Within the consciousness of even an earnest student of Christian Science, the argument may sometimes arise that he is discouraged. There is, of course, never any actual reason for this, since discouragement is only one of the many erroneous beliefs of the so-called human mind, having no power, presence, activity, nor foundation in Truth. Yet so cunningly are its mesmeric whispers devised to reach whatever may be the weakest point in one's mental armor, that if one is not alert he may find himself admitting, sooner or later, that there really is a legitimate cause for their acceptance.
Although every Christian Scientist knows that he should not entertain about himself, or about others, conclusions which he would regret to see manifested in actual experience, yet this archenemy to peace has been known to persuade some hitherto faithful worker first to listen to its lying arguments, and then to repeat them, perhaps something after this fashion: "I am so discouraged. I do not seem to be getting along. I am a failure. I might as well give up."
The subtlety of the attack may be noted in the victim's use of the word "I." If someone had remarked to him, audibly, "You are discouraged," he would instantly have denied it. He would at once recognize it as an argument of impersonal error trying to reach him in the form of directed mental malpractice, and would promptly and vigorously cast it out. If, however, this very same argument, unobserved by him, slips through the unguarded portals of his mental home, he may accept it as his own thought, believe that it originates in his own consciousness, and so may presently find himself saying "I" instead of "you"—and then the battle is on!
However, there is no new thing under the sun, and discouragement is as old as the beginning of time. The great prophet, Elijah, once sat down under a juniper tree and prayed that he might die, since he had proved himself no better than his fathers. Jonah, believing himself a failure, made a similar request; and even Moses, the intrepid leader of the Jewish people, once became so overwhelmed with despair that in a dark hour he begged that he might die and no longer see his misery. It is not with these, however, that this article is concerned, so much as with another mortal, equally distressed, who, more than twenty centuries ago, threshed wheat in his father's field. His name was Gideon, and for seven long years he had seen his people afflicted by the depredations of their hostile neighbors, the Midianites, who at each harvest time would descend upon the land like a swarm of grasshoppers, gather for themselves all the fruits and grain which they could carry, trample down and destroy the rest, and go riding away, driving victoriously before them the flocks and herds of the helpless Israelites.
Gideon was threshing a little wheat by stealth behind the wine press, that he might hide it from the invaders; and his attitude of mind may readily be discerned by reason of a conversation which took place when an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to him, as related in the sixth chapter of Judges. "The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour," was the angelic greeting. It would seem that Gideon recognized the angel as a divine visitant; but so plunged was he, at the moment, in the depths of his own despair, that his only reply was, "If the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? but now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites."
Yes, Gideon was discouraged. That was plainly evident, for his response was not that of a "mighty man of valour," but of a most unhappy mortal. What a joyous thing it is for all of us that God knows us as we really are, and not as we seem to be! In Gideon's time, the one divine Principle of the universe knew nothing, even as today it knows nothing, unlike itself. Discouragement is dismissed just as easily as the dust on some beautiful picture is brushed off by one who knows the loveliness of that which lies beneath and wishes it to be made manifest. Completely ignoring his hostile attitude, the angelic messenger went on to tell Gideon that he had been chosen of God to save Israel from their oppressors. Still he doubted. In fact, he practically told the angel that a great mistake had been made. To substantiate this, he brought up the fact that his family was poor, and that in this poor family he himself was least of all. How was it possible for him to deliver Israel?
Even when the actual hour of his release had come, Gideon was found arguing against it—just as we do sometimes. Self-depreciation is always one of the unlovely companions of discouragement. Self-depreciation, however, is only another name for false humility. It dishonors God by acknowledging a selfhood separate from Him. It betrays a lack of moral courage by the tacit assumption of a personal responsibility. When these important points are once recognized and mentally destroyed, any new call for a progressive step is seen for what it really is—just another opportunity to see the glory of God made manifest. What God gives one to do, He directs and protects. With this great truth to illumine the way, any hitherto untried path is found to be so plain, so direct, so joyously and obviously simple, that we wonder, later on, how we could ever have hesitated and almost trembled at the thought of entering it! In Gideon's case, the events which quickly followed his final obedience to the divine command have many times been told—how he effected a complete routing of his foes as the men of Israel shouted, "The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon," a victorious battle cry before which the armies of the aliens fled.
To those who love to look beneath the surface of a Bible narrative to discern its true spiritual significance, there are many comforting lessons to be learned from this story of long ago; for Gideon is not the only one who has ever threshed wheat by the wine press, so to speak, in a very dejected frame of mind.
In these trying days of a world's readjustment, when old conditions are passing away, and new ones seem to appear with almost every rising sun, it sometimes happens that one may be compelled by circumstances to engage in some humble task at which he inwardly rebels because he knows in his heart that he is capable of doing something so much better. Perhaps it may help one so situated to ask himself, first of all, why it was that this man, Gideon, happened to be the particular one selected to undertake a very important work. Might there not have been many others among his people as well, if not better, qualified than he to receive the divine commission? Why was Gideon chosen above all? While each student is entitled to his own opinion about this, may it not be possible that he was chosen because, in spite of his discouragement, he was doing the work nearest at hand, and doing it as well as he could? To a daring and high-spirited young man it may have had little appeal. Humanly speaking, it may have seemed to him monotonous and physically arduous. But he did it. That is the point.
Our beloved Leader, Mary Baker Eddy, laid great stress upon humility. She once wrote, "Humility is the stepping-stone to a higher recognition of Deity" (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 1). Then is there anything more worth while than to cultivate this quality, since it brings about so deeply desired a result? Let us reason together for a moment. As Christian Scientists, we declare that there is no matter. Then, does it not follow that in reality there can be no material work? All the time that Gideon to outward appearances was engaged in threshing wheat, what was he really doing? He was demonstrating fidelity, patience, perseverance, love for his people, and a deep desire to rectify a wrong and unjust condition; and these are among the mental qualifications without which there has never been a great leader along any line of human endeavor.
No one is too good, nor yet too fine, for any work, so long as it is honest and in accord with Principle. It is not so much what one does that counts, but the way in which one does it. Is some Gideon of today perhaps threshing his wheat in bitterness and rebellion? Or is he remembering to be thankful because there is still a little wheat left to thresh, and because he is well and strong, and able to do it? This by no means implies a hopeless, blind submission to untoward circumstances, and acceptance of them as an end and ultimate. It only means that the one who goes to his task grumblingly and complainingly, and who does it listlessly and halfheartedly, and only because he must, is not the one who will be quickly chosen to leave it for something better. "The All-wise does not bestow His highest trusts upon the unworthy" (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy, p. 455).
Again, our Leader says, "Love is not puffed up; and the meek and loving, God anoints and appoints to lead the line of mankind's triumphal march out of the wilderness, out of darkness into light" (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 130). We should refuse to accept the world's verdict about ourselves. What the world may call a backward step on our part—because it does not understand—may really be a forward step in such disguise that only one whose spiritual sense is dim can fail to discern its true import and beauty. Knowing this, we can approach our work each new morning with a song in our heart because we are proving that there is no power on earth that can disturb the harmony, or the sweet and steady progress, of one who is daily walking close to God. That song will grow clearer as we remember that the fierce fire of affliction, by which the future deliverer of his people was tried and not "found wanting," was also the fire wherein was tempered and made ready that consciousness which was afterwards to win its shining way to victory with the "sword of the Lord, and of Gideon."