How to Respond When Life Does Not Turn Out the Way You Thought It Would

when life gets really hard

John 16:32-33

What should you do when your life is not turning out the way you thought it would? How can you avoid getting angry at God or becoming depressed when the life you hoped for does not seem to be coming?

Perhaps you thought you would be married at this point in your life already. Perhaps you thought a certain relationship was going to work out but then it completely explodes in your face. Or perhaps you have an unexpected health issue come up that has completely altered your plans for life. What should you do?

Here are 2 healthy ways to respond as a Christian and 2 unhealthy ways to respond when life does not turn out the way you thought it would.

Choose Acceptance or Change

John 16:32-33, “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Here Jesus is telling his disciples the hard things that will happen partly so they can accept it. He doesn’t hide the truth from them. He tells them plainly, “In this world you will have trouble.” If we hope to fully appreciate the solutions we find in Jesus Christ, we must first come to accept the problems we have in this world. We must accept that we do have problems in this world and then we must also accept that Jesus is the only one who has overcome the world.

But if we deny that problems exist and deny how broken we are, our feelings will always be rooted in lies and eventually we will lose heart. Philippians 4:11-13 states:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

While the Bible certainly advocates for acceptance so that we can find our ultimate hope in Jesus Christ first and foremost, the Bible does not condemn healthy changes in life either. Therefore, when it is in your power to change something in your life, you are free to pursue this change if it is a good desire. For as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7:21, “Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so.”

Here Paul makes an outlandish claim that even if someone is stuck in one of the lowest places in a sinful and flawed human society that even then Jesus Christ can sustain that person with hope and joy. But Paul makes it clear less anyone be mistaken that it is also good to try to change a bad situation.

So throughout the Bible you will see that two healthy options are acceptance and change when life is not turning out the way you want. Try to improve your life circumstances the best you can through wisdom, hard work, and most importantly through asking God for help. But we must also then come to accept certain parts of our lives if we are not able to change them.

Never Choose Denial or Despair

What you should never do is choose denial or despair. The opposite of acceptance is denial. When you deny something is really happening or you deny the facts that this life situation is unlikely to change anytime soon, you are stopping yourself from finding true peace in the Lord. Denial is rooted in fear. We choose denial when we fear that we could never be happy if things stay the same. This is not what you want. Rather than denying your trials you must face them head on so that you can then determine to find you joy in Christ even if your life is not what you want.

Despair sets in when someone gives up trying to live with purpose. If life is not turning out the way you want, you must fight against the feelings of despair. Despair is the opposite of a motivation to change. We certainly do not know what we can change and what we can’t change until we try. But when we give into despair we stop trying to change completely. This solidifies a hopeless life.

So if your life is not turning out the way that you want, choose acceptance or change but never denial or despair.