Eight years ago, I started a new job and on the very first day of that new job, I knew it wasn’t a good fit. I remember putting my head on the desk and thinking, Pete, what have you done? I’d left a job I loved working at a church I’d helped start. I’d only made the move because I believed it was what God wanted me to do. I’d believed it was God pushing me out of that proverbial comfort zone.
“I thought this was your will,” I’d pray. “I thought this is what you wanted me to do. What am I missing? How did I screw this up?”
Just a little over a year later, I resigned from that job. Discouraged, bitter and confused, the only thing I knew for sure was that I never planned on working in a church ever again.
To my surprise, the next few months proved to be more difficult than the previous ones. Overwhelmed with questions about God, my calling and the Church in general, I felt lost.
At some point during those hard months, a friend met me for coffee. Right in the middle of my complaining to him about all I was going through, he looked at me and said: “Pete, do you think you’re the only person who has experienced disappointment with God? I hate to break it to you, but all of us face moments in life when we feel as though God doesn’t show up like we thought He would.”
Contrary to what you may have thought as a kid, life is full of disappointments. And those disappointments can leave you wondering if God is still involved in your life. And if He is involved, what He’s doing exactly.
Embrace the company
It makes me feel petty and immature, but it’s true—I questioned if God was with me. I think most of us tend to base our plans, dreams and desires on our concept of God’s presence. Then, when things don’t turn out the way we planned, we assume God’s just not there anymore. Often we feel like He let us down or we’re “out of His will.”
And yet the truth is God is most powerfully present even when He seems most apparently absent. He’s always working. Even when we can’t see God, or feel Him, all the evidence of our lives will testify to His presence.
Doubting God’s involvement in our lives is a normal human reaction. When we’re unable to “feel” or “see” God in our circumstances, that’s usually when the big “eternal questions” begin wreaking havoc on our faith: Why am I going through this? Am I really doing God’s will for my life? Will this hardship be over soon? I wish those questions had easy answers, but they don’t. We may never know the answers to some of life’s “whys” and “whats.” However, the one answer that does speak into every painful, difficult, relentless situation that we as individuals could ever face is this: God will never change. This is why our faith must rest on His identity and not necessarily His activity.
Reestablishing God’s hope
Psychologists describe it as “languishing.” It’s not depression or anxiety, but rather a failure to thrive—a loss of hope and meaning. I know those feelings. And I’m hardly alone. It’s a common experience in today’s culture.
Not too long ago, I talked with Sara, a twentysomething who’d recently lost what she described as her “dream job.” Having spent several months looking for work without success, Sara was definitely languishing.
She said: “Pete, I’m paralyzed by fear. This job was the only thing I have ever really wanted in life. Now it’s gone and I have nothing. I’m not saying God caused this, but the fact that He would allow this doesn’t make me feel much better. I feel like the life has been sucked out of me.”
My guess is that, because of our current economic situation, many people are spending extended amounts of time feeling much like Sara feels, unable to thrive. But sometimes the lack of hope we’re experiencing is more about our perspectives than the circumstances we’re encountering. It’s rather easy for us to believe “God is with us” when things are going great. Most of us don’t struggle to feel hope and meaning during those times. However, as soon as our “plan A” falls to pieces and we’re left to figure out a “plan B,” most of us are quick to question God on His whereabouts, or become convinced we’re not where He wants us to be. Our immediate assumption is to think “personal suffering” means we’re getting something wrong as opposed to wondering if God is working in our lives to create (or recreate) “something right.”
I’ve come to believe meaning and hope are more often found in embracing the difficulties inherent in a plan B rather than investing time and energy trying to get back to plan A. This isn’t an easy truth for anybody to learn. But sometimes God isn’t so much looking to give us a “miracle” in the form of changed circumstances, but is instead more interested in using those hard circumstances to change us—our goals, dreams, perspectives and meaning.
Plan B or C or D …
Our desire to be great, climb the ladder, be somebody, makes us irritated when things don’t work out the way we’d like.
This brings us to a very important question. Can you trust God when trusting isn’t easy?
I don’t think God is asking you to understand. But I do think He’s asking you to trust the fact that He deeply loves you. He’s the God who has promised to be with you. The God who right now is engaged in the mysterious process of reshaping you into who you need to be. The God who can bring you joy and peace and hope.
I think He’s asking you to trust that one day faith will win over doubt, that light will win over darkness, love will win over hate and all things will one day be redeemed. I think He’s asking you, right in the middle of your plan B pain, to trust this process going on in your life.
The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (TNIV).
Why is this happening? I don’t know.
Will we ever understand our broken dreams and unmet expectations? On this side of heaven, quite possibly not.
Does the way we respond to it really matter? More than you will ever know.
Pete Wilson is the senior pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN and the author of Plan B (Thomas Nelson). You can follow him at Twitter.com/pwilson. This article originally appeared in RELEVANT magazine.