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So Your Life Didn’t Turn Out the Way You’d Hoped

“What are you supposed to do when you’re just plain miserable?” asks Bethany Shaeffer at Relevant Magazine. In her new piece So Your Life Didn’t Turn Out the Way You’d Hoped, she explores the all-too-common sentiment of modern twentysomethings wanting to be bold world-changers, yet wilting under mostly uneventful existences.

“The thing with this millennial misery is that, half the time, our greatest trial isn’t even that anything awful has happened, but that nothing epic has…

Many of us were raised with world-changer expectations, being constantly told, ‘you’re unique. You’re going places.’ And that may very well be true. We each do have a unique contribution to make, but it might not look like what we typically expect world-changing to look like. We expect people to not only like us, but sing our praises and opportunity to come seeking us out. Significance always feels just out of our reach.”

What causes us to have these expectations and disappointments, and what can be done about it? Shaeffer identifies three chief problems with our life outlook:

1. We Have a Wrong Definition of a Meaningful Life

She writes,

“[I]t’s OK to be a nobody by the world’s standards. In fact, despite our striving and straining, most of us will be. Your greatest challenge isn’t achieving greatness. It’s realizing the greatness in what God is accomplishing in you where you are (which may require you to redefine what greatness really means) and being consistently faithful right there.”

Whitney Hopler addresses this idea of being making a difference while being “a nobody” in her Crosswalk article 11 Ways to Discover the Extraordinary Power of Being Ordinary. 

“Accept the circumstances into which God has placed you. Recognize that God has called you to do what’s right in every situation you face, and when you do your best to live faithfully in all circumstances, your life makes a significant impact over time in God’s kingdom. If God calls you to do something adventurous like building wells in Africa on a mission trip, go do so. But realize that the ordinary ways God calls you to respond with faith – such as working diligently to earn money for your family, helping your children learn something new, doing errands and household chores, praying for your neighbors, and participating in a local church community – are just as significant as the more adventurous opportunities to serve. Realize that what matters most to God isn’t what you’re doing, but how you’re doing it. Be encouraged that whenever you do anything at all with faithful love for God and the people he has made, God is using your life to accomplish important purposes. Be willing to say “yes” to God wherever he has placed you.”

The second problem is that:

2. We Elevate Changing Circumstances Over Changing Ourselves

“Sometimes, we think so highly of ourselves that we don’t see a need for growth more than a need for a change of scene or more comfortable circumstances. But changing circumstances won’t make any difference if we’re unwilling to change ourselves.”

In an interview for his new book Overrated, Author and Christian leader Eugene Cho confesses that he, like many of us, is often more in love with the idea of changing the world, than actually becoming the change the world needs.

“I was more in love with justice, compassion, generosity, until there was a personal cost to me. And [realizing] that was painful. It wasn’t the conviction I was seeking…But I realized that in this, God really showed so much of his heart and character. And the more I began to share of this confession with others, I began to realize it was sort of a shared confession, that a lot of people were also echoing that same sentiment.

There’s a lot of people that want to do good things. We want to pursue right things, and beautiful things, and hopeful things. And I’m so encouraged by that. But I think because that’s the case, we need to ask the question, ‘How?’ How do we pursue these things? …What does it look like to be in it for the long haul? For the marathon of life, and discipleship?”

Finally, Shaeffer notes that, all too often,

3. We Miss What Our Misery Is Revealing About Ourselves

“Like it or not, our misery turns our hearts to Christ and shines a light on what has actually been holding our love and attention. Lysa TerKeurst puts the idols that tend to control us in three categories: people, possessions and positions.”

In her Crosswalk article Lessons from a Lost Sheep, Dena Johnson shares of a time when her world turned upside down, and she looked for solace in relationships rather than in God.

“As the days wore on, I knew that God was calling my name. But, I continued running. The harder I ran, the more he pursued me.

‘Get your security from me,’ I heard echoing through the recesses of my heart day after day. ‘I am here, waiting to welcome you home. I will protect you. I will care for you. I promise we will be OK…together….’

…Over the next months, I began to understand a new depth of my Father’s love. He is so gracious and faithful! While I was doing everything I could to run from him, he chose to pursue me. As I did everything I could to hide from him, he came searching for me. He fought a mighty battle for my affections. He was not content to leave me in my sin, to leave me in disgrace. He loved me so much that he welcomed me home even as filthy and unfaithful as I had been.”

What about you? Are you living life with the wrong idea of success? Have you waited for circumstances to change around you, rather than committing to discipleship and being the change you want to see? Has heartbreak revealed idols in your heart? Read Crosswalk’s Spiritual Life channel for more encouragement, and the stories of fellow pilgrims on life’s journey!

Debbie Holloway is the Family Life Editor at

Publication date: November 19, 2014