Dealing with the Giant Despair

In Pilgrim’s Progress you follow the life of the main character, Pilgrim/Christian. One of the predicaments that Christian finds himself in is that he and his friend, Hopeful, are captured by a giant named Despair and locked in the dungeon of his castle, Doubting Castle. (If all these names sound corny to you just bare in mind that Pilgrim’s Progress is a 17th century Puritan allegory of the Christian life written by John Bunyan… while in prison). However, we’ve all been a bit discouraged because of our job. SPOILER ALERT: Christian and Hopeful get out of Doubting Castle after a few days. DOUBLE SPOILER ALERT: You will too. But it stinks to be there. Let’s talk about it.

Now, reading this passage, it’s pretty obvious that the underlying theme is dealing with depression. Christian and Hopeful talk a lot about how death seems more preferable than life in the castle’s dungeon.

Hopefully, you as a coach or athletic director aren’t at the point of clinical depression or worse. However, Christian school athletic departments can bring their fair share of disappointments. We certainly can sympathize with many of your frustrations.


Don’t Let Others Determine Your Attitude

Working with kids can be a discouraging task. Ask any teacher.

Kids lack a view of the big picture. They are driven by popular opinion. They need constant stimulation and entertainment or else they lose interest. They are selfish. They are disrespectful. They are inconsiderate.

While all these things are true, you need to remember that they are human and so are you. So often we see the mote in others’ eye and neglect the beam in ours. (Matthew 7:5)

Humans can be the worst, you included.

Hopefully, though, you’re the mature adult that has accepted the task of teaching your athletes/students what it means to be a good teammate and responsible, mature Christian.

Getting caught up in the faults of our athletes or others in the athletic department is the first step to despair.

Don’t let your athletic department or the people in it define you as a person. You’ve entered a field of service.


Success comes and Success goes

Letting your successes and failures as a coach, teacher, or athletic director define your worth as a person is a slippery slope to the basement of Doubting Castle.

Sure when you’re winning, you want to highlight that. You start to think that it’s because of you and your awesomeness. Be careful, Christian and Hopeful weren’t captured by Despair until they stopped to bask in a meadow that is symbolic of easy going and false confidence.

Enjoy the good times, but don’t identify yourself by them, and certainly don’t take them for granted.

You need something constant to guide yourself and your program. As a Christian, this should be Jesus Christ and the Lord’s will for you and your athletes. Focus on Him while you steer your program and participants in the right direction regardless of your athletic success.

This truth was introduced to me the first time that I began facing adversity as a coach. All of a sudden, my situation had changed and my teams weren’t as successful as other that I had coached. For a long time, it discouraged me.


Shift Your Focus

That’s when God led me to Acts 16. It’s the story of Paul and Silas in jail. You know the deal. They decide to start singing and praising God. Things happen (to put it mildly) once they start doing this. Lives are changed, and they are set free.

Whether you arrive at Doubting Castle through setting yourself up pridefully or whether you are in prison because God led you there. You can’t let your circumstances determine your faith, focus, or calling.

Paul and Silas focused on “the why” of their situation. They were in prison because they were serving God. So when others would have been depressed by their circumstances, they chose praise God because He was “the Why.”

This is what it ultimately comes down to when dealing with the despair of your job. The Why. Why are you doing what you do. Is it for the kids? Is it for your school? Take the focus off of you and put it on serving someone else.

Paul and Silas praised God for their trials, and then He used those same trials as an opportunity for evangelization.

As a coach or athletic director at a Christian school, you’re in a position of sacrifice and service. Focus on others. Don’t get caught up in comparisons or doubts.

Use the difficulties, obstacles, and discouragements as opportunities to teach those in your program about God’s goodness and faithfulness.

You have an amazing platform in a specific place. God placed you there, and He placed specific athletes under you as well. Redeem the time! Make full proof of your ministry.

Remember, the circumstances don’t determine God’s purpose. Remember “the why.”

So next time you find yourself with the Giant Despair lording over you in Doubting Castle, remember what Christian did. He determined his attitude in God’s grace and shifted his focus.

Jeff is the athletic director at Victory Baptist Academy. He is also the founder and administrator of

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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