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It's Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered
by Lysa TerKeurst
Learn More | Meet Lysa TerKeurst
BETWEEN TWO GARDENS
My hands were shaking as I dialed a number I’d called hundreds, if not thousands, of times before. It was 5:34 a.m. I knew the minute my friend picked up the call, the horror of what I’d just discovered would be real. I didn’t want it to be real. And maybe if I kept it to myself, I could deny the hurt that was threatening to swallow me whole.
But pretending away reality never makes things better. It just causes you to implode on the inside while smiling on the outside. That’s no way to live.
Sometimes to get your life back, you have to face the death of what you thought your life would look like.
I was staring that kind of death in the face when I heard my friend whisper a sleepy but slightly panicked, “Hello? Lysa? Are you okay?”
I most definitely was not.
And I wouldn’t feel okay for a very long time. The feelings of safety and security in my marriage that I’d treasured for more than two decades were suddenly ripped away, leaving my heart raw and my soul trembling.
Even now, more than two years after the fact, I still struggle with the distance between what I thought would be and what is. I have days so far from okay I want to send a text message to that missing good feeling and demand its return.
But this isn’t something isolated to the white brick house that sits at the end of my driveway. This thought gets tangled around you too. It comes in like a whisper through the smaller disappointments. A bad haircut. An overflowing dishwasher. A burned dinner. A child who won’t listen today. A scale that keeps going up and a bank account that keeps going down.
Then the whisper graduates into a louder voice with the friend who goes silent for a while. The job you didn’t get. The harsh words spoken to you by someone you’re desperate to hear some encouragement from. That underlying sense that your marriage has grown cold while your conversations are constantly heated. The lonely feeling you didn’t think you 'd have at this stage of life.
Then the disappointment roars with earth-shattering thunder with a call from the doctor and a diagnosis that flips life upside down. The discovered affair. The hidden addictions. The child you don’t even know anymore. The fire. The bankruptcy. The breakup. The death so unexpected you keep calling their number just hoping this is all a bad dream and surely they’ll answer this time.
I don’t know when these disappointments, big and small, are coming my way. They just show up. An unexpected guest that I don’t know what to do with.
This guest of disappointment exhausts me.
But I don’t have to tell you that.
It frustrates and exhausts you too.
Life isn’t turning out the way we thought it would.
Disappointment. Whether you’ve used that word or not, it’s there. And I want to wrap a little vocabulary around the feelings that are affecting us more than we realize or dare to verbalize.
It’s that feeling things should be better than they are. People should be better than they are. Circumstances should be better than they are. Finances should be better than they are. Relationships should be better than they are.
And you know what? You’re right. Everything should be better than it is. It’s no wonder that I’m exhausted and that you are too. Stay with me here, and let me unpack something that Satan has viciously fought to keep us from knowing.
The disappointment that is exhausting and frustrating you? It holds the potential for so much good. But we’ll only see it as good if we trust the heart of the Giver.
You see, disappointment can be a gift from God that feels nothing like a gift at all. It’s unexpectedly sharp, and the Giver can seem almost cruel as we watch someone unwrap it. Their fingers will bleed. They will feel tricked and so very tempted to stop trusting that anything good can be found within. They will most certainly question the One who allowed it to come their way.
I’ve done all those things. I certainly threw out many deep, sob-filled questions about how God could allow this when I called my friend at 5:34 a.m.
But disappointment isn’t proof that God is withholding good things from us. Sometimes it’s His way of leading us Home. But to see this and properly understand what’s really going on, we must take a step back and view it in the context of God’s epic love story. The one in which He rescues and reconciles humanity to Himself.
So, let’s lay down our questions about why these things are happening for just a bit. We’ll pick them back up after we are better equipped with truths through which we can process them. And let’s open up God’s answers, God’s ways, God’s Word. I promise you won’t find flimsy bumper sticker quotes that never help and often hurt. Together we are going to find a real help and a true hope and a God who will hold us safe through it all. Let’s start at the very beginning.
Genesis tells us that the human heart was created in the perfection of the garden of Eden.
Can you imagine what the world looked like when God first created it? When He said it was all good. Very good. And it was all perfect.
Perfection’s symphony filled the atmosphere. Everything ebbed and flowed in complete harmony. It sang with the richest tones. And danced with ridiculous precision. There was nothing that didn’t look right or feel right. It was beautiful and peaceful and fulfilling. There was perfect peace in relationships. Adam and Eve were so beautifully connected to each other, and they lived in the perfect presence of God. It was paradise with unique intimacy where God would interact in direct relationship with Adam and Eve. There was perfect provision and perfect fulfillment of their purpose. There was no sadness or confusion or injustice. There was no disease or divorce or depression or death. There were no misaligned motives, no manipulations, no malicious intentions.
It was everything you could ever dream up and then so much more than that.
So the human heart was created in the context of the perfection of the garden of Eden. But we don’t live there now.
This is why our instincts keep firing off the lie that perfection is possible. We have pictures of perfection etched into the very DNA of our souls.
We chase it. We angle our cameras trying to catch it. We take twenty shots in hopes of finding it. And then even our good photos have to be color corrected, filtered, and cropped.
We do our very best to make others think this posted picture is the real deal. But we all know the truth. We all see the charade. We all know the emperor is naked. But there we are, clapping on the sidelines, following along, playing the game. Trying to believe that maybe, just maybe, if we get close to something that looks like perfection it will help us snag a little of its shine for ourselves.
But we know even the shiniest of things is headed in the direction of becoming dull. New will always eventually become old. Followers unfollow. People who lift us up will let us down. The most tightly knit aspects of life snag, unravel, and disintegrate before our very eyes.
And so we are epically disappointed.
But we aren’t talking about it.
We don’t even feel permission to do so or we just don’t know how to process our disappointments. Especially not in Bible study or Sunday church. Because everyone says, “Be grateful and positive, and let your faith boss your feelings around.”
And I do believe we need to be grateful and positive and let our faith boss our feelings around. But I also think there’s a dangerous aspect to staying quiet and pretending we don’t get exhausted by our disappointments.
In the quiet, unexpressed, unwrestled-through disappointments, Satan is handcrafting his most damning weapons against us and those we love. It’s his subtle seduction to get us alone with our thoughts so he can slip in whispers that will develop our disappointments into destructive choices.
If the enemy can isolate us, he can influence us.
And his favorite entry point of all is through our disappointments. The enemy comes in as a whisper, lingers like a gentle breeze, and builds like a storm you don’t even see coming. But eventually his insatiable appetite to destroy will unleash the tornado of destruction he planned all along. He doesn’t whisper to our disappointed places to coddle us. He wants to crush us.
And counselors everywhere are telling brokenhearted people sitting on tear-soaked couches that one of the reasons their relationships failed is because of conversations they needed to have but never did.
If we don’t open up a way to process our disappointments, we’ll be tempted to let Satan rewrite God’s love story as a negative narrative, leaving us more than slightly suspicious of our Creator. Why would He create our hearts in the perfection of the garden of Eden knowing that, because of our eventual sin, we wouldn’t live there?
I mean, once Adam and Eve sinned, couldn’t God strip the awareness and craving for perfection out of their hearts before He banished them from the garden? Yes, He certainly could have done that. But to strip out the cause of our disappointment would also rob us of the glorious hope of where we are headed.
Remember, this is a love story. And we will never appreciate or even desire the hope of our True Love if lesser loves don’t disappoint. The piercing angst of disappointment in everything on this side of eternity creates a discontent with this world and pushes us to long for God Himself—and for the place where we will finally walk in the garden with Him again. Where we will finally have peace and security and eyes that no longer leak tears . . . and hearts that are no longer broken.
The Bible begins with the book of Genesis, set in the first garden of Eden. But never forget, it ends with Eden restored in the last chapters of Revelation, the last book.
- “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:3–5)
Notice all the feeling words used to describe the world we currently inhabit: mourning, crying, and pain. Utter disappointment often taps the place of deep tears. As we talked about earlier, everything on this side of eternity is in a state of decay. This is simply the natural result of sin entering the equation. Bright days become dark nights. The laughter of living will be eclipsed by the tears of dying. The excitement of this moment is torn away by the disappointment of the next moment. This constant threat to our deep feelings ushers in depression, anxiety, callousness, and, quite honestly, a skepticism about the goodness of God.
We see that all those harsh realities aren’t the end, but rather a temporary middle space. Not the place where we are meant to wallow and dwell. Rather the place through which we will have to learn to wrestle well. I need this wrestling. I have honest feelings where I want to throw my hands up in utter frustration and yell about the unfairness of it all. To deny my feelings any voice is to rob me of being human. But to let my feelings be the only voice will rob my soul of healing perspectives with which God wants to comfort me and carry me forward. My feelings and my faith will almost certainly come into conflict with each other. My feelings see rotten situations as absolutely unnecessary hurt that stinks. My soul sees it as fertilizer for a better future. Both these perspectives are real. And they yank me in different directions with never-ending wrestling. To wrestle well means acknowledging my feelings but moving forward, letting my faith lead the way.
God knows before we eternally dwell we will have to learn how to wrestle well. Do you see the encouragement God is giving us in the passage from Revelation 21 to help us do this when our feelings beg us to doubt our faith? He will stop the continuum of decay and death and utter disappointment. He will make everything new!
In this restored garden of Eden the curse will be lifted and perfection will greet us like a long-lost friend. There will be no gap between our expectations and experiences. They will be one and the same. We won’t be hurt. We won’t live hurt. We won’t be disappointed, and we won’t live disappointed. Not in people. Not in ourselves. Not in God. Our feelings and faith will nod in agreement. We will return to a purity of emotion where we can experience the best of our hearts working in tandem with the absolutes of truth.
We won’t need to wrestle well between our feelings and our faith in the new Eden, because there will be no competing narrative about God’s nature. There will be no corruption of God’s nurture. There will be no contrary notions about why God allows things to happen. And there will be no gnawing fear that things might not turn out okay.
We won’t need to wrestle well, because we will be well. Whole. Complete. Assured. Secure. Certain. Victorious. And brought full circle in our understanding of truth.
But, as I said at the very beginning of our discussion here, we don’t live in the perfection of Eden or the yet-to-come Eden restored. Therefore, today we must understand our need to wrestle well in this space between two gardens. And we must learn to live and love in the imperfect rhythms of our clunky humanity, trying to stay on beat within a symphony of divinity.
We will get the words to the song wrong sometimes.
We will go off-key and offbeat.
We will go sharp, and we will fall flat.
But if God’s symphony continues to play loud and strong as the ultimate soundtrack of our lives, we will sense how to get back on track. We will feel how to get back in rhythm. We will hear how to get back in tune.
It’s just like when I sing along in my car with a well-produced song. With that soundtrack blaring along with me, I sound amazing. But it’s not because I’m suddenly a master musician. It’s because the master musician is louder than me, guiding me, holding me in key and on beat. I wrestle well with the song, because I’m not left on my own to hold it all together.
But heaven help us if I turn the radio down and pick up a microphone to sing it all by myself.
I won’t wrestle well. I will wrangle what was beautiful music into an unrecognizable tangle of unpleasant sounds. I will add to the chaotic noise of this world, but I’ll miss the glorious soundtrack meant to remind me of the epic love story I’m destined to live with the Great Lover of my soul.
So, that’s the point of this book. Plain and simple. I want to learn to wrestle well in this life between two gardens. And I want to open the gift of disappointment and release the atmosphere of hope contained within. I’m so thankful we get to do this together.
GOING to the WELL
The human heart was created in the perfection of the garden of Eden, but we don’t live there.
- Sometimes to get your life back, you have to face the death of what you thought your life would look like.
- Disappointment is that feeling things should be better than they are.
- Disappointment isn’t proof that God is withholding good things from us. Sometimes it’s His way of leading us Home.
- If the enemy can isolate us, he can influence us.
- We will never appreciate or even desire the hope of our True Love if lesser loves don’t disappoint.
- God knows before we eternally dwell we will have to learn how to wrestle well.
- In the new Eden we won’t need to wrestle well, because we will be well.
“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:3–5)
- What disappointments are you currently facing?
- Are there any long- standing untruths you’ve been believing about your disappointments?
- As you look back and consider the past, what gifts have come out of your disappointments?
- In what ways can you learn to wrestle well in the midst of your right- now life?
- How does this teaching on the garden of Eden help you have a better understanding of what you’re going through?
Living in the messy middle between two gardens is so trying at times. Teach me to wrestle well between my faith and my feelings when life disappoints in ways I never imagined. My disappointments don’t feel like a gift at all, but I’m going to trust You—the Giver of good gifts. Release an atmosphere of hope in my right-now life, I pray.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
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