Overcoming Spiritual Discouragement: Living with Hope

Say then with boldness, “Now I begin,” and go forward constantly in God’s service. Do not look back so often, because one who looks back cannot run. And do not be content to begin only for this year. Begin every day, because it is for every day, even for every hour of the day, that the Lord taught us to say in the Our Father, “Forgive us our trespasses,” and, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

In any time of discouragement, when you feel that you have failed yet again, that there are irreversible consequences, that it is too late, that you will never change, say, “Now I begin!” And say it with boldness — boldness because God’s grace is always with you, because he loves you, because it is never too late, because nothing is impossible for God (Luke 1:37). There is nothing you can ever have done, nowhere you can ever have been in your life that can ever stop you from turning right now to God, asking forgiveness if you need it — a forgiveness that God delights to give, rejoices to give, is eager to give (Luke 15) — and beginning again. I have seen this counsel of Venerable Bruno give hope to many.

“Do not look back so often, because one who looks back cannot run.” Try this! Try to run while looking back over your shoulder. You will quickly laugh and give it up — or fall over! Do not allow your heart to dwell so often on your past failings. It is more important and more blessed to begin now, to look forward, to follow where God is leading now.

Do this not once a year, not even at the start of every day — both wonderful practices — but even every hour of the day, with hope and trust in God’s love. Can you try this? Can you see the differ-ence this will make? The hope this will bring? The courage you will feel to fulfill the tasks God has given you? Then forgiveness and the daily bread, the daily nourishment we need for our bodily and spiritual lives, will gently and joyfully enter our hearts.

Be on guard against discouragement and lack of trust. Strive to do well all that you do, but do this with respect for your humanity, without striving for an impossible perfection, focusing simply on the day at hand. Remember that “the just man falls seven times a day,” and so you will find blessing in beginning not only every day, but every hour.

The great obstacle in the spiritual life is discouragement. For those who love the Lord and sincerely try, with all their failings, to follow him, this is the great danger. And so Venerable Bruno begins here: “Be on guard against discouragement!” Are you discouraged these days? This day? Be aware and watchful against this feeling. Venerable Bruno will suggest concrete ways to combat discourage-ment, as we will see.

Yes, strive to do well all that you do — your prayer, your work, your relationships, your service to others, your life in the Church — but do it with respect for your humanity. If you find yourself straining to get that last good task done in the face of utter ex-haustion; if you find yourself taking on one more responsibility when you know that you are already too stressed; if you consider undertaking a further spiritual practice that you know will only be possible when nothing unforeseen interferes — and you know that unforeseen things will occur — know that God is not asking this of you right now. Yes, strive to do well all that you do. God does want this of you. But God also wants you to respect the hu-manity he has given you, the humanity that he himself took on and that he loves.

Nor does God ask you to strive for an impossible perfection. Rather, focus simply on the day at hand. Do what God has given you to do today. That is enough. That is your path to holiness; it is all you need.

I have come to love the biblical affirmation that the just man falls seven times a day (Prov. 24:16). We do! That is why we have a penitential rite at the start of every Mass: “I confess … that I have greatly sinned.” That is why Night Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours begins with an examination of conscience. That is why we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Our failings should neither surprise us nor discourage us. Once again, Venerable Bruno encour-ages us to begin again — and not only every day, but every hour. Reread these words of Venerable Bruno slowly.

Keep far from you the spirit of sadness and melancholy. Show yourself joyful even when you do not feel so because of physical problems. At such times more than ever, guard against closing in on yourself, and turn your thoughts to Paradise, because it is yours.

Avoid sadness; avoid melancholy. These weigh on you and on others around you. Then this remarkable counsel: “Show yourself joyful even when you do not feel so because of physical problems.” So many of us know the burden of physical maladies, pains, limita-tions. We know how physical pain especially diverts our attention, how hard it is to ignore, how easy it is to become wrapped in it. Show yourself joyful in such times, says Venerable Bruno, even when you feel frustrated or angry or miserable. This is not easy: We need God’s help to do this. But people around us will love us for it and will take strength from us in their own pain.

Some years ago, I underwent a series of surgeries, and life became difficult. I took this saying of Venerable Bruno, printed it, and taped it on the wall of my room where I would see it often in the day: “Show yourself joyful even when you do not feel so because of physical problems.” It was a great help to me.

At such times, do not close in on yourself, but remain open to others. Think of heaven, of paradise, of the meaning of your pain; it is neither empty nor simply a cruel fate, but a preparation for an eternal reward. “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us” (Rom. 8:18).

We should always keep in our hearts this saying of the Holy. Spirit: Sentite de Deo in bonitate (Think of God in a spirit of goodness) (see Wis. 1:1). And so we should seek sentiments worthy of God first in ourselves so as then to inspire them in others, and attain the goal of loving him and bringing all to love him.

Sentite de Deo in bonitate. This verse from Scripture was a leit-motif for Venerable Bruno, repeated over and over again. Are you afraid of God? Do you follow him with faith and love but also with a burden in your heart? Are there gray areas on the margins of your heart, places where you feel, with sadness, that God is disappointed with you, that he would wish to see you make more progress, overcome that defect more firmly, cease to fail in that area? Sentite de Deo in bonitate! Think of God in a spirit of goodness! Let your heart expand in knowing his understanding, his eagerness to forgive and to heal, the delight he takes in you, and simply his goodness. Yes, sentite de Deo in bonitate — and share these sentiments with others.

Here is a young girl who has acted out at school. She has done something seriously wrong, not a small or light thing. Word has reached her father, and he awaits her at home. She reaches home and stands outside the front door, hesitating. She knows that her father is within. She is afraid. She opens the door, and there is her father. He does not say a word. He approaches her, embraces her, and says, “I love you.” Now she can tell him everything.

Think of God in a spirit of goodness, in a way worthy of who God truly is. As we do, we will grow in love of him and bring others to love him as well.


This article is adapted from a section in Overcoming Spiritual Discouragement by Fr. Timothy Gallagher, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.

Art for this post on Spiritual Discouragement: Cover and interior images used with permission.

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