When my husband and I decided to hike the Gap of Dunloe in County Kerry, Ireland, we did so under the impression that the hike would be easy.
That’s what TripAdvisor said, anyway. “Easy!” read the glowing reviews. “Relaxing walk,” said others. When we read about the Gap and learned that the hike was seventeen miles, we comforted ourselves by returning to the pages and pages of comments that reassured potential hikers. “No problem to walk,” wrote one. “Great way to spend a few hours,” wrote another.
But the hike wasn’t easy. At least, not as easy as we expected. The length wasn’t a problem, but a series of inclines as we crossed the gap wore us out. In our desperation to find a place to eat and use the bathroom, we also hiked a few miles beyond the official route. My husband, who’d forgotten his raincoat, got soaked by a pop-up storm in the last hour, and my unforgiving hiking boots eventually cost me my pinky toenail.
Was it fun? Yes. Was it beautiful? Yes. Would I do it again in a heartbeat? Absolutely. But did I consider it “easy”? No way! And that was actually part of the joy. As my husband and I finally arrived back at our car, soaked and laughing with aching legs and miles and miles behind us, we felt giddy and exhausted and triumphant.
I’m sure our little hike did seem easy to people used to such things. For us, though, a simple hike others might scoff at was a victory – and therefore worth celebrating and taking joy in. What seemed little to others was huge to us, and we gleaned encouragement from our ability to complete the task. Our hard-fought seventeen miles might have been a blip on another hiker’s radar, but that didn’t lessen the process, the effort, or the accomplishment.
And so it goes in life.
I am convinced that discouragement is directly linked to a perceived lack of results. If we start a new diet, but then don’t lose a pound (or lose it more slowly than we’d like), we grow discouraged. If we begin a new hobby and find we aren’t immediately skilled at it and perhaps don’t master it as quickly as we’d like, we grow discouraged. If we spend months ministering to someone and they don’t become a Christian, we grow discouraged.
But a lot of times we are making progress. Just because your steps forward might seem small compared to someone else’s doesn’t mean they’re small to God. The Watcher Of All Things sees your efforts, friend, and notes them. He will deal with the results; he wants you to focus on the process. “Let us not become weary in doing good,” Galatians 6:9 exhorts us, “for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Progress is slow. Progress is sometimes incremental to the point of being invisible. Please make note here: the harvest is not an immediate result of effort or advancement. The harvest will come, but it hasn’t yet, and it might not for a while – even as and if we are doing the good work God has asked of us.
When you find yourself getting discouraged, take a while to remind yourself of where you were and where you are now. Take time to focus on the little things. You might not have reached a mountain summit, but if you made a seventeen-mile hike you couldn’t make before, that means something. If you start a new diet and you lose three pounds, celebrate! If you begin a new hobby and you are better today than you were two weeks ago, but are by no means great, celebrate! If you’ve ministered to someone for three months, even if they don’t come to Christ, celebrate that they listened, and that you had the opportunity to show love.
A lot of us confuse “progress” with “enormous accomplishment.” But progress is moving forward. And everyone’s progress is going to look different, because we all start at different places, with different gifts, and different resources. Do your best in everything, even if the results seem small. Don’t ever, ever, ever give up. God knows. God sees. He will celebrate with you.
If you put in the effort, don’t be discouraged. The Lord of The Harvest will take care of everything else.