|A bright row of houses visible only after going through a tunnel. Edinburgh.|
On Thursday afternoon I had another presentation, this time for a performance studies seminar. The readings in this seminar are outside of my usual genre and sometimes I feel like I am barely keeping my head above water. So I was hoping to do well. During the informal presentation, one person wondered why I was making these connections. Was my theme trauma? What? Not at all! I tried to explain myself, but I wasn't sure if I was being clear. Others in the group offered observations and comments and these seemed much more informed and nuanced than anything I had said. Oh well. On my way home, I started to get really discouraged. Though everyone in the seminar is always friendly and gracious, I thought...perhaps I am doing really badly in this course and I don't even know it. Yes, that seemed totally likely. The silly, uninformed theology student was totally out of her league in a performance studies graduate seminar. A pit of uneasiness started to grow in my stomach. This was going to end badly, I knew it. And then I recognised that I was being visited by discouragement. What do you do when you are visited by discouragement? I decided that instead of letting myself be carried away by it, I would try to be honest, gracious, and responsible in how I responded. So here is what I did.
1. I acknowledged the discouragement. I didn't brush it aside as unfounded negative thoughts or try to overcome it through positive talk. I didn't want to avoid what was happening inside me. I tried to be truthful about how I felt and vocalised it, telling God what my thoughts were. I tried to let the emotion connected to the disappointment out in a safe way. Discouragement can be a bit like mourning because some aspect of hope has died, so I tried to face it with grace and courage and let it run its course.
2. After the emotion subsided a bit, I took a look at the situation. Was there a valid reason to be discouraged? I wasn't sure; all I had was my gut feeling and my perceptions of how people had reacted. I decided that I had to find out more about the situation to see if my response was merited.
3. I made contact with my faith community and got a friend to pray with me. I gave the situation over to God. I gave the emotions over to God. I gave the past, the present, the in-between time, and the future over to God.
4. I ate a good meal. I went for a long walk. I read an inspiring book. I played with the cat. I breathed deeply and listened to some music. I let lots of life in. And then I got a good night's sleep.
5. The next day I contacted my professor and expressed my concern about how I was doing in the course. He provided the clarification I needed and gave me some ideas for how to move forward. It wasn't nearly as bad as I had imagined and feared.
The visit by discouragement was relatively short and it left gently, easing off my soul bit by bit until I felt light and filled with hope again. There is still much work ahead of me in my course of study, but I no longer feel like I am floundering. And I am not afraid of the next time that discouragement comes knocking. I know what to do.