September 28, 2017

2 Ways to Transform Your Life When You Feel Helpless or Hopeless

The sound of bedroom doors opening and closing wakes me from my less than stellar night’s sleep. Before I even open my eyes, my body stirs, and the pain instantly radiates through me. Each small movement feels like my joints have become creaky, old, rusty door hinges.

Why at 32 do I feel like I’m trapped inside of an 80 year old arthritic body?

I painstakingly pull myself so that I’m sitting upright in bed. I swing my legs, or rather drag them with the assistance of my hands because my joints are too stiff and stuck to move on their own, from the bed to the floor. Every movement takes more effort than it should. The pain aches deep inside my bones, and I let out a moan of discomfort followed by a long sigh.

I force myself to stand, pushing against the mattress, once again with the assistance of my arms to get myself there because my legs just can’t seem to function. And then I go to take a small step forward. A simple step. But I can barely manage. I press my foot down on the floor as I step and immediately retract it as it tells me it won’t be holding up the weight of my body this morning. I momentarily hold my leg out in front of me to examine it and test my knee. It won’t bend at all. The pain travels back and forth between my knee and my hip as I try to achieve even the smallest angle. Nope. Not happening.

I look down at my knee that won’t bend. It’s terribly swollen and looks ridiculous on my skinny leg, that’s not skinny in a nice way, but skinny as in I’ve lost all my muscle tone sort of way.

And then I continue my journey to start my day by hobbling to the bathroom, hunched over, using the wall as a crutch. This morning reminds me of the days immediately following my surgery… 6 months ago.

This isn’t good.

This isn’t good at all.

After not seeing the progress I had hoped for, I finally sought the help of a physical therapist. And yet, I’ve seen no improvement. In fact my knee seems to be progressively worsening.

My knee is never going to heal. This pain is never going to go away. 

I notice the tears wanting out as the discouragement and fear barge in, but unlike those emotions that burst through like a pack of wild and unruly children that I can’t seem to control, I try to control the one thing I’ve become good at: keeping the tears in.

But then I recognize what I’m doing as I refuse to let those tears through. I’m storing up things inside of me that are no good, and as a result hopelessness is rising and flooding my soul.

That old familiar lie of hopelessness. I recognize it more quickly these days, but still it comes. 

I think back to just a few days prior, when I sat at my kitchen after an epic-ly hard parenting situation that’s been brewing slowly over the last several years and only worsening. There was that familiar cocktail of emotions (fear, sorrow, helplessness, anxiety) mixed with defeated thoughts.

Lord I’m so tired of these battles. I can’t do this. I don’t know what to do. This is too much. This hurts too much. I’m so tired of these hard days. I keep failing.

Or I think back to the same old argument my husband I keep having. Round and round we go. The same one where the enemy whispers, Aren’t you tired? Nothing is ever going to change. Stop trying. Just quit already. 

Oh friends I wish I could be telling you these are not my thoughts and I am not this person, but that wouldn’t be the truth. I am this person.

I wish I was naturally optimistic. I’m not.

I wish I was always hopeful. I’m not.

I wish I lived with a spirit of victory. But I struggle with a defeatist attitude pretty much daily.

Throw me in a hard situation, especially one that I face multiple times, and I will likely grow weary and tired and hopeless more quickly than I would like you to know.

My knee is never going to get better. I am going to live in chronic pain for the rest of my life… and on and on I go.

This situation with our little boy is never going to get better. It’s only getting worse no matter what we do. This is never going to change. He’s going to … and off I go on rabbit trails of fears and worst case scenarios.

I am always going to hurt like this in my marriage. Things are never going to change or get better.

Whatever the situation, I’m so often narrowed in on the problem that it’s hard to see anything else — and that’s where hopelessness likes to find me.

And I wonder, maybe if we all agree to be transparent and honest for a minute, you’ve battled similar thoughts before too? 

You see I don’t know about you, but when life throws some lemons at me, I’m the one who will be so focused on that unexpected lemon that I’m going to keep touching it and squeezing it and then somehow I’m going end up with lemon juice in my eyes and sit there blinded in pain crying in a puddle of tears and lemon juice.

I am not the one to naturally or gracefully take those sour lemons and decide to make some deliciously sweet lemonade with them.

But thankfully, the Lord graciously and patiently has been working with me on this for almost 8 years now. And even though I don’t get it perfect and I still struggle most days, what God’s been showing me has been life-changing and life-giving.

What I’m learning to do is live with an expectant heart.

And the first step in living with an expectant heart is learning how to pivot.

To pivot, in its most simple definition means, “to turn.”  In basketball, a pivot occurs when a player keeps one foot planted on the ground and turns his body by stepping with his other foot.

This is what I’ve learned to do with my life when I’m facing a struggle or challenge or trial.

I’m planted in it. There’s no escaping it. I have to face it. And yet, I don’t have to face it as in keep my direction solely focused and locked in on it. Instead, I acknowledge the problem or painful situation I’m in, but I turn the direction of my focus, I shift my gaze, I look to set my expectations elsewhere.

I pivot.

I have learned to pivot towards hope when I’m in a hard situation. And this has made all the difference. This has been my saving grace. This is the first step to living with an expectant heart.

Now clearly this idea of pivoting didn’t come from me, and actually it came to me after I had completely lost hope and then rejected it forcefully out of my life: Hope? Nope. Not me. I’m done. 

(You can read more about my journey of losing and learning to hope again in this post here.)

You see, hope is hard a thing. And nothing will kill your sense of hope quite like being told there is none.

What I didn’t realize at the time, was how losing hope would take me on a pathway through lament which would lead me to hope again.

You see, in my moments of deepest hurt and lament, in the times when I was just hopeless and empty and as broken as could be, I still sought God. Now sometimes it was to unleash my rage and scream up to the heavens at Him, but I approached Him nonetheless. In my mind I had nothing to lose. And so I let it out. And that’s when I learned the power of lament (which I wrote about here and here).

Lamenting led to an intimacy with Jesus that I had never known before. Where His presence was undeniable. Where His voice whispered audibly in my mind. Where His peace and comfort supernaturally filled me. These encounters left me without a doubt in my mind that God was God and this whole faith thing I’d been believing for years was real.

Yet God challenged me.

Did I really believe God was who He said He was? Did I really believe His promises were true?

An honest examination proved that this good Christian Bible study girl who fell in love with Jesus… actually stopped believing these things. I was picking and choosing what I believed to be true and truth was twisting with lies.

It also turned out that I was believing in God, but somewhere I went from trying to be like Him, to trying to be Him.

That’s how I ended up angry and disappointed in God and losing all hope. When I knew better than Him. When my plan was the right and His was wrong. When I stopped trusting and believing His promises applied to me.

There was fault in my faith.

I learned that my prayers, expectations, and hopes, while they seemed all righteous and good, weren’t always aimed where they should be.

And here’s the problem with expectation:

“Expectation is the root of all heartache.” William Shakespeare

It’s so true. Expectation is the root of disappointment and hopelessness and is the main cause of our heartaches… when we’re placing it in the wrong places, which I most certainly was without even realizing it.

And I’ll add, expecting nothing from God is the root of all emptiness. I did that for a long time too — stopped expecting anything from Him because I wanted to spare myself the pain of Him disappointing me again.

If I don’t expect or hope for anything, I can’t hurt, right?

Wrong. That just becomes a life void of life.

I had to allow God to examine and prune my heart and speak His loving truth to me. The direction of my heart’s expectations had to change. I had to learn to pivot.

When we place our expectation in the right place, we will find ourselves face to face with Hope.

Because the right place is in God; it’s in expecting God to be who He says He is and to be faithful to His promises.

Expectation in God is the source of all hope. 

Because God is hope. And God does not disappoint. And hope does not disappoint when it’s placed in God.

“And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” Romans 5:5

So when life hands us lemons, which it’s going to, when we’re facing a trial or struggle, we need to pivot from the problem so we can turn to the Promise Keeper. As we pivot our gaze and focus from our circumstances to God, we will then be able to place the expectations of our hearts in His promises and surrender to His will which we have to trust is good and perfect even in this messy, cruel world.

Remember at the beginning of this post how I mentioned the other day when I cried buckets of tears in my kitchen over a parenting struggle that seems to be growing bigger and bigger and more and more out of control?

Well as I cried and felt helpless and hopeless, God caught my gaze with a $5 bouquet of flowers (which you can read here) and stilled my heart as I prayed and lamented. Six hours later I found myself unexpectedly at the beach, watching the setting sun color the skies over the ocean in pastel rainbow hues and casting soft pink glows over everything else. My children giggled and ran carefree and splashed along the shore. I sat in perfect peace, full of joy, marveling at the unbelievable amount of goodness in the moment. There was a peacefulness and blissfulness that I never could have expected to occur in the same day that had just held such ugly and painful moments.

The day drastically changed for the better, and it was such a welcomed surprise. You see (confession) when I was stuck in that moment in the kitchen I never once expected to see any goodness in the rest of that day. In fact, I anticipated the worst; I went to my knee jerk reaction. But even so, God gave me that picturesque moment with my family on the beach as a gift of His undeserved goodness, a glimpse of hope, and a reminder that things can and do change. I had been given a glimpse of hope for my child and a reminder to pray in eager expectation over his future and his freedom and his victory with his own struggles, and with mine too.

Our problems didn’t disappear and weren’t solved in that moment. And our problems aren’t always given such a refreshing pause or breather in the midst of them. But what that evening did was once again remind me to pivot my gaze towards hope, towards Him.

Oh I’m so quick to forget, but God is so good and gracious to help me remember.

Whatever you’re facing, that thing begging you to quit already, that thing taunting you with the lie of hopelessness, the thing that keeps you awake at night, the thing you think will never change…

Well let’s just pause all that and pivot our gaze and look outside for a minute. The fall foliage is a simple reminder and proof that things change. Nothing stays the same. The only constant we have is God’s enduring love for us. And I don’t know about you, but for that I am so thankful.

Will you for a moment try to pivot in whatever you’re struggling with right now that makes you feel helpless or hopeless — that thing you can’t seem to see past? Will you lift your gaze up to Him? Will you call any hopelessness you see a liar? Will you seek His truth? Will you pivot your prayers and petition God according to His promises? Will you place your hope and trust in Him, that He is working and fulfilling His promises in your life, in that situation, according to His character, His plan, His timing, His promises?

When we pivot our hearts to seek Him in our lives, at work in our problems and pain, we will learn to live with hearts that expect Him.

When we do, we will find Him and with Him hope and the fullness of life that’s promised to us, even when life is ugly and painful and hard. Because our true source of hope comes from the expectation of seeing His promises fulfilled in our lives.

This is what it means to live with an expectant heart.

And because I so deeply believe in the transforming power of living with an expectant heart. I’ve written a manifesto to remind us:


I’m offering this manifesto as a free PDF file to download for everyone who would like it (to read and download it click here–>>An Expectant Heart Manifesto). Save it, print it out, and decide to live with an expectant heart. This just might change and save your life like it’s doing for me every single day.

You see my friends, if we enter into suffering and don’t have a Biblical understanding of it, we’re going to struggle with hopelessness and pain.

If we face the trials and hard stuff in this life and don’t have a Biblical understanding of or belief in God’s character and promises, we’re going to struggle living a life void of life.

If our expectations are placed in quick fixes, the absence of pain, people changing, God working according to our plans, we’re going end up trying to be God and find disappointment and heartache.

But if we pivot our gaze to God and expect Him at work in our lives according to His promises, oh my friend, there we will find hope and life–and that is my prayer for us all today. That we will choose to pivot our hearts and live in expectation of God in our lives.

“Look for Christ and you will find him. And with him, everything else.” 

C. S. Lewis

If you want to live with an expectant heart, if you see the transforming powers of pivoting and living in expectation, if you know this is what you need, if you want more to help remind you to live with an expectant heart, can I encourage you to join my email list if you haven’t already? I created it to do just these things for you. Click here to sign up now.

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  • Kathy Culligan

    Thank you for your insightful words of vulnerable honesty and truth. You inspire me to pivot when faced with obstacles in my path and turn to God, our eternal source of hope.

    September 30, 2017 at 7:12 am Reply
  • Niki Hardy

    Hi, this is lovely! Thanks for sharing your heart.
    Visiting from H*W and will share on social media.xx

    September 30, 2017 at 10:08 am Reply
    • Kristin Vanderlip

      Thanks so much Niki!! I appreciate your reading and sharing! Blessings ❤️

      September 30, 2017 at 12:08 pm Reply

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