The Heartache You Didn’t Ask For

The day started off like any other. I was at my usual place at work when I paused mid-morning to take a peek at Facebook. I noticed there was a message awaiting me from a friend, but I was not prepared for the news it contained. My friend’s husband, she told me, had recently filed for divorce.

I was stunned. There were no details given, but that didn’t keep my heart from sinking and my stomach from churning. It felt like being strapped to a wild and scary roller coaster at a theme park—only worse. This was no joy ride my friend was on; this was her new reality.

Only hours later I learned that a childhood friend had unexpectedly lost her husband of two-and-a-half years, leaving her behind with their one-year-old son. She’s too young, I thought. How could this happen to her? It didn’t matter that I hadn’t seen or spoken to her in probably twenty years; I was devastated for her.

When Tragedy Strikes

You’ve no doubt experienced a similar scenario . . . one you’d rather forget. Your friend’s home went up in flames. Your sister’s baby is in critical condition in the NICU. Your coworker was diagnosed with leukemia and is undergoing chemotherapy. Your dad died of a heart attack.

Tragedy struck, leaving you reeling with questions. Why do “bad” things happen to “good” people? What do we do with the crud life hands us? How do I cope with such intense grief? Is my pain really a part of God’s plan?

Joni Eareckson Tada asked the very same question from her hospital bed, her body limp from paralysis and her mind racing in utter bewilderment. A diving accident had left her a quadriplegic in a wheelchair . . . and a scared eighteen-year-old with mounding doubts and fears. Years later she wrote of the experience:

I had reasoned that it was pure dumb luck that I happened to go to the beach that day. I thought it was the law of averages that the tide just happened to be low that day. I figured that if Satan and God were involved in my accident at all, then it must be that the devil had twisted God’s arm for permission. I pictured God responding in a hesitant way, “Well, I guess it’ll be okay for you to do such and such . . . but just this once, and please don’t hurt her too much.

I reasoned that once God granted permission to Satan, he then nervously had to run behind him with a repair kit, patching up what Satan had ruined, mumbling to himself, “Oh great, now how am I going to work this for good?” Worse yet, I thought that when I became disabled I had missed God’s best for me, and that the Lord was then forced to go with some divine Plan B for my life.

Can you relate to Joni? Does it seem like all that’s left for you is Plan B? Does your life feel more like a tupperware of unwanted leftovers way back on the bottom shelf of the fridge than it does a carefully guarded and glistening diamond of great value?

Trusting God with His Plans

There’s no denying that much of life is not how we would plan it. My friend did not ask for that divorce. That young mama did not expect to be a widow in her late twenties. And the pain or heartache you’re experiencing—or watching a loved one endure—was never on your agenda.

But like Joni said, none of what is happening to you is a surprise to God. He’s not the football coach who was outwitted in the fourth quarter by a trick play. Nor is He an audience member in a theater wondering how the drama will unfold. He has full knowledge of the situation and is in complete control at all times. This should actually bring us comfort. Anything less than that would undermine His character and belittle His greatness. What kind of God would be worth worshiping who can’t even control the outcome of the world He set in motion?

The truth is that God is heaven-bent on sharing with us the joy and peace found in Him through Jesus Christ. But as Joni points out, “God only shares his joy on his terms, and those terms call for us to suffer as his beloved Son did.” We see this confirmed in 1 Peter 2:21: “To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”

While you may not understand or even want His plan for you, that doesn’t negate His tender care. God is not overjoyed by your painful circumstances. On the contrary, He is grieved by the sin that infiltrates this fallen world resulting in sickness and injustice and evil. But what moves God to compassion is not primarily His desire to relieve you of “these momentary afflictions” (though He may chose to do so), but to rescue you from your sin. That’s His Plan A for you—His saving, sanctifying plan that no man can thwart and no enemy can obliterate.

Nuggets of Truth to Hold On To

Maybe you’re beginning to see the bigger picture behind your suffering, but your heart still aches and the tears still flow and the cold, hard facts of life are still . . . well, cold and hard.

These are natural and appropriate responses that I hope you won’t ever feel ashamed for expressing. God is not embarrassed when you cry or disappointed that you haven’t “moved on.” A heart humbly surrendered to God may still feel a whole gamut of emotions. That’s not a bad thing. The God who created your tear ducts and your emotions promises to hear and answer “the sound of [your] weeping” (Ps. 6:8). Furthermore, the “God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ” promises to personally restore and strengthen you (1 Peter 5:10).

Whether your painful situation resolves or is prolonged or even worsens, it is in His Word that you will find sustaining grace. So hold fast to His promises.

  • Despite what you’re feeling right now, God still cares for you.
  • No matter how bleak things look, God still sits on His throne.
  • Your life is not a mistake or an afterthought. God penned every word of your story, from Introduction to Epilogue, and He’s not given up on you.
  • Your suffering will one day come to an end, and you’ll be amazed to see how it truly was for your good and for God’s glory.

About the Author

Leanna Shepard

Leanna Shepard

Leanna Shepard worked on staff with Revive Our Hearts from 2014 to 2019. She loves a cup of hot tea with a good book, experimenting in the kitchen with a new recipe, and cheering for the St. Louis Cardinals.

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