In my role as a journalist, I have camped in the valley of discouragement several times. Three years ago, I was given a big assignment by a leading magazine. The article – a front-page crime story – was to be the scoop of the decade. The editor was over the moon; the features director thrilled and I couldn’t believe my good fortune. After months of exclusive interviews with police, psychologists, family and friends which all led up to an in-depth interview with the subject for my ‘brilliant story’ (…ahem), I realised something was wrong. The editor had wanted a “phoenix rising from the ashes” angle, but I quickly discovered this person really hadn’t overcome the adversity the story required. It was disastrous.
On a blustery winter’s day, only weeks before the story was to go to print, I received an email from the features editor: “Nicole … I don’t know how to tell you this,” he wrote ever so apologetically, “your story has been spiked (that’s newspaper speak for ‘dropped’). I stared at the email for about 10 minutes, retreated to the lounge room, fell on the couch and burst into tears. Pitifully, my torrential outburst should have been reserved for a real tragedy, not a job loss. Nevertheless, I remained on the couch for three days in my pyjamas, save the odd moment when I got up to go the toilet, make a cup of tea or cook dinner for the family.
Metaphorically speaking I had pitched my tent, pulled out my camp chairs and settled into my abyss – not knowing how long I would be staying and wallowing in the mire. What’s more, my internal narrative throughout my three-day jaunt, continued to remind me of all my past mistakes (too many to list). After several days of drinking tea and eating cakes at my pity party, I picked up my Bible and read Isaiah 40:31. Comforting words: “they that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength – they will mount up as wings as Eagles.’ Of course – this was the answer. I was to put my hope in God, not in the fickleness of the world and one spiked story. Psalm 30:5 was also of great comfort … weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”
Sure enough, my joy did return, but in time discouragement would pay another visit. In 2015, a significant book deal fell through. Once again, I pitched my tent and spent at least three months in isolation. I lost my will to write or for that matter, even talk about writing. I even booked myself into a rehab hospital to correct a back injury. Every Tuesday and Thursday, I bobbed around in a hydrotherapy pool with 80-something year olds who’d smile at me sweetly before saying, “Pass the floaties dear…”
Eventually my back did correct itself and so did my career. What I’ve come to realise is this: There will be highs – and I have had plenty of those – and there will be lows. I make it my daily discipline to roll with the punches and to go to the Word, instead of my bed. “Why so downcast oh my soul,” the psalmist David wrote so beautifully “put your hope in God.” The lesson for me, and indeed one we could all learn is that when discouragement comes – and it will – pass through the valley, acknowledge the valley, but don’t stay there. Pick up your backpack and your water flask (the Living water), dismantle your one-man tent and walk: Right foot, left foot. Onward. Upward. I assure you, there are better days ahead if you’ll dare to leave the campground behind.