Spiritual

When God Didn’t Give You the Life You Dreamed—Not Even Close

We are moving.

Cleaning out boxes from the attic has left me more unsettled and emotional than I ever anticipated. As I open each crate, I vividly remember the way life used to be — the hobbies I used to love, the things I used to do. Thumbing through my mementos, I am reminded again that the life I’m living now isn’t what I signed up for. Nothing has turned out as I planned.

While I am deeply convinced that I’m living out God’s best for me, there are days I mourn the loss of what used to be — particularly recently as I’ve been going through old tubs, each one filled with memories of a life that no longer exists. Pictures of long-ago family vacations, Christmases past, recitals, and school plays. Shoeboxes filled with letters from people I no longer know. Childhood photographs that make me laugh and at the same time cringe in horror. All reminders of how my life has changed.

And then there are the art supplies. Fifteen years ago, my life was defined by projects I could do with my hands. Painting, crafting, scrapbooking, embroidering, making jewelry, painting dishes. Tubs, crates, and craft containers all crammed into the attic — each dedicated to a different artistic passion. They all sparked my creativity. Relaxed me. Made me happy.

But my diagnosis of post-polio syndrome changed all that. With my arms deteriorating, I couldn’t afford to waste my energy on crafts. I boxed everything up (with help), labeled it, and shoved it in the attic. And I didn’t look at it again. Until now.

What Happened to the Life I Dreamed?

As a friend helps me rummage through these old boxes, looking at paintbrushes and canvas, rubber stamps and colored paper, a deep sadness settles over me. I miss those things. But I know they are part of my past and I can’t dwell on what can’t be undone.

This grieving isn’t particular to me. A few weeks ago, I spoke with three friends, all of whom were facing significant disappointment. One used to be an opera singer, but her vocal cords have changed and she can no longer sing as she once did. Another friend was looking forward to her youngest child going to school so that she could pursue the ministry she felt called to. But an unexpected pregnancy dramatically changed her plans and now her dreams feel beyond reach. The third friend has a special needs child and constantly wonders about her child’s future. As well as her own.

Like my friends, all of us face disappointments. Our lives look vastly different than we imagined they would. People dream of certain careers and accomplishments, but family issues or unexpected events make careers take a backseat. Young lovers believe they will have the perfect family, yet somehow their family doesn’t even resemble their vision.

So, what do we do? How do we get past this nagging feeling that there should be more to life? Or that perhaps we are being denied the life that we should have? The life that, if we were completely honest, we believe we deserve.

Weep Deeply

This counsel from John Piper has been immeasurably helpful to me: “Occasionally, weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have.”

“Weep deeply over the life you hoped would be.” Even as I write those words, I feel a sense of release. We who are sometimes too guarded about our pain, because it seems more spiritual, need to shed tears. Acknowledge what is hard. Grieve the loss. Feel the sting of what will never be.

Weeping helps me heal. Since mourning is rarely a “one and done” event, I sometimes break down long after I think I have moved on. Often unexpectedly. When tears well up, I have learned to acknowledge and even welcome them. They frequently reveal something that is worth paying attention to.

I mourn the loss of what once was as well as the loss of what never was. They are both losses of what I hoped would be. Couples who have struggled with infertility, as well as those who have buried a child, or who are raising a special needs child or a wayward son or daughter, have all lost what they hoped would be. Whatever the origin, they are losses nonetheless.

Wash Your Face

After I have wept and grieved, I wash my face. I don’t just dry my tears. I take a warm cloth and wipe the salty streaks from my cheeks. I let the soothing warmth move across my skin. Then I splash cool water on my face to refresh me, redirect my thoughts, and fix my eyes on the Lord. Only then can I move on.

This is a deliberate act, a choice I make to refocus.

When I refocus, I take my eyes off my problems, and shift them onto the Lord — and I choose to trust him. Trust him even when my situation looks black. Trust him that he is working for my good. Trust him that he knows what is best.

Embrace the Life God’s Given

Finally, I am called to embrace the life I have. Embrace it as I would a beloved friend. Wholeheartedly. With joyful acceptance, not grudging obedience. Embracing means gladly receiving and even welcoming whatever the Lord gives me, even when it wasn’t in my plans. It means being fully present, living in the now, finding joy in the moment, and not longing for what’s past.

So today, if you are feeling weary and disappointed about your life, allow yourself to grieve. To weep deeply. To mourn the loss of what you hoped for. But then after you have lamented, wash your face, trust God, and embrace the life he’s given you.

Into a world of great sadness and loss, God told his people, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:18–19).

The Lord is indeed doing a new thing in my life. And yours as well. He is making a way in the wilderness and forging streams in the wasteland. Lean into it, and embrace it. God is doing something beautiful.

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Vaneetha Risner
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Vaneetha Risner writes and speaks about finding joy in the midst of suffering. She and her husband Joel live in Raleigh, NC where she blogs at www.danceintherain.com. She is the author of the book, “The Scars that have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering.”

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