit: Have lunch. Then take a nap.

Kind of looks like him too.
Kind of looks like him too.

God makes Elijah some lunch and then tells him to take a nap. Once Elijah is feeling stronger physically, God’s next direction is to take a walk. To the top of a mountain. Walking is a great way to sort through the stuff of life. Not running, mind you. Nothing good comes of running. But a long walk does wonders for figuring stuff out (and burning off all those lunch calories.)

Once he’s had a good nap and a nice walk, God addresses Elijah’s spiritual malaise: “Elijah, what are you doing here?” God’s not interested in his physical location, but his spiritual one. Elijah starts right in with: “I’m doing all this amazing stuff for You, but it was a total failure and I’m all alone, so please kill me now.” (Paraphrasing here LOL)


Do you ever ask this question of yourself? What am I doing here? And is the answer, “All I’ve done has gotten me exactly nowhere, so I must be a failure?”

Step # 2: Vent. This is healthy, for a time.

God lets Elijah repeat this lament two times, but He doesn’t respond directly. He doesn’t say, “There, there Elijah, don’t worry, everything is going to be okay. I know how you feel. I’ve been there.”


When Elijah is done venting, God gives him a to-do list. It’s like God is saying, “Okay, feel better now? Great. Here’s what you’re going to do.”

Step # 3: Get back to work. Possibly in a new direction.

Keep in mind: God might tell you to do something you never thought you’d be doing. Elijah wasn’t going to be preaching or performing great public miracles. He wasn’t going to take down Ahab all by himself. The first thing God tells him to do is to anoint a Gentile king (and not a particularly good one) who would eventually attack Israel and Judah and wipe out all those who failed to heed his warnings on Mount Carmel. Then Elijah was to anoint Jehu as king over Israel, who would take care of all those that the other guy missed, including Elijah’s arch-nemesis, the wicked queen Jezebel.

Long story short: “You do your job, Elijah, and I’ll do mine.”

This didn’t happen overnight. In fact, Elijah wasn’t even there to see it happen, but from that moment on, he never doubted God’s word.

The last thing God gave Elijah: a friend. Now he was not alone anymore.

Step # 4: Find a friend.


I remember when I was at the point of giving up, God did give me a friend. I found her via the internet, when I went looking for an editor who could help me fix up a novel I had decided to self-publish after trying for months to get a traditional publisher. She turned out to be not only a wonderful writer and editor but a great encourager. We eventually formed a writer’s group with one of her fellow editors. We meet once a month to vent, critique each other’s work, and encourage each other. I can’t tell you what a difference it has made.

So here’s the bottom line: if one of the greatest of God’s prophets can have a major identity crisis, why can’t we? Maybe this is exactly the sort of thing we need to keep us moving in the right direction. I can’t see the end of the story yet, but until I start getting brochures for plumbing schools in the mail, I’m going to keep doing this thing and trust God with all the rest of it. I hope you will too.


Gina Detwiler is a writer of fiction and co-author of The Prince Warriors by Priscilla Shirer


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