When Life Doesn't Go as Planned
Finding hope in the disappointment.
A lament of David: “I am poured out like water and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like [broken pottery] and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death” (Psalm 22:14-18, NIV).
Most of us like to plan out our lives. We strategize about colleges, majors, relationships, careers, jobs, houses, spouses, kids and so forth. We have these dreams and goals that lead to success, happiness and what we imagine as an ideal existence.
But what happens when life doesn’t go according to all our carefully laid plans?
Our hearts break. Nothing makes sense anymore. Dreams disappear like smoke and seem impossibly out of reach. We lose control. We lose our faith. Doubt creeps in and other people’s prosperity only seems to taunt us rather than cause joy. Then we try really, desperately hard to get things back on track. We work and stress and plot and do everything we possibly can to find hope and a glimpse that at some point this pain will end.
Do you ever notice that churches tend to have people share their testimonies when all the crap they’ve been through has concluded? These wonderful men and women of faith are on the other side. They’ve seen God do amazing things and can proclaim, “This struggle was all part of God’s plan.”
It’s truly awesome. We should share our triumphs. But does anyone else ever feel sort-of worse after testimonies? I mean, all I want to do is look back and see what amazing things God worked out. However, I’m completely stuck in the middle of pain, mess, heartache, defeat, disappointment and situations that just won’t change no matter how much I want them to.
I want to hear from people like me. People who don’t know how things will turn out.
What "the middle" reveals
My husband and I lost a pregnancy a little over a year ago after three years of infertility and no successful treatments since. We’ve decided to foster-adopt a child through our state’s Department of Children and Families. As we wait for our license to be approved, we know we could wait even longer for a child. We could risk losing a child placed with us back to their biological parents … ones who in the past have abused or neglected them. We could be in court for years to even be able to adopt.
Being stuck in the middle of pain, waiting and tentative hope is a hard place to be. It is.
There’s much emphasis put on reaching goals in life, but as I experience both success and immense failure, I’m coming to realize there is tremendous value to being stuck in the middle of difficulties.
We can learn some incredibly sweet, freeing, heart-changing and life-altering things in the middle.
We find out who God really is.
And we find out who we really are. Suffering gets straight to the point of all this painful, stretching, creative, gut-wrenching and radiant living. It shows us what we’re made of and it teaches us this amazing thing about being human; that we’re designed as relational beings. We can connect deeply with each other and there is great power in that connect-ability.
The one thing we can control
“Two are better than one. … If either of them falls down one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, NIV).
Here’s the thing: We can’t hold one another up if we’re all pretending things are fine.
As I have become more honest about my struggles, an amazing thing happens. The very act of being vulnerable provides a kind of implicit permission for others to admit they are going through hardships as well. There is almost an immediate sort of healing when you share; when things get real.
Because we’re all in the middle of something. And doesn’t it help to not feel so alone?
I think God’s plan is at work in the middle of our messes more powerfully than at any other time. Which is good because I feel like most of life is spent stuck slogging through something or other. God loves to show up and teach us things when we’re slogging. He designed us to become somehow better through all the pain we endure and specifically created us to find comfort in each other.
In Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, there is this wonderful scene between Charlotte the spider, who is nearing the end of her life, and her friend Wilbur the pig. Charlotte tells Wilbur, “You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”
A man or woman’s life can’t help but be something of a mess.
The one thing we all can control though is how we respond to being in the middle. When God seems distant, we can choose to have faith that He’s walking with us. When pain becomes suffocating, we can decide to reach out and share what’s happening with someone. When everything seems grim and never-ending, we can choose to delight in a quiet moment, a deep breath … maybe a chocolate cookie. And when our hearts still can’t let go of wanting that certain outcome, we can choose to realize that no matter what happens we are of immense worth to God and to those who love us. Despite how things might turn out.
We’re all together in the middle and God is there too. Even if things are not fine, somehow they are.
Melissa Kircher, along with her husband Jake, write about relationships and marriage at www.holymessofmarriage.com. You can also follow them on Twitter @marriageismessy. Melissa recently gave her testimony about being in the middle at Grace Community Church of New Canaan, Conn., which you can listen to here.