When life doesn’t go your way

I didn’t plan for that! It wasn’t supposed to happen this way! I can’t believe it!

Whether you are talking about a relationship falling apart, a child’s illness, a possible dam failure in California, a car accident, or a cancer diagnosis, none of us really thinks the worst will happen. But the worst does happen. To others—you can read it in news headlines. To friends—you’ll see it on social media. To you—you’ll get a middle-of-the-night phone call.

So what can you do? As I’ve watched how others handle disappointment with grace, they display three ways to live in faith when what God allows doesn’t line up with what you had planned.

Grieve with hope.
When the Bible talks about how Christians cope with death, it says, “You do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thessalonians 4:13,14).

We can also grieve with hope in less permanent situations. Let yourself be sad that your dreams, hopes, and plans had to change. Grieve when you can’t seem to have more children. Mourn when you lose your job. But do so with hope, knowing that your God is faithful and will bless you in other ways.

Speak his truth.
Letting your own thoughts take over your head or thinking, “This isn’t fair!” over and over will only make you bitter. And bitter isn’t exactly on God’s list of character traits that show the Holy Spirit lives in us. (If you’re wondering what is on that list, the Bible calls them fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.)

To change your thinking, get modern-day inspiration from Deuteronomy 6:4-9. 

Write passages on your bathroom mirror. Use Post-it notes on your cabinet. Ask your friends to text you God’s truths. Some people choose to get a tattoo of a passage. Put God’s words in front of you at all times so that your thoughts become more like his.

Look for how God works.
It is far too easy a thing to blame others’ behavior on what went wrong in your life. Frankly, it might be true that others altered the course of your life. (You may have made the choice that altered it too!) Yet your God can take a worldly setback and use it for his glory. Look back at how God has already used life’s twists and turns to get you where you are now. His history of faithfulness will help you trust the future uncertainty. Read the Bible to see how every single person who is considered a hero of faith was someone whose life ended up completely different than they probably anticipated. (Moses, Abraham, Joseph, David, and Mary are just a few, if you need some examples.) Then open your eyes to the ways God has blessed you on your new path.

I’ll admit that this sounds so very easy to do but so very hard to do when you’re in the middle of disappointment. But let me share a friend’s story. Her solid faith in the middle of her deep sadness has been my new inspiration.

So . . . two of my daughters & I are actually not spending Christmas internationally with my sister and her family. We’d been looking forward to this for months but found out at the airport at 4:30 this morning that there was a problem with our travel visas. The letdown was real.

Cue teachable moment.

My hands were shaking, but with the steadiest voice I could manage, I asked them, “When have my plans EVER been better than God’s?” One looked up and said, “Never.” So I said, “Well, then, God’s got something awesome cooked up for us!” And the other just smiled and shrugged and said, “I mean, what else can you do?”

It’s not optimism; it’s realism when you serve a really good God. 

Isn’t she right? When have your plans EVER been better than God’s? 

Never.

So let’s “keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:17-19).

Linda Buxa has learned more and more that in her heart she plans her course, but the Lord determines her steps.