In college, I got a Bachelor of Science degree in recreation and leisure studies. I avoided anything and everything that was hard. I wanted a comfortable life and thought that Christians should be blessed with a good life.
Life is good but it is different than I pictured it would be.
My only goal and desire was to get married and have children. I didn’t have any goals for graduate education, travel, or ministry. I saw myself as a wife and mom but that didn’t happen. It was hard for me to go to wedding after wedding and see all my friends matched with the person of their dreams while I remained single. As time went on, I was crushed that I would not have any children of my own. I shed a lot of tears and felt so disappointed in God.
Whatever our age or stage in life, life gets hard. We all experience disappointment and pain. What do we do in those times? We try to take care of things and do what we need to do to get through it. We talk with others and make decisions. These are good things to do.
But God has more for us. God offers us hope. I have found a lot of encouragement for hard times in the Psalms. Here are some practices and postures I’ve learned that have helped me hope in the Lord in the midst of disappointment and pain.
1. Be honest.
The writers of the Psalms are so honest and real with God.
Day and night I have only tears for food. . . .
My heart is breaking
as I remember how it used to be:
I walked among the crowds of worshipers,
leading a great procession to the house of God,
singing for joy and giving thanks
amid the sound of a great celebration! . . .
“O God my rock,” I cry,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I wander around in grief,
oppressed by my enemies?” (Psalm 42:3-4, 9)
Even when I have felt forgotten by God, he has invited me to be honest with him and enter into a deeper relationship. Crying out to him when I feel pain and disappointment is the pathway to grow closer to him.
Verses 5 and 11 of Psalm 42 both say:
Why am I discouraged?
Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again—
my Savior and my God!
When this writer is sad and discouraged, he sees it as an opportunity to put his hope in God.
Recently someone close to me was in a very difficult situation. I asked God to intervene but didn’t see any change. The problem seemed overwhelming and hopeless, and was something that I had prayed about countless times. But as I was crying out to God, he reminded me that my hope is in him, not in the situation, and I experienced peace.
I’ve lived in Christian community for the last 34 years and have had over 100 roommates. Sometimes when my housing situation changed, I was filled with fear and anxiety, shed tears, and experienced great disappointment. But as I am honest with God, he also shines his light deeper into my heart to show me that I am longing for something far less than he wants to give me. In my disappointments and struggles connected to marriage, motherhood, and a stable living situation, God keeps revealing to me that he wants to be my husband and closest companion and provide family for me. His love makes me complete and can overflow to others. I used to always dread Mother’s Day because of the pain of not having children. But God has been generous to show me that by his love and grace, he has made me a spiritual mom with many spiritual children and grandchildren.
2. Recognize your ultimate desire.
God is the true source of our deepest desires. Even when life gets hard, he can satisfy us with himself and all that we need.
The writer of Psalm 42 knew this when he wrote:
As the deer longs for streams of water,
so I long for you, O God.
I thirst for God, the living God.
When can I go and stand before him?
We know what it’s like to feel thirsty when we long for a cold drink of water. That’s what this writer is talking about. He knows that coming to God is like drinking from a cool stream when we are extremely thirsty.
Some people think this was a psalm that David wrote when he was running from enemies who wanted to kill him. When I was in Israel this spring, I got to visit the place that he might have been at when he wrote this psalm (if he was the author). It was so amazing. From there, we could see what is mentioned in verse 6: we saw Mount Hermon, the source of water for the Jordan, and we could see and hear the stream gushing by.
Under pressure, this writer knew that only God could satisfy him. He didn’t know the outcome of what would happen, but he knew that he would find peace if he focused on God’s presence and care for him instead of his circumstances.
A friend of mine has a rebellious daughter who is mentally distraught. I asked him how that challenging circumstance affects his faith. He said God never promised that we would not have hard times. This makes him go to God more because God is his only hope.
For friends of mine who have experienced abuse, God is their source of healing and hope. It’s not an easy road. They can’t go back and change things, but I’ve seen God provide comfort, hope, and healing one day and one step at a time.
God has shown me that he is powerful and faithful in any situation, and that’s what gives me courage to enter the pain and suffering of others. Over the last seven years, I’ve been involved in a ministry that reaches out to victims of human trafficking. “Miracle Mary,” who left the streets and is now ministering to children, builds my faith as I have witnessed God give her freedom, healing, and life purpose.
3. Let God’s love overtake you.
Verses 7 and 8 of Psalm 42 say:
I hear the tumult of the raging seas
as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.
But each day the LORD pours his unfailing love upon me,
and through each night I sing his songs,
praying to God who gives me life.
In Hawaii, I’ve experienced the feeling of waves sweeping over me. I’ve tried surfing and boogie boarding and have had what I call the “washing machine experience,” rolling under the ocean out of control because of the waves.
I believe the writer of this psalm is talking about how God’s love is like waves that surge, sweep, and overtake us. We can be completely overtaken by his powerful love. Each day the writer experiences the Lord pouring out his unfailing love, and each night he sings his songs to God. God is real to him, and as he is filled with God’s love, he can worship God.
When life gets hard, God wants to overwhelm us with his love and presence. His love can wash over our hurt, pain, disappointments, fears, and anxieties.
“Come and drink!”
God’s love is deeper and more powerful than anything we face. I still experience disappointments and get discouraged, but those are also opportunities for me to find my hope in God. Jesus invites you to come to him. Be honest about how you feel and share with him your hurts, disappointments, and any way that you feel hopeless.
Jesus says in John 7:38: “Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’”
When we face hard times and life isn’t all that we hoped for, we can experience the refreshing love and life of Jesus. That’s what gives me hope for my life and for my ministry to those who are really hurting. Jesus will be faithful to meet you with his love, and you will be satisfied by him.
Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Matt Kirk.
Brenda has spent over 44 years leading, discipling, and developing InterVarsity students and staff in San Francisco and Hawai`i. You can support her ministry at https://donate.intervarsity.org/donate#17.
Lately, I’ve been struggling a great deal with feelings of disappointment with Jesus. I’m not entirely sure when they started, but I can see the impact they’ve had: I start to distance myself from Jesus. I shy away from taking risks for the sake of God’s kingdom. I sink into my couch.