When Life Doesn't Go As Planned

21 years old. That’s when I was going to start changing the world. Right after college that was the first thing I was going to focus on doing. Talk about ambition, huh?

That was what I thought was going to happen when I was 18 years old, and pretty much most of my time in college.

Then something weird happened: I graduated from college.

Email inbox? Empty, except for my Domino’s Pizza subscription.

Phone calls from churches begging me to step into a leadership position? None.

5AM wake up time to put on grungy clothes to wash windows at a few businesses before they opened? Yeah…That’s a little more like it.

It did not take me long to realize life did not turn out like I had expected. A couple of years ago, I imagined myself living a great life with a great job making an influential impact on many lives for the Kingdom of God. And, of course, I’d go home to my perfect wife after an awesome day of changing the world.

But here I was washing windows part-time. Oh, and working at a pet supply store (which is a pet store without any pets) part-time too. And the wife? I couldn’t even get a girlfriend.

What happened?

I remember washing a window, and as I was washing it I thought about a friend of mine from college. He and I graduated at the same time, but he was married and working a killer job at a church. He was living the life that I wanted to live!

I didn’t agree to this! What happened?

I learned the lesson of expectations and reality (if you’ve seen 500 Days of Summer you know what I’m referring to). We approach life with expectations of what it should look like. We have our plans and expect life to go along with our plan. But then life doesn’t go as planned. We have to live with reality.

But honestly in looking back on that season of life (and yes it was just a season) I’m grateful for it. Why? Because there’s something about the desert season that shapes your character in a positive and unique way.

Imagine with me what would have happened to my inner life if I had experience success right out of college. What if everything worked out perfectly for me. What are the words that come to mind?

Here are the words that come to mind for me: pride, weak character, inability to empathize with others (due to my lack of failure), reliance on myself rather than God, constant need for more and more success.

The season immediately after college was a desert time in my life. But do you know what I learned in the desert? Humility, reliance on God, the importance of prayer, patience, community, identity based on being a child of God (rather than on my own success).

If you currently find yourself in a desert season – a season that you didn’t ask for, or simply wasn’t on your five year plan – then here’s four things I encourage you to do:

  1. Embrace the desert.
    Don’t resent the desert. You just might miss some important lessons and opportunities if you just wish away the desert season.
  2. Learn as much as you can from this season.
    After your season in the desert, you’ll get the joy of looking back and reflecting on what God taught you during that season.
  3. Capitalize on the opportunity for character formation in this season.
    Again, there’s something unique about the desert that shapes you more into who God wants you to become.
  4. Walk with God through the desert.
    Yes, the desert can be lonely. But invite God into your loneliness, listen for His voice, and pay attention to what He is teaching you.

Honestly, that probably will not be last desert season I experience. Life is filled with peaks and valleys, highs and lows, expectations and disappointments. But it’s how we respond to these seasons that shape our character in an incredible way.

So don’t despise the desert. Embrace it. Learn as much as you can from it. Capitalize on the character growth it brings. And, most importantly, walk with God each and every step through it. After all, Jesus had his fair share of time in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13).

David Beavis

Eating lots of food and looking at pictures of puppies are couple of ingredients to David's perfect day. The driving passion of David's life is walking alongside people as they figure out what it means to follow Jesus today. David holds a B.A. in Psychology from Vanguard University and an M.A. in Theology from Talbot School of Theology. He currently works at Mariners Church in Irvine on the High School Ministry team. He lives is Costa Mesa, California.