As a little kid, I hated studying for tests—mainly because I couldn’t memorize all the information fast enough. Memorization always took longer than I wanted it to. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not sure anyone actually enjoys studying for tests. But as hard as I tried to cram all the information into my little middle-school-aged brain, I couldn’t do it quick enough; and that is what would frustrate me. It always took more time than I wanted.
And while I’m no longer in school, and all the tests are behind me, there’s one thing that isn’t: sadness. And disappointment, unfulfilled expectations, a glimmer of hope, and maybe a little anger all mashed into one. And I’d really love it if these feelings would turn off (especially the sadness), but they just won’t. They linger, the sad girl hours.
And, ya know? For as much as I used to hate that phrase and kinda laugh it off like any other meme, it’s now become something I’m all too familiar with. Because just like I wanted to fit my studying into a short time frame and be done, we sometimes want to put a box around all our negative emotions and move on … be done. But sometimes, they linger; or at least they have for me—especially the sadness.
Nearly every little girl dreams of her wedding day. Picking out a dress, marrying Prince Charming, Dad walking you down the aisle? Fairytale type stuff. This time last year, I thought I was on my way to living out that fairytale. I was dating my best friend, and our best friends were best friends—like literally, they are married to each other. He was the best man in their wedding, and I was the maid of honor. We became friends, then we started dating, then we started seriously dating—like premarital ministry participation looked at rings started seriously dating, and I thought that fairytale was on the way. In fact, I thought it’d be coming, really, any week.
And then it didn’t.
To my surprise, my best friend, the man who I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with, had been lying to me. And it all came crashing down. Tears filled my eyes as I heard phrases like, “I can’t say that I love you, and I can’t say that I don’t,” and “I’ve just let other people’s pressures and expectations drive me to take steps forward I shouldn’t have been taking…starting months ago.”
And when that friendship ended, the sadness started. The unfulfilled expectations started. Anger started. Hanging onto a glimmer of hope started…then he got a new girlfriend. And the sadness started again and again, and just when I’d think it had passed, it’d be back.
I don’t know what sadness you’re facing. Maybe it’s heartbreak? Maybe it’s cancer? Maybe you lost your job, or a loved one? Your marriage is falling apart? You didn’t get into that college? Not making the grades?
Maybe it’s a conglomeration of several of those things. I don’t know what’s making you sad or angry or frustrated or whatever, but I do know that, for you, those feelings are real. And they’re hard.
About 10 months into persistent feelings of disappointment, I started asking the question, “At what point should I be concerned that my sad feelings aren’t going away?”
“Learn from your pain before it leaves.” That’s what my friend JP says. I hadn’t learned, so now I’m glad it hadn’t left.
And honestly, for the past 12 months, I’ve wished I’ve had a big sister who’d walked through loss, or disappointment, or feelings of grief even, that linger for a long time so I could learn from her; but I don’t have a big sister. So, for just a few more paragraphs, I want to be your big sister. Here’s some encouragement and a couple things I’ve learned.
Remember what’s true, and when you can’t remember, make sure you’ve got friends who do.
There’s this big passage in Exodus 6 where Moses goes to the Israelites and is like, “You guys. This is the best news. God? He sees us. He’s going to save us—we don’t have to be slaves anymore! He’s gunna be a father to us.” And it’s this crazy encouraging passage that people quote often…but they typically leave out the next verse. “Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor.” (Exodus 6:9)
The Israelites, blinded by their present disappointments and tough circumstances, missed the good news. In your sadness, fight to remember the good news—even if you have to ask a friend to remind you of what’s true. And since I’m your big sister for the time being, here are some reminders:
- Jesus gets it. He sees you. He hates that you’re facing those feelings and circumstances, and he’s with you. (Hebrews 4:15)
- It’s not forever. Jesus told us life on this earth wouldn’t be smooth sailing. (John 16:33) But the rough waters aren’t forever. (Revelation 21:4, Psalm 40:1-3, 30:5b)
- And He’s King over it. (1 Corinthians 15:57)
The reminders are important because it’s not enough to just vent. In fact, venting can actually be dangerous. Proverbs 29:11 says, “a fool gives full vent to his soul.” So, all those frustrations or circling thoughts you need to air out? Make sure you run them through the truth of God’s Word and that you’ve got a friend or pastor nearby to help shepherd you. It’s healthy to let other people into the things you’re thinking and experiencing, but it’s unhealthy to air them out and breathe them back in again. Take in truth.
God does something special in the pressing.
John Piper says to savor, or treasure, the special promised nearness of God that comes when storm clouds seem to move in over our lives. And I found that frustrating for two reasons. One, because God’s felt pretty far at times over the past year. And two, because he basically said, “enjoy this season, because you’ll miss it when it’s gone.” I was honestly like, “Are you kidding me John?! Enjoy sadness?!”
He wasn’t kidding, because Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted.” He’s near. He stores up our tears and doesn’t let anything come into our lives on accident. (Psalm 56:8; Colossians 1:16-17) But even though He knows our days better than we do, He still wants to hear from us—and that’s one way we experience that special nearness Piper was talking about.
There’s a special intimacy that comes when we honestly pour out our hearts to God. The goal of prayer isn’t to change God’s mind. It’s an opportunity to trust Him with the honest desires of our hearts—even when they aren’t met. He cares about you. He wants to talk to you. He’s for you. Remember that. If you’re a believer in Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection, you’re on God’s team.
And here’s the deal. This pressing is for your good. And I know that’s the last thing you want to hear. Because it’s a lot harder to believe God works everything for good, when life doesn’t feel very good. (Romans 8:28) But, those times when life doesn’t feel great, could possibly be some of the most formative, valuable, refining, faith-strengthening, and developmental times of your entire life. Romans 5 tells us that God uses the hard circumstances in our lives to strengthen our character and solidify our hope—and this hope “doesn’t put us to shame.”
So regardless of whether the sadness you’re currently facing has been caused by your own poor decisions, another person, or it’s just the cards you were dealt, you can trust that God is up to something through it. We might not always understand it, but when we can’t see what God is doing, we can be sure that when it’s all said and done, we’ll be glad He did. (Isaiah 55:8)
Emma is on staff at Watermark Community Church, home of The Porch, a Tuesday night ministry that reaches thousands of young adults across the country. Emma graduated from Texas A&M with her undergraduate degree in English and continued her education, by studying the Bible through the Watermark Institute. In her free time, Emma, being passionate about her generation knowing the story of scripture and how to study it, creates equipping resources for her peers. You can find out more by visiting understandingmybible.com or by visiting her Instagram, @_emmadotter_