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When Life Doesn't Look Like You Thought It Would

Updated: Dec 31



Author Rachel Miller quotes: When Life Doesn't Look Like You Thought It Would

Like the rest of the world, I decided I needed therapy during COVID-19 (mostly to process the trauma I inflicted on myself by binge-watching Tiger King 🥴).


During our first session, I destroyed an entire box of Kleenex managing an ugly, snotty cry. What was my real reason for sitting on this tiny couch next to a snake plant crying like a 24-year-old girl during the finale of a Taylor Swift concert, you ask? Well: My thirtieth birthday loomed on the horizon. I had lived in Nashville for less than a year. I hadn’t been in a relationship for two years.


And I was horribly, horribly lonely.


As I struggled to string words together for my therapist, I somehow summed up my pain in one sentence: “My life doesn’t look like I thought it would.”


How many times have you made the same statement about your life?

How many times have you said it today?

Maybe you didn’t get the promotion you were sure you earned.

Or your friend didn’t send the text you were expecting.

Or he still hasn’t asked you out.


We are highly imaginative beings with an inexhaustible ability to forecast how we hope our lives will play out. These hopes create expectations that we subconsciously latch onto.


Often, these expectations come into clear focus as we near a momentous milestone in life—what scientists call a “temporal landmark.” For me, turning thirty was one of those landmarks. I was forced to reconcile the life I thought I’d have (married, living in a home I owned, with at least one kiddo) to the life I actually had (single, anxiously counting down my remaining years of fertility, renting a house with two other adult women and a dog. Nice women and a nice dog, but still).


You have your pictures, too. And you know how painful it is when the picture in your head is nothing like the picture you’re living. This human problem spans time periods and people and personalities and politics—like Fantine singing in the musical masterpiece Les Mis: “I had a dream my life would be so different from the hell I’m living.”


Let me ask you this: Has life ever worked out like you thought it would?

Like, down to the last detail?

Of course not!


Perhaps true liberation—and true surrendering to God—comes from accepting that life will almost never look like you thought it would.


We are obsessed with “what should be” and missing what IS.


This is not Plan B. This is not a drill.

This is your life!

This is my life!

Are we missing it?


I’m not suggesting that you slap a smile on your face and pretend it’s all okay.


I believe in honoring our unmet longing, in making space for our heartache.

I believe in practicing grief (RIP, entire box of Kleenex.) Recently, I’ve learned an important lesson from my friend Dr. John Delony (who also happens to be a mental health expert and bestselling author). He says, “Dealing with disappointment is the process of grieving the picture you had in your head, letting it go, and deciding to create a new picture.” Grief isn’t just for funerals. It’s a gift that helps us move through disappointment in every shape and size.


Another wise man named Solomon (note: not a mental health expert) offered this insight nearly three millennia ago: “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps” (Proverbs 16:9 NLT). The prophet Jeremiah goes so far as to say, “our lives are not our own. We are not able to plan our own course” (Jeremiah 10:23 NLT).


Our internal picture book will often lead us astray.


While I know heartache is real and it takes a toll, I also know there’s a God who heals. There’s a God who cares. There’s a God who has suffered just as we have. And he is lovingly, faithfully, crafting the narrative of our lives. He knows every word on every page of your story. He knows the plot twists and the dark nights of the souls.


We are quickly caught off guard.

He never is.


Our God calls us to be people of hope. To be people who trust him. To be people who stoop down to wearily pick up the pieces of a broken dream and build something beautiful with them.


Exercise: Get out a sheet of paper and draw two columns. On one side, write “What I thought my life would look like at this point.” On the other, write, “What it actually looks like.” Spend a few minutes jotting down your thoughts for each column.

Then, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. What heartache have I experienced because my life didn’t turn out the way I thought it would?

  2. What good things have come from my life not turning out the way I thought it would?

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