When you were a child, did you dream about your future? Did you have a plan for your college, your career, your family? Did you picture how many children you would have, what their names would be, what your house would look like?
How has that worked out for you?
Try as we might, we cannot control everything about our lives. We work and we plan, but inevitably the road of life takes turns we never saw coming. Last week we started a conversation about the “supposed to be’s” of life. I told you (briefly) about a man named Joseph, and the lesson he learned about living a life that wasn’t what he expected. Stories like his are important and meaningful, but sometimes reading about others’ happy endings makes us resent our messy middles even more.
So what do we do when life takes an unexpected turn and our happy ending is nowhere in sight?
Keep your eyes on the road
Most supposed to be‘s are tricky. They get us looking in the wrong direction, either outward (“Did you see the pictures of her kid’s party on Facebook? That’s what a good mom is supposed to do.”) or backward (“Remember how much easier things were before we made that bad investment? This isn’t how life is supposed to be!”). They immobilize us and keep us spinning our wheels. We get stuck in the mud of our own minds.
“Comparison is the thief of joy,” said Teddy Roosevelt. I have come a long way in the years since Joey was diagnosed with Down syndrome, letting go of expectations and embracing our unique journey. But sometimes when I take Joey to school or listen to parenting advice that might work for typical kids or see Facebook posts about his classmates’ accomplishments, the supposed to be‘s start whispering again. I start looking outward, I lose my focus, and I lose my joy.
And looking backward, well, that only gives you a pain in the neck. Over the past year, I found myself spending an unhealthy amount of time and energy regretting past decisions. My stomach ached as I longed for a way to turn back time, to get a do over. And do you know where all of my tears and grumbling got me? Nowhere. Not one of my parenting failures was reversed, not one of my bad experiences erased.
Our only hope to survive–and thrive–in this life is to keep moving forward.
Do what you can do
I often compare myself in the days following Joey’s diagnosis to a toddler having a temper tantrum. I was convinced God was wrong in thinking that our family–that I personally–could handle everything that came with a special needs diagnosis. Like a small child holding his breath to get his way, I thought if I could remain stuck and unhappy long enough, God would throw His hands in the air and say, “OK, fine. You were right, it was too much to expect,” and He would “fix it” so Joey would only have 46 chromosomes instead of the 47 that come with a Down syndrome diagnosis.
And do you know what I got for all of my breath holding and fit throwing? A headache. Not to mention the loss of opportunities for joy over the year I spent fighting my circumstances.
My mistake wasn’t in my grief–it’s OK to grieve a loss, even if it’s just the loss of something we thought we had (or would have). My mistake was fighting for control of something completely out of my purview. We cannot always control our circumstances. Hard things happen to and around us. But that doesn’t leave us helpless. It simply means we have to control what we can control: our attitudes. I often tell my kids, “You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond.” Talk about needing to take my own advice!You can't always control what happens, but you can control your response.Click To Tweet
It sounds small, I know: “You can’t change your circumstances, but you can change your attitude!” But letting go of what you can’t control and focusing on what you can is huge. I could still be the sad, angry woman I was seven years ago… and Joey would still have Down syndrome. Do you know what would be different? Me. That’s for sure. But so would my kids and husband, who would be living with my depression every day. I’m certain Joey’s development would be affected. My relationships, my ministry, my health–everything would be different. And not for the better.
When we stop fighting to control what is so clearly out of our hands, we gift ourselves the time, energy, and resources for the many things we can do.
Friends, we all have things in life we wish hadn’t happened. But the car of life only moves forward–trying to throw it in reverse only stalls us out. We cannot change where we are or how we got here, but we can make all kinds of decisions about where we go next.
Whatever your circumstances today, know that God has a plan to use it for your good and His glory. Don’t get stuck looking outward or backward, but put your eyes on the road and embrace the journey ahead.