Sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way we hoped it would.
I know it hasn’t for me: in high school, I lost the election for senior class president (I ran against my ex boyfriend! Yikes!) and lost the application/interview/essay contest for valedictorian (yeah, my school didn’t do it based on grades). I also got rejected by almost every college I applied to – which seemed impossible, considering my “impressive” resume (I thought it was impressive, anyway). A lot of these losses, I chock up to lessons in humility. And I probably needed them. Sometimes we don’t get what we want because it’s God’s way of training us in humility. It hurts at first, but you get over it and you’re better for it.
But there are other times when situations beyond our control align in just the wrong way.
Someone you love passes away.
You (or your parent, if you’re a dependent) loses a job.
You have to move away from everyone you know and love, because of work, school, whatever.
Your friends take a different path, and now you’re left in isolation, without that familial group you once had.
You suffer a serious illness or injury, disabling you for a lengthy period of time.
Or, worst of all, a combination of these all at once.
That’s what happened to me this year. All of the above. And let me tell you, the guilt and shame that comes with so much loss and disappointment is debilitating. Because you look at everyone else you know who is having a good ol’ time, and you think, “My life sucks. God must love them more than me, if He gave them a life that they’re actually happy with.” A lot of anger and frustration and resentment surfaces, and suddenly we’re envious of everyone we know who is happy or successful; we’re ticked at God for letting us go through such horrible circumstances; and with all the weight of disappointments on our shoulders, we can become depressed and afraid about what the future holds, instead of resting in the knowledge that Jesus is already there.
I’m going to be vulnerable here for a minute: this past year has been a little short of hell for me. Three of my family members died. My dad became unemployed. I was constantly sick; I had pneumonia for three weeks, totally bedridden, and bronchitis later. My year of mission work ended, and I headed off to college – only to run out of money, get hit with depression, and have to come home. And the guy whom I hoped to date? Yeah, he decided to do a year of mission work in another country. I have not seen him in over six months, and won’t see him for another six still. We are not even allowed to communicate.
If you had asked me a year ago where I thought I’d be, I figured I’d have done another missionary year in Ireland – but then my relatives died, and I realized being far away from my family during the first Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc. without those relatives would have been hard on all of us. So I decided to go to college in-state, be close to my fam during our time of grief – but then my dad lost his job, and all the savings ran dry, and I had no choice but to come home. Now? I live at home, work 25 hours a week as a cashier at a thrift store, am taking one community college class just to get some general ed credits, and am trying to get a writing career off the ground. To be honest: I feel like a loser.
For the last eight months, I have struggled with being angry at God because of the situation I’m in. I’ve felt stuck, hopeless, and lost. But through this time of disappointment and suffering, the Father has taught my heart more than I could have ever learned in times of joy. Here they are:
- The greatest lie the Devil can convince a believer is that God is not good. When we see others having a great life while we’re stuck in misery, we think that God must hate us or be mad at us or punishing us; we’re not good enough people to deserve God’s blessing of a happy, easy life; He likes them better, that’s why He blessed them with happiness or ease; He doesn’t care that we’re struggling. To combat these lies, I had to constantly read and repeat this verse of truth: We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) God is fighting for you, making things work out for your good.
- We need to trust that God is who He says He is, that what He says is true. Case study: my family and I have been praying for almost an entire year that God will provide my dad with a job. He still hasn’t gotten one. Things get scary once you hit the one-year mark of unemployment – you start talking about selling cars, the house, cancelling your cable services, pulling the kids out of parochial school, taking a job as a night janitor at a grocery store. But Jesus makes it clear that when you pray to the Father constantly – asking for help, provision, healing, whatever – He hears your prayers and He will provide. Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him. (Matt. 7:9-11) And again, Jesus says, Will not God then secure the rights of His chosen ones who call out to Him day and night? Will He be slow to answer them? (Luke 18:7) The last chapters of the John’s Gospel are my personal favorite. Jesus says, Whatever you ask the Father in my name He will give you…ask and you will receive (John 16:23-24). Is Jesus a liar? No! What he tells us is true. We must believe wholeheartedly in His Word and His Promise. This is what will sustain our hope. God will not go back on His Word. He will never abandon His children.
- To give praise and thanks to God in the midst of suffering is the greatest sign of faith. I’ll be quite frank: I felt like because I chose to go to college, and later chose to move back home, that made me a weak Christian in comparison to my friends who are missionaries. There’s a stigma, I think, in the Christian world that if you’re not a missionary or religious (priest/nun/pastor), that you’re not really living the “real” Christian life; that you don’t love Jesus enough to sacrifice everything for Him; that faith is measured by the amount of things we give up for Him or the amount of good works we do in His name. FALSE. Yes, Jesus wants our whole lives. Yes, Jesus wants us to do good works. But more than that, He wants us to show that we trust Him, because trust is an essential part of love. And when is it hardest to trust? When everything around us seems hopeless. So what could be our greatest act of trust? To tell God “thank you,” even when we feel like we have nothing. To praise God for His goodness, for who He is, especially when we don’t believe in our hearts that He is working for our good or hears our prayers. I don’t give a damn how you feel; feelings mean nothing. It’s your actions that count. When you feel like Jesus is pouring graces down upon you, of course you’re going to thank him. It takes real courage, real faith, to say, “Father, even though I don’t feel your blessings or your love or your goodness, I know that You are good and that You love me. I know that you are at work, making all things come together for my good.”
So when you feel like life is a disappointment, do your soul a favor: read, write, and repeat over and over to yourself God’s word involving your problem. For example, if you’re waiting on God to heal you, find every verse in the Bible where God promises healing and ingrain them in your mind. Remind God of what He promised. Tell yourself constantly, whenever you feel doubt, that God IS good, and that the Deceiver is the one who influences you to think otherwise. Lastly, put on a worship playlist and sing praises to God. The best way to build a grateful heart is to habitually sing of God’s goodness when you don’t feel like it. If you need one, there is an Anchored in Hope playlist on Spotify (click here).
Song suggestions: Your Grace is Enough by Matt Maher; While I’m Waiting by John Waller; I Shall Not Want by Audrey Assad; Trust in You by Lauren Daigle; Give Me Faith by Elevation Worship; Blessed Be Your Name by Matt Redman; Good Good Father by Chris Tomlin; and Your Love Never Fails by Jesus Culture.