How do you live a life where you never get the education you dreamed of, or where the right man never comes along, or where your child is always the prodigal, or where there is no child at all? Or what about when your marriage is always difficult, there’s never quite enough money to be comfortable, that friend never comes back into your life, or the sickness finally takes over?
The world is a cruel place. We do have the bedrock assurance that Christ will come back for what is his (Heb 9:28). And while that gives us hope to endure, in the time being we have to contend with life in this world and the troubles we’ve been told to expect (John 16:33).
This list is neither exhaustive nor universal, but here are the things that have helped me the most when I’ve felt less than blessed:
When we’re confronted with what will never be, it’s tempting to avoid prayer or give it up all together. Why bother? we think. If God is not listening, why am I speaking? If the ceiling is as far as my prayers go, why send them out to begin with?
I understand what it’s like to feel as if prayer is the exercise of talking to yourself. But friend, our feelings are not reality. We can feel that prayer is an exercise in futility, but we know from Scripture that it isn’t. Christ himself took the time to tell us how to pray—in a format that’s remarkably easy to remember and applicable to every circumstance (Matt. 6:5-15). Our finite feelings don’t fence in God’s will or his actions.
We can also feel that our desires are so sacred that they will and must happen. But this isn’t necessarily so. God isn’t limited to our desires for our lives. We’re weak and don’t know what we should pray for (Rom. 8:26) but the Holy Spirit—who Christ called our helper (John 16:7)—intercedes for us according to God’s will for our lives. We can trust that God’s will is good and perfect.
We’re not eternal. I have an idea of what my future could be based on what I’d like to do, the experiences I’ve had, and the interests I’ve cultivated. I can build the frame of what I hope will be, but that’s all it is—it’s just a frame. I’m not writing this to discourage you, but to underscore that our finite natures require us to trust in our infinite Father who knows all things (Ps. 147:5).
When, by our perception, everything goes sideways, and our world is turned upside down, we can trust that God is doing something. We’re not at the mercy of chance; we serve a God of intention. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say the words, “Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
It’s agony to be reminded that, somehow, everything you never wanted is now the story of your life, or that your most dear and precious dreams will never happen. But Christians can take comfort in the fact that our hardships are not pointless. James writes that the testing of our faith produces perseverance, and that when perseverance finishes its work, we’re complete and are “not lacking anything” (James 1:4). He continues with the assurance that those who persevere are blessed because, “having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).
In our present trials, we focus on our future inheritance as children of God. But while we wait, we trust, clinging as tightly as we can to the promise that the Father has placed us in Christ’s hand, and that nothing can take us out of it (John 10:28-29).
Grief is the business of living with sorrow, while bitterness is the feeling that you’ve been passed over for what was yours.
I’m intimately acquainted with bitterness. It somehow always finds a way to slither into even the best of days with the reminder that this wasn’t what was supposed to happen. Closely related is envy, who will unfailingly point out that what was supposed to happen for you is happening for everyone else. But neither of these will help us.
Grief is an entirely different animal. It’s not a sin to mourn what you thought “could have been.” Christ told us to expect it (John 16:33) and the psalmist wrote of the Lord’s nearness in the midst of it (Ps. 34:18). And even in our mourning, we can take comfort in the fact that our tears are not wasted (James 1:2-4), and that our grieving is finite (Rev. 21:4).
And so we grieve, but not as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13).
As hard as it may be to believe, the day will come when your tears will be wiped away by God Almighty, your Father. Joy will come in the morning (Ps. 30:5). Grief is not our perennial state. We can rest in the finished work of Christ, trusting that the life we never wanted will still end with us in the eternal presence of the Alpha and Omega, sharing in our Master’s happiness (Matt. 25:23).
Death, crying, grief—though they plague us now, one day all three will be extinct (Rev. 21:4). One day, the dreams we bury on earth will no longer be a source of sorrow for us. Eternity has begun.