How to Lead When You Feel Stuck in Disappointment

How do I lead others forward when I feel stuck in my own disappointment? How do I preach faith when mine is falling short?

Have you ever asked these questions? Surely, all leaders have. Because life is no respecter of persons. It doesn’t care if our days are dedicated to helping others. Life is still tough and unpredictable and rarely happens the way we plan. When my 21-month-old daughter, Haven, was diagnosed with malignant brain cancer, these were the questions scrolling through my mind like ticker tape.

It was challenging to navigate the confusion of a loving God allowing me to experience pain. And not just any pain, but the kind that violently knocks the wind from your lungs and makes you wonder if you’ll ever really breathe again. After a long and excruciating 10-month battle-filled journey, my baby girl took her final breath in my arms.

But it wasn’t just her death that made me question. It was also the fact that for every single day of those 10 months my husband, Casey and I did exactly what we’d have told others to do. We quoted Scripture, worshiped, believed and prayed continually for her healing. I’m talking Bible in hand, on our face, around the clock intense focus. That’s roughly 429,120 minutes of spiritual warfare. Still, after all that, it didn’t end the way I asked.

Maybe you can relate to my story in your own way. It could be through the public loss of a marriage, a dream that hasn’t materialized, a rebellious child, or when you received a frightening doctor’s report. When we expected things to be different, and then they aren’t, it leaves us with a decision to make, even if unconsciously. Will we move forward with God or stay stuck in our pain, questions and disappointment?

What I’ve found from my own experience and in over 26 years of ministry is that we tend to plant ourselves in our unmet expectations, when we can’t reconcile pain with a good God. It seems at times we can be more equipped to believe in faith for something than we are to deal with the disappointment we feel if it doesn’t happen the way we want.

In this volatile place of unmet expectations, unknowingly we can become one with our pain and take its name as our identity. Loss, divorce, infertility, betrayal. We feel more connected with these things than we do with the hope that lies in the good future God promises ahead. This weighty disappointment in turn paralyzes our feet from moving forward with Christ. It’s like dried concrete around our ankles.

If we have the desire to get out of our “stuckness,” here’s what we need to know, trusting God is the only way forward. I know this seems like an oversimplified answer to life that is messy and hurtful and complicated. But to follow God, we have to trust him even when we don’t understand him. If we turn our attention to the voice of the Holy Spirit, we will hear the tender words like a whisper in our ear, “Trust me, I know what I’m doing. This pain is not your end. There’s good ahead. Keep following me and I’ll lead you there.”

The voice we listen to in pain determines our destination. Will we incline our ear to the Enemy’s lies, the criticism of others, or to God’s voice as he guides us toward his promises? Will we keep in step with his Spirit, moving forward as he walks alongside us? Or will we trail behind, allowing pain to be our guide and to cause us to settle for life in an emotional and spiritual climate that isn’t conducive for growth? The outcome of our life’s journey hinges on our choices. The Holy Spirit is near to help us make the right ones.

Often our struggle is not because we’re weak or frail or God is unhappy with us, but because Satan understands what he’s up against. He senses the call on our lives and the potential inside us. We are a threat to his kingdom, and he will do whatever necessary to get us to stray off course or stop moving altogether. He knows that a detour will affect our lives’ trajectory and has a trickle-down effect on our families and the countless we lead. So, he crafts lies and adversity that will cut to our quick and like a blinking neon light, he points blame to God.

When it’s hard to reconcile pain and a good God we must remember that the Christian life is a paradox, isn’t it? A binary existence. Grief from one’s pain and joy from Christ’s redemption. The natural and supernatural. Mortal and immortal. Dance partners until the day we enter heaven. This is the goodness of God. We are promised that the negative side of life, the things we don’t understand, will be met with his presence. His joy colliding with weeping. The morning colliding with night. Grace colliding with ache.

Perfection isn’t required in this paradox. I’ve watched firsthand as my humanity gone amiss collides with Divinity—and grace happens. That means we can bring Christ our anger, frustration, confusion and doubt and offer it to him in honesty without fear of rejection. In this place, there’s no need to be the leader, we can simply be his child. Our messy life has never weakened God’s faithfulness. If we hold tight to his lead as we’re navigating the dark, he’ll help us to trust his steps.

In seasons of disappointment, instead of burying your hope in unmet expectations and questions that go unanswered, bury hopelessness. Instead of burying your devotion, bury your doubt and discouragement. Shovel the dirt on top of that grave, dust off your hands, and walk away. It’s worth it.

Now on the other side of Haven’s death, I see that every hard-earned step with God it took to get here was worth it. If you only remember one thing I’ve said, remember this: Don’t give up. The battle is fixed. You’ve already won. There’s good up ahead.

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Stacy Henagan
Stacy Henagan

Stacy Henagan is the co-pastor of Keypoint Church and a speaker, founder of SHE Women’s Conference and author of Breathe Again (Thomas Nelson).