The squawking alarm clock jolted Cassie awake. She fumbled for the clock, momentarily caught in a hazy sleep land. She hit it, killing the noise, her hand passing inches from two beings in an alternate realm. They stood by the bed facing each other, both armed with swords. One was dressed in white, emanating a soft glow, and the other was an attractive humanoid form dressed in black leather, although it was hard to distinguish if it was male or female. It cast sad, gloomy eyes toward Cassie, and then hissed, revealing fangs.
Cassie, unaware of their presence, picked up her Bible from the bedside and groggily turned the pages. The man in white, the angel, glowed brighter and shoved the hissing demon into a corner. It stayed there gazing warily at the angel as Cassie bowed her head and prayed. As she spoke, the whole room filled with warm light, traveling in swirls around the small bedroom.
The demon shrunk, planting its head between its knees, moaning.
Cassie, still oblivious to the effect of her prayers, rolled out of bed and started flipping through the clothes in the closet. The glorious light faded away, leaving only the natural light streaming in from the tilted blinds on the apartment windows.
The demon rocked itself a little longer, then slowly rose and limped toward the closet, toward Cassie, toward its victim.
The angel blocked its path.
The demon smirked at him. “I can talk to her about clothes, Adir. She’s agreed to let me talk about the clothes.”
Adir’s bright eyes seemed to dim slightly. He reluctantly stepped back, though still glowering at the demon as his hand tightened on his sword. “Cassie,” he said calmly, “here comes an attack. You need to pray.”
The demon leaned forward and whispered. “Not the orange dress. You haven’t been consistent with your work out. That one will be too tight now. Why do you even try? It’s inevitable that you will fail.”
Cassie paused, staring blankly at the dress, then down at her body. “This is going to be too tight. Too much pizza,” Cassie sighed. “I’m such a pig, why do I even try to work-out? I’ll never be able to maintain my weight.”
The demon arched his back and chuckled. It reached to it’s heavy leather belt and took off iron shackles, engraved with the word Discouragement , the name of the demon.
“No, Cassie,” said Adir. “Remember, you just read, bodily exercise profiteth little, remember? Come on. It’s not the most important thing. You can always get back on routine. It’s okay.”
Cassie looked longingly at the dress in her hand, grimaced, and pinched a little pudge of fat at her belly. “I’ll probably never fit in this dress,” she said. She took the shackles from the demon and clenched the manacles around her wrists.
Discouragement laughed and rubbed his hands together, eyes glittering with satisfaction. He grinned hideously, fangs gleaming. “I’m gonna have so much fun with her today.”
Adir growled back. “Clothes only!”
The demon paced energetically as Cassie laid out two shirts, best she could while being shackled, and compared their colors.
“Not the blue one,” Discouragement said, easing close to her. “You need to wear black. It’s hotter.” He let his black pointed fingernail trail down her neck.
Cassie shivered involuntarily.
“If you don’t look hot enough, you’ll never attract a man. They will pass you by if you’re too dowdy,” Discouragement whispered, giving her a sympathetic look.
“Cassie. You are complete in Christ,” Adir said, trying to wedge himself between them. “The right one will be attracted to Who lives inside you, not the way you’re dressed. It’s been a while. But you do remember that verse about let not your adorning be of outward apparel but of a meek and gentle spirit…”
Cassie frowned critically at herself in the mirror, and then tossed away the blue shirt. She looked down at the black garment and gave it a nod of approval. Discouragement held out a second chain…a fetter for her ankle, etched with the word INSECURITY.
She knelt and fastened it tightly. Cassie sighed and dragged herself to the desk where she sank into her chair and checked Facebook. She scrolled through the newsfeed and then froze, sitting absolutely still. The guy she liked, really liked, had just announced his engagement. Complete with photos. Her head sank down until it hit the desk. She sat there for a good long minute as her angel, Adir, tried to stand in the way of Discouragement.
“Stop it,” said the angel. “This is not a good time. Her life is under the protection of the Almighty and she has committed her future marriage partner to His hands. You are not allowed—”
“She has opened the door with insecurity.” Discouragement smiled, wickedly. “I can talk to her about attracting men. I have that right.”
The angel looked back at Cassie, sitting glumly in her chair, and stepped back, cringing.
Discouragement slinked up to her. “All the good men are getting snapped up. You’re not what they want. You’re not skinny enough.”
“That’s not true!” Adir roared, so loud that sound waves from his mouth rippled through the air. It was loud enough to transfer to the natural realm.
Cassie sat up straighter and looked around the room.
Discouragement dipped a bit lower and whispered a bit softer into Cassie’s ear, “You are too complicated. You’re too witty for some, too dull for others. Too zany for some, too churchy and uptight for others. You’re not what good men are looking for. They want little women, blondes, who have high squeaky voices and hair like a movie star. You know it’s true.”
Cassie enlarged the picture of her crush and his new fiancée.
Licking his lips with his long forked tongue, Discouragement produced yard after yard of sticky rope from his belt. A silvery ribbon, twisted through the fibers of the rope, was finely printed with the word loneliness over and over and over again. “Look at that girl he’s with. You’re not going to have someone special to share your life with. Just face the fact.”
“No, Cassie, no, no, no…” Adir pleaded. “Don’t believe him.”
Cassie reached for the rope and began tying herself up with loneliness. Her hands were still shackled by Discouragement’s special manacles, so Discouragement helped her with the knots of her new binding. “Yessss. Listen, you are going to work in that dead end job for the rest of your life. You will be single forever. You’re dreaming up castles in the sky, honey. Castles that aren’t real. Give up. Give up. No one is going to marry you, or if you do marry, you’ll have to settle for some intolerably selfish bore who will make your life misery. Give up, Give up!!
“SILENCE!!” Adir shouted. “Cassie, come on Cassie. Just pray some scripture so I can kill this pest. Come on, Cassie,” Adir said, planting himself in front of her trying to catch her eye. “Say it. Say God works all things for good…”
Cassie cried, her lips trembling. “God loves me…”
“Oh, I never said He didn’t,” Discouragement said with a sinister snarl. “He just wants you to work alone for the rest of your life. He’s made it impossible for you to get married. He has tricked you. See? You will be lonely, going nowhere for the rest of your life. And all because God loves you. What kind of selfish God would make you go through this much pain? You need to get a grip and grow up.”
“I…I can’t do that,” Cassie gasped, unable to wipe away the tears streaming down her hot face. “My whole life is wrapped up in God.”
“Then be alone forever!” Discouragement hissed at her.
“Cassie,” Adir said, kneeling by her chair. “Remember God’s words? I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”
Cassie moaned. “I can’t stand it. I mean, I understand I don’t NEED to have a man in my life. I’ll be just fine. I understand that. But, I don’t have anyone I can turn to now. For just being with and having inside jokes and knowing they’ve got my back and…” Cassie sobbed. “I can’t take it.”
Adir bowed his head. The warrior stood still, twisting his sword at his side, praying for Cassie.
Discouragement swooped closer and rubbed a noose with a golden handle in her hair. The word engraved on the handle was hopeless. “Just die you poor wretched thing. At least you’ll be closer to that selfish God who’s torturing you with loneliness down here. That way you can feel Him more, right? You won’t be alone anymore, right? If you stay here you will die anyway, a slow painful, lonely death, filled with diseases, mammograms, surgeries, colonoscopies, and possibly cancer, to face all alone. This life that He’s given you is worth nothing!”
Cassie took the noose, held it in her hand for a moment and then began to slide it over her head.
A knock came at the door.
Adir looked up and smiled.
Cassie dropped the rope and struggled over to the door. She opened it to find Martha, the lady down the hall who went to her church, assigned to her same life group even. “Hi Martha!!”
Discouragement scurried to the furthest corner of the room.
“Good morning, dear. What’s new with you?” the older woman asked, setting down a bowl of fresh fruit on the small kitchen table. The apples and oranges matched the pattern in her bright summer dress.
“Well…” Cassie looked at her feet for a moment. “Do you remember Landon?”
“Yeah,” Cassie took a deep breath. “Well, he got engaged to a girl name Kiki, or KuKu, or something like that.”
“Hmmm…” Martha looked at her keenly, and brushed back her wispy salt and pepper hair. “Well, that was stupid of him. You would have been a better catch.”
“But tell me this,” Martha said, settling into a comfy chair, “do you think he would have been the best one for you?”
“Uh…” Cassie faltered. “Well, I liked him a lot, more than anybody else. He just never did like me back. He’s the best person I can imagine marrying and he didn’t like me. Martha, I’ve got to be honest with myself. If he can’t like me, then I have little hope of someone better than him liking me. I’m just not good marriage material for super stellar godly guys. They’re on the lookout for petite blond goodie goodies with genuine sweetness, who have eyelashes twice as long as mine, who actually cry about the plight of people in the hospital or nursing homes.”
“Uh-huh,” Martha said quietly. She didn’t say anything else for a bit.
The older angel who had come in with Martha stepped up to Adir. “Discouragement at it again?” he asked.
“Yes. We’re battling him constantly. Sunday mornings are good. Devotion times are good. She’s fighting hard to apply the truth in her life, but Discouragement knows her weak spot. He’ll stroke her pride, get through to where he can talk with more liberty and then beat up on the one area…”
“A husband?” guessed the older angel.
“You know it, Malachi. She’s especially vulnerable because she had to leave all her friends in college. Her sister got married, and got a job in a different state. It’s just her and a few friends, but they’re dating and getting engaged all around her, just adding to her heartache. She’s genuinely lonely. She’s in pain. Discouragement is having a field day with this. This…” Adir gestured to Cassie’s chains, “is actually pretty typical for a Thursday. The thing is, I’m worried. She’s losing resistance. I’ve said she’s fought in the past, but Discouragement is relentless. She’s had to fight him off fifty-seven times. But he’s going further and further every time and she’s accepting his lies. I’m not sure she can hold out much longer.”
“You know a husband won’t fix it, right? Discouragement will just find something else to torment her about.”
Adir nodded. “Oh, I know. But this is so critical, because societal pressure is very strong here. She feels stranger, more out-cast, by the day. Prayer covering is very slight in this area. Some church people even help Discouragement by gazing at her sympathetically at weddings, telling her she’ll be next, things like that.”
Malachi frowned. “Not Martha?”
“No,” Adir said softly, “Martha waits on the Spirit.”
“As she’s doing now,” Malachi said. “Excuse me.” He walked up to Martha. “Cassie is chaining herself up with loneliness and fear. Discouragement has almost brought Hopelessness into her life. She’s on the verge of a spiritual melt-down here, Martha. I need you to talk to her.”
Martha looked intently at Cassie. “Cassie, I get the feeling that you’re pretty lonely.”
Cassie deflated into a heap on the love seat nearby. “That obvious?”
“It’s completely normal. Anybody in your position would feel this way.”
Cassie gave her a dull look. “Not super Christians. They rejoice in all things and are always overcoming. They’ve got it all together and sing Count Your Many Blessings in the shower.”
“Uh-huh, right…” Martha drawled. “Look, Cassie, with all you know about God, I don’t think you don’t doubt his ability to bring you a husband, but you doubt his goodness in having you wait. You doubt his motives.”
Cassie sat up straighter.
“Have you been taking every thought captive?”
“What are you believing about yourself?” Martha pressed. “Is it the truth? Is it reality from God’s perspective?”
Cassie’s mouth dropped open.
Martha leaned closer. “Just from what you’ve told me, you think you’re in a secondary class of Christian. That God doesn’t love you as much because He’s withheld tangible rewards from you. You feel like an outcast and a freak for being different. You feel inadequate, like you’ll never measure up. Am I right so far?”
Cassie nodded, eyes large, tears beginning to form in her eyes.
“Is any of that actually true?”
Cassie inhaled deeply. “It feels true because I can see the logic behind it, but,” she shook her head. “No, no I guess it isn’t true. Jesus died for all of us, just the same. He paid for my sins with his blood, to save me, to rescue me, to be with me.”
“You’re worth is not based on what other people think of you. It’s based on the shed blood of Jesus Christ. He bought you. You belong to Him and He prizes you very highly.”
The fetters of insecurity around Cassie’s ankles snapped open and dissolved away.
Discouragement snarled in his corner, but couldn’t approach Martha.
“Now,” Martha shifted her weight, “lets talk about loneliness. Why would a good and loving God withhold something that is good from your life?”
“See! That was a promise. No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.”
“Cassie,” Martha leaned forward. “You have been marked for very significant service that you were designed for, and have been carefully crafted for, since you were an infant. God has not misplaced you. You are His good servant and He has called you his friend. Friendship with God is not something to take lightly. It’s a precious union with His Spirit. He’s asked you to trust Him. To walk through this valley, holding His hand. To know Him better, Cassie, to know Him better. If you resist discouragement now, you will find where the source of your strength lies, you will build now a foundation of faith, a bedrock on which the rest of your life and your life’s work can be built. You must trust Him and lean not on your own understanding.”
Cassie looked away. “Those are good words, Martha.” She looked back. “But I still feel alone.”
“I know. And those feelings will come in waves and torrents. They will eat at your heart and threaten to rip apart your soul. It’s a raw thing. I understand.”
Cassie’s face dropped into her hands and she sobbed. Martha moved over to the settee and let her hand rest on Cassie’s back. “Listen, Cassie. That kind of pain is an offering. That’s when you can cry out, ‘I still love you’ to your Father and that’s the moment when all hell shrieks with cries of pain because they have lost again. Sometimes God offers Satan the opportunity to attack the circumstances in a believer’s life, Cassie. God is not losing control, forgetting about you, or punishing you. He doesn’t exploit your suffering for His glory. This is the moment when Satan accuses God and says, ‘Cassie Fitzgerald only loves you because she’s had only good things from you her whole life. If you make her go through life single for a few years, oh you’ll see how fast she’ll turn on you.’ This is the moment when God steps back, crosses his arms, and says, ‘Oh yeah? Go ahead. Try it.’ Because He knows, Cassie, He knows that you love Him back. And just because your circumstances are difficult, it doesn’t mean you’re going to blame God for them, and on top of that, my dear girl, He’s here with you, feeling everything you feel. He’s crying tears because you’re in pain. He’s in pain too. It hurts the heart of God to see you suffering. But the two of you are going to be a lot closer because of it. Keep turning to Him.”
“I know,” Cassie whimpered. “I just get so tired of fighting all the thoughts. All the desires.”
“You have what you can see around you to form your conclusions, Cassie, but God may be working in the life of your future husband right now, outside of what you can see. God works on many different levels at once, and sometimes, his plans take time to develop. Your desires are normal. Even Jesus was tempted with satisfying his desires in an ungodly way. He couldn’t have fought it on His own either. He had to have Scripture.”
“Right…” Cassie lifted her tear stained face, remembering. “It was the temptation before his public ministry, in the desert. And he quoted the Scripture, and Satan left, and God sent angels to minister to Him. So,” the ropes of Cassie’s loneliness loosened and fell in loops around her feet. “He’s really with me.”
“Every step, every moment, yes. Put on your armor Cassie girl, and then when you have done all, stand. There will be days when you have fought fifteen rounds with yourself, and feel like giving up, and that’s when you keep standing. You close your eyes and grit your teeth and you say, ‘God Almighty, strong to save, I need you now. I can’t fight by myself, please save me.’ And, I guarantee you, He will fight for you. Just, please Cassie, use your sword. You’re going to need it badly. I don’t know how long this season will be for you, but I do know that God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able to bear, and that He will provide a way of escape. I believe the quickest escape is with this,” Martha picked up a Bible, “with the truth.” Martha’s beeper went off. “Gotta go. I love you and I’ll be praying for you.”
Cassie sniffed. “Thanks Martha. Thanks a lot.” She exhaled and watched Martha leave the room.
Adir waved farewell, then moved closer to Cassie, rubbing her shoulders gently. Cassie stood up and went to her closet again to find an outfit.
Discouragement crawled back over and tugged on the remaining chains around her wrists, the ones with his name etched on the manacles. “Remember…that outfit will be too snug because you didn’t work out for the last three daysssss.”
Cassie shrugged. “Lord please give me more discipline. Bodily exercise profiteth little, but I’d like this dress to be in the profits!” Cassie smiled and her remaining chains hit the floor.
Adir glared at the demon. “You have any reason for staying here now?”
Discouragement smeared some purple lip color oozing from his finger onto his lower lip. “She still has make-up issues.”
Cassie glanced at her face in the mirror. “Oh goodness. Tears do nothing for me.” She grabbed a wash cloth and went to the bathroom. After a good rinse, she observed herself critically. “Just a bit of foundation and mascara today, I think. No need to go overboard.”
Discouragement gasped and floundered up to her. He seemed to have shrunk a bit. “Wait, if you slack off then nobody will look twice at you!”
Cassie ignored him. She was singing a praise song. Adir looked up at the light swirling through the bathroom as it came pouring off of Cassie’s shoulders.
Discouragement scrambled for the window.
Adir’s wielded his sword through the bathroom, beating the demon, searing his pasty flesh with deep burns. Discouragement began dissolving through the floor. “I’ll be back!”
He locked eyes with the demon. “We’ll be ready.”