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What to Do When Life Hands You Lemons

  • Cliff Young Contributing Writer
  • Published Jul 31, 2014
What to Do When Life Hands You Lemons

Dale Carnegie, American author and speaker known for his self-improvement and leadership courses, popularized the saying, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” This sounds a lot better when you’re not the one holding the lemons.

Over the past couple of years, I have shared some of the trials I have been going through, many involving “untimely” deaths (as if there are any other kind) of family and friends, job loss, end to relationships and home disasters. I am very appreciative of the outpouring of encouragement and prayers I have received.

To be completely honest though, “making lemonade” has not been my first thought when “life” happened. My immediate reaction was to throw the lemons at something or somebody (especially those armed with Christian clichés and verses), and scream “Why?!” (God has been working on my anger issues.)

Throughout these struggles, the only thing that has kept me going (and from being a fruit assailant) on this journey is my faith.

Truly believing God has a better plan in all of this has not been doubt-free, however faith in him has allowed me to seek and see small victories each day in the midst of these tragedies. It’s not an easy road and no one should ever tell you it is.

Some days, just deciding to get out of bed is an accomplishment. Others days, crossing items off a “to do” list is a major success. But for me, most days I feel the Lord is pushing me to just stay involved, stay in community with others and stay connected.

The worst things we can do are retreat into our seemingly safe cocoon and pretend “it” didn’t happen (or hope it will all go away).

Understandably, everyone needs some time to process the changes in their life (whatever they may be) and for many that means spending time alone to grieve, going off to pray about what to do, formulating a plan of attack, and seeking what it all means.

With each passing day I decide to take a step (however big or small). As I do, I move one step further through this current season and one step closer to the ultimate goal of where God wants me to be, or just showing obedience in the process.

When my brother was diagnosed with stage four cancer, our family’s world stopped and nothing else took on any importance beside his health.

Since his passing, I could be living in the past reflecting on the “why,” “what,” and “who’s to blame?”

Why did it happen?

What if we had another opinion?

Why wasn’t he transferred to another hospital?

What else could have been done?

The doctor should have reacted faster.

Many of us play this game in relationships, careers, and with every decision we (finally) make in life.

The choice I have made is to do things which would honor his legacy and make him proud.

I have picked up responsibilities that aren’t necessarily under the standard duties of an uncle. I have invested into the lives of his children and I make sure his family is cared for and loved. Although Jesus wasn’t speaking specifically of this type of situation, his words encourage this sort of action when he instructed a disciple, “Follow me and let the dead bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:22).

I know my brother is up in Heaven. I will let Jesus take care of him while I try to continue to do Christ’s work and care for those on earth.

One of the most important topics for singles, or at least at the forefront of most everyone’s mind, is relationships. There is nothing worse than a relationship you thought was “going the distance” that ends in a break-up.

After I experienced a broken engagement a few years back, I could have justifiably fallen into a pity party, seclusion, playing the blame game or an angered-filled life.

However, by the grace of God, a friend offered me an opportunity thousands of miles away in a place I had only visited where I knew next to nobody. Instead of living in the past and feeling sorry for myself, I felt God was challenging me with a fresh start.

In choosing to move forward, I have experienced some things many only dream of, faced my fears in several areas and overcame them, made many life-long friends and didn’t waste my time on “what could have been.”

Just the other day I offered to help a friend with the hospitality for an event our church was sponsoring. When I entered the kitchen, he handed me a bunch of lemons and told me my job was to grate lemon zest (which is the colorful outer layer of the citrus peel).

When I was done, I asked him what to do, and he responded “juice the lemons.”

After all of the grating, squeezing, mixing and baking that night, we ended up with some of the most flavorful lemon poppy seed muffins I have ever tasted.

This is all to say, when life hands you lemons don’t just settle for lemons or even lemonade. Look beyond the obvious because God usually has bigger things in mind, but only if we take our eyes off the immediate and look at a broader perspective of the situation.

What I have found is each of us contributes to the duration of our season by the attitude we have and the actions we take. We can choose to live in the past, try to “make things right or fair” (or at least understandable and justifiable in our own minds), and fight for “our way,” or we can accept the outcome as part of God’s plan and look for opportunities within our “new normal.”

Whatever your “lemon-filled” journey is, take the time you need (not forever), and when you’re ready look for all of the different opportunities your lemons allow you to do.

Dale Carnegie had the right idea, but with God we can do so much more.

Cliff Young is a contributing writer to Sandlot Stories (ARose Books), as well as the monthly column, "He Said-She Said," in's Singles Channel. An architect and former youth worker, he now works with Christian musicians and consults for a number of Christian ministries. Got feedback? Send your comments and questions to Find him on facebook and twitter.

Publication date: July 31, 2014