We walked through deep disappointment recently. A hope of what was to come in our future suddenly disappeared, and the result has been this heavy gray fog settling over our thoughts and our hearts.
It’s not the outcome we wanted, not the outcome we prayed for, not the outcome that we expected.
As we processed what this disappointment meant for us in the moment, and what it means moving forward, I found that Eric and I were relating to God’s sovereignty differently.
For me, I was at rest in knowing that God was not surprised by the circumstances; he was not trying to come up with a plan B, and he knew all along what would happen. But I was wrestling with how it can feel like his plans have never been what we have asked him to do. As we have been praying with faith and trusting him for bigger things over the past few months, I have had hope that he would answer us with a “Yes!”–and it seems like all he is saying is “no” or “wait.”
Eric struggled more with blaming God, with thinking God made a mistake–that he somehow overlooked our pleas or wasn’t actually doing what was best.
Now, Eric and I both knew our thoughts were not in line with our theology. But in the moment, those are the places our hearts went to. It’s hard to see God’s hand of goodness when life is not playing out the way you hoped it would.
The question we both began to ponder was, Why is God’s sovereignty good news?
I know enough of God’s sovereignty to trust him – but I also know enough of God’s sovereignty to know that he doesn’t necessarily do what I expect or ask of him.
In fact, it’s usually in circumstances where I face disappointment or unmet expectations or even despair that God’s sovereignty is what I have to cling to in my pain. It’s not typically something I need to remind myself as I rejoice. It’s when I need it to be good news–but also when my heart doesn’t always feel like it’s good.
I think people often use “God’s in control” and “God has a plan” as band-aids, trying to put a spiritual truth into a situation that feels uncertain, in hopes of encouraging the one walking through it. I’ve written elsewhere about how those spiritual band-aids can be hurtful, and how they make it more about a “happy ending” than what God is doing now. This quick response in a moment of pain should bring about a pause for us to more fully consider what we are saying.
Yes, God’s in control.
Yes, he has a plan.
Yes, I am thankful for those two things. They make all the difference.
But do we use claims of God’s control in attempt to comfort ourselves that he will bring about what we ask for? Do we confidently state this fact then inwardly assume this means he will work things out for a good that we can see and understand, neglecting to remember that his ways are above ours (Isaiah 55:8) and he often uses suffering as the pathway to our developed character and hope (Romans 5:3-5)?
I often don’t realize I have done this, until I find myself once again thrown into confusion and frustration and pain when he doesn’t do what I want.
So as we have navigated this disappointment, and weariness in waiting, I am forced to again ask myself, Am I really surrendered to the fact that God is in control, and that he has a plan? Is that good news to me?
In her series of talks entitled “Suffering is Never for Nothing” (now printed into a book that you need to read!), Elisabeth Elliot said,
“If your faith rests in your idea of how God is supposed to answer your prayers, your idea of heaven here on earth or pie in the sky or whatever, then that kind of faith is very shaky and is bound to be demolished when the storms of life hit it. But if your faith rests on the character of Him who is the eternal I AM, then that kind of faith is rugged and will endure.”
God’s sovereignty doesn’t always result in what we want to happen. And yet, in believing that his character is good, I have to believe that the results are good. My sights may be limited to what’s incomplete–the story’s ending hasn’t played out yet–but, even in the deepest places of disappointment, his sovereign ways are still good, because he is still good. He never changes, despite our ever-changing circumstances.
In light of this reality, knowing that God is in control and we can trust him, I don’t think our response to dashed hopes and unmet expectations has to be fake happiness. We don’t need to paste a smile on our faces and say, “Well, God’s got a plan, and I am okay with this.”
It’s okay to not be okay.
In fact, the ability to approach God when we are not okay is modeled for us throughout Scripture. Psalm 13, Psalm 55, and Psalm 69 have been on repeat in my mornings in the Word. Job expresses confusion and anger toward God. Even Jesus cries out in anguish to his Father.
But in not being okay, my heart is still surrendered to him and hopeful in what he’s doing, in the blurry picture that I trust will come into focus as time continues on.
His sovereignty is my rock when I don’t understand. It’s my foundation and my refuge, as I go to him with my questions and fears and hopes, believing that he hears and he cares.
In moments we are tempted to doubt, or disagree, or despair at what we are facing, God’s sovereignty is good news! We can rest in what he’s doing, even when we don’t understand, and we can trust that he welcomes us to come to him with our honest emotions and our sorrow. And it’s in that place of honesty that I have most authentically encountered him.