Last fall, I applied for a post-grad fellowship program that seemed to meet all the check marks on my list of “best job ever.” It was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania near my family, would give me the opportunity to be mentored both professionally and spiritually, give me the chance to serve in a capacity at a church, and live in community with other people freshly venturing into the realm of adulthood. In my mind, it was meeting all my expectations and God’s too. How could He not want this for me? All was going well with my application. I was meeting all the right people, connecting with others, and getting compliments left and right. Frankly, I thought this was in the bag.
Then, I got a call from the program director. Apparently, the internship I had this summer had “descriptively” wrecked me in their reference for me, and I was no longer a viable option for this prestigious program. The internship where I had loved the people I worked with, where they had given me a perfectly normal exit interview, and the very people I had just seen weeks earlier at my college’s career fair. In fact, my boss hugged me tightly and wished me the best of luck in my job search. No, this wasn’t a perfectly orchestrated soap opera, this was my life. And when I said they destroyed me on this reference form, I’m not exaggerating. I’m not crying because they gave me a four instead of a five. They so utterly destroyed my chances that my trusted teacher who saw their response could only describe it as “malicious.” He said he had never seen a reference letter where the company said not one good thing about a person.
I was devastated. Suddenly, my heart was full of fresh scars of rejection, pain, and loss. My confidence was shattered; I began questioning everything I was and my identity as a worker. Hadn’t I provided them with good material? Hadn’t I tried my best to carefully craft social media plans, research, and blog posts? Didn’t I still have a thank you card from them in the bottom of my desk drawer?
What was wrong with God? Didn’t He know that I picked this opportunity to best serve Him and serve others? Didn’t He want me to be happy and thrive? Then I got my answer. No.
No, He did not want me to be a part of this graduate program. No, He didn’t want me to serve others and Him in this way. No, this wasn’t His plan. It was mine. Talk about swallowing some major pride. Because when we are in the midst of the storm it is difficult to see there is good waiting on the other side.
How can we be content and praise God when we feel like He’s messing up everything in our perfectly planned lives?
Contentment can be frustrating because as Christians we think it should come naturally. Once we accept the Savior of the world into our broken hearts shouldn’t we just be overwhelmed with a constant sense of joy? We wake up every morning and read the daily news about people starving, children being sold as slaves, and ISIS bombings, and for that split second we realize how blessed we are. As we kiss our healthy families goodbye, run off to our jobs in our fully functional vehicles, that brief news update on the radio is what reminds us to send that “I’m so grateful that’s not me prayer,” up to the God of the universe. Then what do we do? We change the channel, forget, get so wrapped up in our minuscule problems and worries that we wallow, cry, pout, and doubt.
Whether we admit it in the confines of Christian friend groups or not, we like to think we have it all figured out. We buy planners labeled with “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” we text our friends encouraging Bible verses, and we raise our hands in the air to truly surrender all to God once a week at church. But what about when the storm comes? What about when a loved one gets a terrifying diagnosis, a boy breaks your heart, you don’t get that dream job, or a friend walks away from you forever?
As a senior in college, I have had my fair amount of doubts with my upcoming plans for the future. It’s hard to trust God’s every tumultuous plan when you have no job, no boyfriend, and no idea where in the world you will find yourself this time next year. School is safe, the friends I have in college are safe, my Christian college bubble is safe, but the real world? That’s anything but safe. But one thing I learned in this time of uncertainty, is what it truly means to walk with God and be content. It doesn’t mean I am joyful with all my circumstances or the current challenges I might be facing, but I am accepting whatever life throws at me as part of God’s sovereign plan. I realize in my hardships that God is still good, even when it doesn’t feel like it.
When you have more rejection letters than you know what to do with…He is still good. When you have to leave the best friends you have ever known to return to living at your parents’ house…He is still good. When the boy you’ve planned your whole future around forgets to call, loves another, or isn’t found…He is still good. When your whole life is a puddle in your hands and you don’t even know how you are going to make it through…He is still good.
His plan is always greater than anything I can conjure up in my overactive imaginative head.
We cry and hold onto the strands of our heart the boy left us with, but we neglect to see how God wants to use us in our singleness, or notice that quiet boy in our classes who could be God’s actual match for us. Like C.S. Lewis once said, “We aren’t necessarily doubting that God’s plan is what’s best for us, we are doubting how painful that best will be.”
Life is painful, our lives our messy, and rejection looms at every corner. But it is only evidence of a broken world, not the gracious and faithful God we serve and love.
We must believe at the core of our hearts, at the bottom of every fallen tear, at the struggle of every unanswered prayer, there is a God out there who knows so much better. A God who holds us in the midst of our struggles and is whispering His promises to our unresponsive hearts.
Being content isn’t about putting on the right face, faking it around your friends, or posting lots of cute calligraphy Bible verses on Instagram. It’s not being strong, but knowing it’s ok to be weak.
Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distress, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. –2 Corinthians 12:10
It’s ok to ask your friends for prayer support, it’s ok to mourn your losses and have a good crying session, and it’s ok to even be a little peeved at God. Contentment is found in the moments of extreme doubt and panic, when you dismiss the enemy and say “God’s got this.” It’s reading verse after verse in the Psalms about God’ s provision and faithfulness. It’s about looking back at the hard times in your life and remembering God allowed you to make it through unscratched into the bigger, brighter tomorrow.
Thankfulness takes the sting out of adversity. That is why I have instructed you to give thanks for everything. There is an element of transaction: You give me thanks (regardless of your feelings) and I give you joy (regardless of your circumstances). -Jesus Calling
He gives us joy regardless of our circumstances.
Let that sink in. So, all those times we chose to freeze God out in favor of our favorite movies, food, person, or activity, we gave Satan a foothold to add negativity into our lives. We can’t always change our circumstances. We can’t change the hurt we received, the closed doors we wish were open, or where God is taking us on our life journey, but we can change one thing: our attitudes.
We can choose praise when everyone else is choosing doubt. We can choose to praise God in our adversity and trials, and view them as opportunities to see His goodness instead of allowing our hearts to become bitter and hardened.
So, what am I going to do in response to my circumstances? I’m not going to wake up every day praising God like I should. I’m still going to have times where I stress cry to my mom or roommate, feel hopeless, and get angry at God. But, this time, something will have changed. I won’t give the devil the satisfaction of causing my heart to become bitter and hardened. I’m going to take a deep breath, try to stop the string of fear and doubt running through my mind, and turn to God to pray.
Friends, contentment isn’t found at the bottom of any ice cream container or fry basket. Contentment is found on our knees, with broken and bleeding hearts, presenting our requests to God and waiting to hear His call of direction.
Contentment is realizing God’s plan will always be better than any you imagined in your head. It’s choosing praise each and every day when your head and heart are screaming at you to doubt. Be joyful, excited, encouraged. God has an amazing plan and a calling He is preparing to use you in.
So, what do you say? Are you ready to surrender all to God today? To accept the good and the bad?
Because in the midst of our greatest tragedies is when our best stories are formed. Let what God is leading you through today be a story that can bring encouragement in the future.