Written by Christine E., USA
As a natural optimist, I typically assume everything will work out fine. Except, sometimes it doesn’t.
Our family lived in Hong Kong for a while. Our plan was to live there long-term and raise our children there. It was a dream of mine, and I could not be happier.
But it was not to be. Due to a variety of reasons, our family moved back to the States. Over a whirlwind two-week period, we went from the bright summery subtropics of Hong Kong to the long dark winter of North America. It was a shock to the system, to say the least.
As I mourned my lost dream, I had a difficult time adjusting to our new reality. There were days when I could barely get out of bed. Sadness seemed to permeate everything I did—even the simple act of mincing garlic for dinner could end with me in tears.
Intellectually, I knew we’d be okay. I knew that eventually, the pain of giving up the dream would lessen, and I would be able to laugh again.
But my usual optimism was not getting me through very well, and I simply couldn’t summon the energy and the will to enjoy what we had. When I felt like there was nothing to be optimistic about anymore, I needed something stronger to anchor me in the midst of the crushing sadness and disappointment.
In that season of transition, I found myself repeating a few truths over and over.
1. It is okay to be sad
I used to think of myself as a cheerful, joyful person. Even in the rare instances when I was sad, the feeling never lasted long, and I would soon bounce back to my usual happy self.
But during that dark and gloomy winter, when I was feeling too weak to get up and would burst into tears at random, the prophets and poets of the Bible kept me company. Even as the Bible reminds us that the “joy of the Lord is [our] strength” (Nehemiah 8:10), it also recounts times of weakness, despair, and sadness.
Jeremiah lamented, “My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within; my heart is poured out on the ground . . .” (Lamentations 2:11). David exclaimed, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me” (Psalm 22:14). Jesus was so anguished that his sweat fell “like drops of blood” (Luke 22:44).
My trials and experiences hardly compared with the tragedies and darkness that David, Jeremiah, and Jesus went through, but it was comforting to know that they too mourned and lamented. I didn’t need to pretend everything was okay. I didn’t need to act “joyful” while my heart was in pieces. The psalmists and prophets reminded me that it is okay to be sad.
2. God is still good
Our family’s circumstances during that season of transition were not what we would have chosen. In addition to the sorrows we experienced that winter and the following spring, we watched in horror as the political situation back home continued to worsen, and the pandemic began spreading across the world. It felt like the greater world around us was descending into chaos like our little world.
I do not understand why God makes the choices He does, why a good God would allow these things to happen. But He knows so much more than I do, and His ways—His expressions of love—are far beyond my ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Having to live in a place I did not choose, I sympathised with the Israelites who cried out to God in Egypt, who waited on Him in Babylon, and who, while under Roman occupation, looked desperately to the coming Messiah to free them.
But in His infinite wisdom, righteousness, and mercy, God did not immediately lead the Israelites into comfort and prosperity. In His timing, He provided the Israelites with Moses, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Finally, He gave us Christ, who will one day return and right every wrong, heal every hurt, and establish us, His followers, in a new, just, and perfect kingdom.
Though it felt like my little world and the world at large are falling apart, I reminded myself that God is good, all powerful (John 42:2), and all knowing (1 John 3:20). He has not forgotten us (Psalm 139:7-8). His purposes will be accomplished (Isaiah 46:10).
3. God is still at work
While I was wrapped up in everything that was going wrong, it was hard to recognise the things that were going right. But God was at work in our lives even as we waited to know our next steps.
On returning to the States, we spent a couple of months with my husband’s parents, which I later realised was a gift from God. On the days when the sadness became crushing, I wondered how I was going to tend to my outgoing and energetic four-year-old son. Thankfully, my parents-in-law had the time, energy, and grace to take my son out on morning walks, include him in household chores, and listen to him tell story after story. In the midst of this trying time, God provided me rest while enabling my son to build a relationship with his grandparents.
God blessed us with fellowship through a family at church who invited us over. And when we didn’t have a car, He placed us right beside a grocery store so the lack of transportation was not a problem. During that season of transition, God also showed me the environment and people my husband had grown up with, which allowed both of us to better understand ourselves.
Though it felt like everything was going wrong, God was still working in our lives in so many ways.
I still think about my dream of living in Hong Kong sometimes, and there are still days when my heart hurts from thinking of all that we left behind. But the sadness now hits less frequently, and I have learned to laugh again. I’ve reached a point where I have more happy days than sad days in a week.
Though this is not the path I would have chosen, I am learning to dream for the life our family will get to live here. I am often able to look around me and be thankful for all the ways God is working in our lives and providing for us.
As I regain my natural happy, optimistic disposition, I will remember that it’s okay to be sad. While I hope for the best, the best may not happen—there will probably be bumps, disappointments and detours along the way. But even if things don’t work out the way I expect them to, God is still good, and He is still at work in our lives.