Life rarely turns out the way you’ve planned. An unexpected diagnosis, a sudden job layoff, a surprise relationship breakup, an accident – all kinds of challenges can come into your life at any time and blow your best plans apart. When that happens, you have a choice. You can allow your circumstances to bring you down and try to survive in a miserable state. Or, you can decide to rise above your challenges so you can thrive despite them.
Here’s how you can rise above unexpected challenges:
See the potential that exists. Whenever your old dreams die, there is the potential for new dreams to be born. If you entrust your situation to God, He will bring something good out of even the worst circumstances. Every disappointment can be turned into an appointment to trust God’s plan. God is a redeeming God who is weaving a greater, more eternal picture than you can see right now. Place your hope in Him.
Realize that you’re not alone. Every woman experiences disappointments in life, to some degree. Common types of disappointments women experience include disappointments with marriage, kids, self, others, circumstances, religion, and God. If you’re disappointed, you’re in good company with many others in our fallen world. So don’t isolate yourself. Find some other women to talk with, and support and encourage each other as you deal with your disappointments.
Cast your cares on God. God has promised to always be with you and act in love toward you. Even when you can’t sense God’s presence with you, believe His promise. He knows what you’re going through, and He cares. While you may not understand why God has allowed certain challenges to come into your life, you can rest assured that His loving comfort and help is available to you at all times. Pray honestly about your thoughts and feelings related to your challenges. Don’t hesitate to express anything to God; He already knows anyway, and He wants you to draw closer to Him when you’re struggling.
Grieve your losses. Face the fact that you’ve lost something valuable to you, rather than trying to ignore the hard reality or sugarcoat it in some way. Cry if you need to cry, journal about your loss is that helps, talk with a counselor or trusted friends, find solace in God’s Word, and do whatever else helps you grieve your losses. Accept your situation, and begin to work through it honestly. But don’t get stuck in a rut; once you’ve expressed your grief, start to move on. Steer clear of whining, complaining, and self-pity. Allow your grief to take its course. Then let go of your old dream and look forward to what God has in store for you in the future. Stop reviewing your mistakes; give up regrets and ask God to show you what He wants you to learn from your mistakes so you can grow beyond them. Take your eyes off the past and turn them toward what God is planning for the rest of your life. Pray for His guidance, and step out to follow Him wherever He leads you.
Give thanks. Although this may be the last thing you feel like doing right now, it’s vital to give thanks to God in all circumstances (not for all circumstances, but in the midst of them), because doing so makes you notice what God is doing in your life and strengthens your assurance that He does care for you. Make giving thanks a daily practice. Pay attention to even the little ways that God provides for you each day – from a good meal, to a caring friend who takes the time to call and ask how you’re doing.
Win the battle over worry. Whenever a worrisome thought pops into your mind, pray about it. Don’t allow worries to stay in your mind long enough to grow into fear. Use your worries as catalysts to begin thinking about your next steps and start solving problems. Give each of your worries to God, and step forward in faith as He leads you. Invite God to use the situations about which you’re worrying to show you more about who He is and what He is capable of doing. Ask God to exchange your worries for His peace. Make it a daily habit to deliberately give God your worries; incorporate the practice into your routine so it becomes as regular as brushing your teeth or combing your hair. Whenever you feel inadequate, overwhelmed, or afraid, remember that God is with you and you can count on Him to help you. Keep your focus on God instead of on your worries.
Place your trust only in God. God is worthy of your trust. What you believe about Him will determine whether or not you trust Him, so consider why you believe what you believe. Get to know God by reading what He reveals about Himself in the Bible. Then base your beliefs about God on the Bible, rather than on hearsay or other people’s opinions. As you grow to know God more, you’ll grow to love and trust Him more. Remember that your challenges serve a greater purpose in your life than what you can see right now. Consider the possible benefits of the challenge you’re going through. It may: offer you a chance to grow, give you an opportunity to empathize with and encourage others, remind you of your need for God’s care and help, draw you into a closer relationship with a loving God, serve as discipline you need to grow as a person, or allow you to share in Christ’s sufferings. Suffering is actually a kind of grace when it better prepares you to meet God one day. Remember that God – who sees your soul from an eternal perspective – does not give you quick fixes for the here and now, but prepares you for spending eternity with Him. Even when you don’t understand why God has allowed certain challenges into your life, you can trust His love and eternal purposes.
See the beauty of Plan B. It’s easy to see the ugliness of your plans not working out. But look beyond that to see the beauty of your new journey. Explore the potential plans for your new life by assessing the possibilities God has provided. Through prayer, personal reflection, and conversations with some people you trust, ask questions like these: “What are the good things about my life right now?”, “What positive actions can I take without neglecting my commitments?”, “What gifts and talents has God given me?”, “How could I use at least one of these gifts or talents in a new and fresh way?”, “What opportunities has God placed in my life right now?”, “If I were to dream big, what would I love to do with the life God has given me?”, “What resources or knowledge do I have available to accomplish these dreams?”, “What resources or knowledge do I need to obtain in order to move forward?”, and “Who are the people God has placed in my life whom I can bless and who may be a blessing to me as well?”. Ask God to help you believe in a wonderful new plan for your life. Trust that God will care for you, even though, right now, you can’t see the outcome of your current challenges. Change old, unhealthy and/or negative behavior patterns that are preventing you from making the progress you sense God wants you to make. Seek advice from wise friends and mentors as you go through the process of making changes in your life. Look for what doors God is opening, and walk through them the best you can into your future. Don’t worry about getting too far astray if you’re truly trying to follow God; He will help you. Remember that God is sovereign and you can’t thwart his ultimate plans. Notice the new person you’re becoming, and enjoy the positive changes you notice.
Get rid of bitterness. Refuse to hold onto anger and resentment that will allow bitterness to grow in your soul. Flush out the poison of any bitterness you already have by answering God’s call to forgive. Just as God has forgiven you, He expects you to forgive the people who have hurt or offended you. You can count on God to help you through the process. Choose to forgive as an act of your will – despite your feelings – and God will change your heart in the process. Trust God to bring about justice in every situation rather than wasting your time and energy trying to get revenge. Be willing to pray for the people you’re forgiving, and act in love toward them. Enjoy the freedom that forgiveness will give you.
Focus on the big picture. Shift your focus away from what’s wrong in your life and toward God, who is bigger than your challenges and is able to redeem them. Meditate on Bible passages to remind yourself that there is a bigger picture than what you can see right now and that the sovereign God has your life in His hands. Think and pray about what God may be saying to you through His Word, and what you can learn from it and apply to your life. In the light of God’s eternal purposes, your temporary challenges won’t seem as daunting as they did before. Keep in mind that where you may just see a mess in your life, God sees the potential for something good to happen.
Speak with sincerity. The words that come out of your mouth reveal the condition of your heart and identify who you are. Speak with carefully, since your words can either bring about life or joy, or hurt and destruction. Decide to speak positive words that reflect your hope and trust in God and that encourage others – no matter how challenging your circumstances are right now. Avoid the complaining of those who don’t have faith. Make time each day to praise God for His work in your life; the more you praise Him during your prayer times, the more praise will flow more naturally out of your mouth in other situations. Don’t listen to advice from negative or bitter people, and avoid media content that negatively influences your thinking. Listen to positive people and watch, read, or listen to uplifting shows, books, etc. Memorize Bible passages that give you hope as you deal with your specific challenges, and that build your trust in God’s love and care for you. Whenever you’re tempted to complain about something, pray about it first. Talk about your concerns with a trusted friend, mentor, or counselor. Each night before you go sleep, thank God for how He has cared for you that day, and your subconscious mind will be filled with positive thoughts. Whenever God answers your prayers, thank Him and tell others what He has done.
Walk confidently in a new direction. Gain confidence from placing your trust in God, instead of in people or circumstances. Be willing to take whatever steps God leads you to take into your future. Although you can’t be sure what life will bring, you can be certain that God will be with you. Keep a confident spiritual posture: head up (keeping your eyes on God), shoulders back (casting your cares continually on God), stomach in (staying centered on truth, not assumptions), stand straight and tall (standing on the sure foundation of hearing and doing God’s Word), walk forward (walking confidently with an eternal perspective).
Make healthy connections with other people. Notice what people God has placed in your life right now to help and support you. Thank God for them, and allow those people to get close to you. Listen to people’s advice and allow them to help you. While you’re looking for friends, be a good friend yourself. Do all you can to encourage other people. If you’re married, work on your communication with your spouse to keep your marriage strong while you’re going through challenges. Expect God to use your friends to help you heal.
Use what you’ve learned to help others. God will make sure that none of the pain you’ve gone through while dealing with your challenges will be wasted, if you ask Him to show you how to use what you’ve learned in the process to bless others going through similar challenges. Be alert to the opportunities God presents for you to help others, and take advantage of them.
Persevere. Remember that God is not through with you yet. Wait on God to complete His good work in your life. Keep placing your hope in God and finding your strength in Him. Trust that God will work all things in your life together for good. Turn to the Bible for fresh spiritual nourishment each day. Remember that you’ll never be completely satisfied in this fallen world, but look forward to when all your longings will be fulfilled – when you meet God in heaven. Each day as you move forward, ask God – the source of all hope – to renew your strength and fill you with joy and peace.
Adapted from Thrive, Don’t Simply Survive: Passionately Live the Life You Didn’t Plan, copyright 2008 by Karol Ladd. Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, West Monroe, La., www.howardpublishing.com.
Karol Ladd is the award-winning and bestselling author of the Power of a Positive series. She is also the founder and president of Positive Life Principles, Inc, a resource company offering strategies for success in both home and work. Her vivacious personality makes her a popular speaker to women's organizations, church groups, and corporate events. She is co-founder of a character-building club for young girls called USA Sonshine Girls and serves on several educational boards. Karol is a frequent guest on radio and television programs. Her most valued role is that of wife to Curt and mother to daughters Grace and Joy.