A few days after my college-aged son relapsed with childhood cancer, I was cooking his favorite dinner and the realization that we were about to go into our second three-year battle for his life slammed me particularly hard. Alek, my middle son, walked into the kitchen, and I asked him to pray for his brother and our family.
My then 16-year-old’s reply? “Sure, Mom. I’ll do it for you. But I’m not really riding the God train right now.”
“Not riding the God train?” I stopped chopping vegetables and looked up at him.
“Yeah.” He shrugged tight shoulders. “Any god who’s let my brother have cancer twice? I can’t be part of that.” His voice was rough, his words raw. Harsh. Angry.
But anger wasn’t what I saw in his eyes. It was disappointment. Disappoint with a God he’d trusted. A God he felt let him down.
I wasn’t much older than Alek the first time I felt like God let me down. My dad walked out on his 25-year marriage—and my sister and me—for someone else, and no matter how hard I prayed, he never came back.
When people let you down, it hurts. But feeling like God isn’t even on your side wounds so much deeper. Especially when you pour your heart out begging him to help and it seems as if He’s light years away.
Up until the morning my dad abandoned me, I’d grown up believing if I learned God’s Word, lived inside His will, and trusted Him, everything would work out. He would take care of me. Protect me. Keep me safe and whole and happy.
I did all the right things. I went to church, prayed about life choices, and carved out a deep faith even in my early teens. I didn’t cheat or gossip. I worked to be a good friend. As I got older, I loved my husband and my kids and put them first, the way I was supposed to. I even took it two steps further and stayed home to raise them and homeschool them while I perfected hovering just the right amount.
Yet my family isn’t perfect, and my life is often hard. There are days and weeks and months I feel the opposite of safe and whole and happy.
It’s easy to blame God when life goes wrong. He can do anything. Stop anything. Change anything. But sometimes He doesn’t. People have free will. The world is full of death and disease and sin. Bad things happen to good people—even good Christian people.
I’ll be honest. If I’m given the choice, I’ll choose to live in a bubble where I’m safe and happy and whole every single time. Too bad that’s not ever been my reality.
But maybe it wasn’t supposed to be.
God never promised I’d get what I want, that my days would be easy, that just because I chose to follow Him I wouldn’t suffer, or that He’d let me skip the bad parts of life.
And that’s where disappointment comes in, hitting the hardest when I confuse what I think God owes me with what He actually told me.
He said I should give thanks. “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV).
He said He understands my challenges. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:16).
He said I wouldn’t be crushed. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (II Corinthians 4:8-9).
He said I’d never be alone. “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar…You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways…You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me…Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (Psalm 139: 2,3,5,7,8).
When I look at these verses, I remember true peace always finds me when I give thanks in the worst of situations. I remember His suffering on the cross and how it was so much more heart-wrenching than anything I’ve been through with my son. I remember that I’m still here, still living, not destroyed, even when people and situations have tried to break me. I remember the times He walked me through the darkness of feeling alone and abandoned.
As my perspective changes, so does my disappointment. God’s purpose isn’t to wrap me in that bubble and keep me away from the harsh realities of the world, it’s to walk with me through them. His purpose is to refine my faith.
“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (I Peter 1:6,7).
Going back to my dad abandoning me and my first disappointment with God, I prayed for years for Him to restore my family. He never did. But He did restore me in ways I never imagined.
As far understanding the purpose in my son’s second journey with cancer? That’s still a work in progress. But if I look at things just right, I catch tiny glimpses of the way God’s changed him and me for His purposes.
If you’re hurting and you feel like God has let you down, don’t jump off the God train just yet. Not before you take an honest look at your disappointment. Just like it would be unfair of me to blame my boss for not giving me a promotion he never offered, it’s unfair to judge God’s love for us based on what we want Him to give us rather than what He wants to give.
A Prayer for When Things Don’t Go Your Way
Lord, Your ways aren’t our ways. It sounds so simple. I’ve memorized the verse. But help those words sink in. Show me Your perspective through Your eyes. Help me to see that while I’m a small part of the bigger picture You have planned, you love me and I’m part of Your purpose. Rather than blame You when things go wrong, help me to remember You’re the only one who’s right there beside me as I crawl through the fire. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Lori Freeland is a freelance author from Dallas, Texas with a passion to share her experiences in hopes of connecting with other women tackling the same issues. She holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is a full-time homeschool mom. You can find Lori at lafreeland.com.
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