Can I Really Trust God in My Difficult Circumstance?

gold leaves

As believers, there are certain truths that we can all agree on: God is good. He is for us. He made us for a special purpose. He loves us. These are foundational ideas of our faith, but certain circumstances can throw us for a loop to the point that we have difficulty hanging onto these ideas as tightly as we once did — or at all.

When we’re caught up in an unexpected circumstance — the unraveling of a significant relationship, a long-term health battle, the loss of a job or financial stability, the death of a close friend or family member, or other stressful circumstance —  we can sometimes react in ways that we wouldn’t have guessed we would.

In particular, our zeal for the Lord might run low after months of waiting for His intervention in a situation, or our overall faith in His goodness might be challenged when we encounter obstacle after obstacle in following Him. However, in those times, rather than rely on feelings that will lead us astray, we can turn to the immovable bedrock of Scripture to comfort and calm our runaway thoughts: “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it abundantly” (John 10:10, NKJV).

Two takeaways to remember as we navigate seasons that shake our faith and belief in the goodness of God:

1. There is no abundant life outside of Jesus.

When experiencing intense pain, we want to find immediate comfort and escape. Satan will try to lie to us and tell us that the abundant life that Jesus talks about hasn’t been so abundant in Him, so we should try to find this life of abundance in other ways. However, the passage is clear that behaviors and decisions we make to try to experience the life we find in Christ outside of Him won’t work in the long run.

We can build successful businesses, pursue relationships, and complete a myriad of accomplishments, but if it’s not God’s will for us, we won’t be fulfilled doing it. It tells us in the passage that the thief comes to steal and destroy. Living for any other purpose or distracting ourselves with other pursuits doesn’t provide us peace and joy — only in Christ do we find peace and joy.

I’ll be honest, I know how to hear clearly from God. I hear from Him when I spend time in prayer and His Word, fellowship with other believers, and listen intently for His messages to me in sermons and the studies I do with my Bible study group. But I know how to turn down the volume. Sleep in during my quiet time. Gloss over Bible study. Disconnect from other believers. But when I am not as connected to Him, I don’t experience real peace.

In my current season, I’ve let some distractions creep in, some things that I just don’t feel that good about doing. It satisfies for a minute, but I am left wishing I had never let myself go down that path. It doesn’t satisfy me long-term. What this passage is saying is that nothing quenches our soul thirst like Christ.

When thirsty, we might reach for a soda or juice, perhaps. But while these beverages might take the edge off our thirst initially, they don’t take our thirst away. They don’t refresh like water. Water is the only thing that takes our thirst away completely. Similarly, the abundant life can only be found in Christ — no distraction or habit can quench our thirst like Jesus, our living water (John 4:13, 14).

2. The Good Shepherd brings us good.

Elsewhere in the passage, Jesus identifies Himself as the “good Shepherd.”  In John 10:14, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Jesus always looks out for His sheep and leads them in the way that is best for them. That He can be trusted.

I think we can read those verses when we haven’t really experienced a devastating trial and we can say, “OK, that’s great. God leads me in all circumstances.” And we accept that. But when we’re in a place of trial and hardship then our trust in Him is truly challenged. His trustworthiness is harder to accept. Can we still trust Him to lead us even when we really don’t know the way — when we’re waking up wishing that we could have someone else’s experience?

Even in those places where we don’t want to be where we are and we can’t get out on our own, He is with us. If we look at Psalm 23, it tells that Jesus leads us not only in places that are pleasant, but He also leads us in dark valleys. Therefore, no matter what it feels like at the moment, those of us trusting and following after God can rest in the faithfulness and goodness of our God. He is faithful in how He leads us, and He is always good to us, even when it feels like He is not being that good to us.

Truth to Hold Onto When Life Devastates Us

Recently in watching the Olympics, I was so moved by Simone Biles’ struggle to fight against the pressure she felt in the competition. Named the “G.O.A.T,” or “Greatest of All Time” in gymnastics, she had much to live up to and prove as she competed in the Olympics for the second time. After a shaky qualifying performance, the pressure mounted when she competed in vault.

She sprinted toward the vault to perform like she had done hundreds — even thousands of times before — but instead of displaying her immense talent in a perfect series of tumbles in the air, she got the “twisties” instead. She lost her sense of where she was in the air, her eyes rolled back, and she fell through the rest of her tumble to land unsteadily on the mat below. I felt so sad for her as I watched. Even though I am not a gymnast, I could empathize with her experience of not being able to perform at her best because of overwhelming pressure and anxiety.

In the aftermath of her performance, I thought about the fact that we can go bravely through life doing the spins and tumbles that we’ve been taught to do, relying on the truths of the Gospel that help us ward off the lies of the enemy. We can do so well for a time, and then when devastating hardship comes, we get knocked sideways. We lose our sense of direction and balance. Doctrines that we once held onto so firmly don’t feel so firm any longer. Certain truths that felt so easy to believe feel impossible to believe any longer.

However, we can overcome our spiritual “twisties” the same way that gymnasts overcome theirs. As one article put it, gymnasts experience the twisties when they stop trusting their muscle memory. Stress or fear can get in the way of their training and make them less trusting. Therefore, they retrain themselves in basic skills and learn to trust again. And in a similar way, we can find our way out of what feels like a dark free fall by reminding ourselves of certain truths and refusing to let go of these truths (even when they are so clearly challenged) — truths like God is faithful and He knows what He is doing — when every shred of human logic in our being would tell us to do otherwise.

When we’re free falling, the pain may be so great that we just don’t care anymore, and we might have already tried to disengage God and engage in behaviors we know are wrong. But even if we have already started our exit plan to try and run from God and run to other things, we don’t have to keep running. We can turn right where we are and run to God and remind ourselves that He is a good Father and He can be trusted.

God knows why we are running and knows everything about our situation even before we tell Him. While we can only see the darkness that is all around us, the darkness is as light to Him. We can only find our way out of our dark valley by resting trustingly in His presence and holding fast to His truth even when the truths don’t appear to be working in our circumstances.

The bottom line: If we let them, circumstances can wreck our faith. Holding onto the truths that God is the good Shepherd and will lead us out is that which can sustain us when darkness surrounds us.

*Updated January 15, 2022.

Podcast Notes & Corrections:

Check out the movie Greater mentioned in the podcast. Greater tells the story of Brandon Burlsworth, an average kid with a more-than-average dream to play Division 1 football. Through the course of the film, his family learns to keep trusting God even when life is confusing and they don’t always understand.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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How I Got Free From My Trap of Depression

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When you know something, you can’t unknow it. That earthly law is true for our spiritual lives as well. I was raised by my dad and a strict Pentecostal Holiness grandmother. I was taught how to dress, which included, in the South, always wearing a slip. I was not permitted to spend an inordinate amount of time with boys. I was in church every time the doors were open and for special events.

I would not trade any of that, because my brothers and I all serve the Lord today. However, because I grew up knowing what it meant not just to profess Jesus but also to serve him, the beginning of my sinful choices in the area of sexual behavior caused a tension between what I knew to do and what I was doing. I guess you might compare me to the apostle Paul in that way: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15).

Depression as a Result of Choices

For me, when I began to sin sexually, a tremendous condemnation-induced depression set in and would not leave. In fact, it persisted over a five-year period. When you know what you’re supposed to be doing and you don’t do it, you can’t help but be tense and frustrated and angry. And that tension and anger and frustration turned inward is what my unprofessional psychological mind would call depression.

This depression was there when I got up, when I walked into the grocery store, and when I laid my head on my pillow at night. My brother had the room next door, as I was still living at home, and he was probably most aware of what was going on. However, neither he nor anyone else could give me the solution.

Let me pause right here. Depression is a real disease. Some people might have bouts of it that last for a little while and are induced by circumstances, but probably in my case of such frequent and even constant episodes, I would’ve been diagnosed as clinically depressed had I let anyone diagnose me. Instead, I put the record of self-hatred and worthlessness on the turntable and let the needle spin. And that’s an apt metaphor.

Truly the pathways our brain travels down over and over physically become deeper and easier to travel. The more I dwelled on something either good or bad, the more prone I was to feel that way about myself. In fact, when you’re depressed, you sometimes forget whom the thoughts even come from. You feel like God is condemning you. Or at least you feel like you’re condemning yourself. My depression was a result of choices. I’m not here at this moment to talk about what physical or genetic tendencies can lead to clinical depression. I’m certainly not qualified for that. What I want to talk about are my choices, their direct impact on my feelings of hopelessness, and how I found hope again.

What I’m about to discuss may sound juvenile, but I was a juvenile of the time my depression started after all. After high school, my world was opened up in some ways it probably should not have been. I still lived at home and I still worked a local job, but in college, you can go to school if you feel like it and not go if you don’t. Whereas one of my nicknames in middle and high school was “Goody Squared,” even a good girl’s worldviews as a Christian are constantly challenged as close by as in a small-town college.

Remember those days with me: You’re beginning to spread your wings and feel what it is to finally be an adult and be able to make your own choices. At my house, I no longer had a curfew. All of that “looseness” combined to create some bad situations for me to put myself in with my then-boyfriend-now- husband. Although I don’t believe that I need to air our dirty laundry here in the public arena, I think you will get the picture.

Every time we moved physically closer, my heart was in a cataclysm. My spirit knew to do the right thing, but my body and my soul were sinning against God. Like I said, for me that was my depression trigger. The activities in which we were engaged brought continuous attention, but then the pull of doing right caused guilt. The results? Closeness and thrill for the moment, followed by regret, shame, and self-hatred afterward.

And that cycle lasted for five years. You would think that if sexual sin was the cause of my depression, that when I got married and everything was “permitted,” my depression would’ve left. However, that is not the case. And that note gets me to the point of how I found help and how you can too.

Advice from My Journey

There are no tricks or magic beans in this road to wholeness, and you definitely need to get professional help if you have depression that just won’t go away. I was plain stupid for not doing more to get help with mine, especially since it lasted so long. But if you’re like me, and you know the cause of your depression and you know the source of help, here’s some advice that might assist you in your journey.

1. Get help from friends.

Don’t stop talking. I have the same two friends I relied for so much help during this time. They drove me around the car, took me out to eat, and let me spend the night with them as I ranted over and over about how much I hated myself and how no one liked me and how I wasn’t good enough. I honestly can’t even remember everything I said because I have always been happy. This new depressed person was honestly really foreign to me. But regardless of what I said, I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant to listen to.

I could’ve stopped talking, but by the grace of God, I didn’t. Not even when I felt suicidal. I’ll talk about that in a later post, but I want to say at this point that you can’t get help if no one knows you need it. The word “mask” is so overused in our society, but whatever it is you are wearing to cover up your depression, make sure to keep talking to somebody, and if that person won’t listen, find somebody else.

It really doesn’t matter if they know what to say even. You just need someone who is willing to listen to you and not let you talk yourself into a decision that will have lasting impact.

2. Resist old thinking patterns. 

When you’re free, there will still always be a temptation to go back into the old ways. You might think it’s weird that I say temptation, but on the other side of this journey of depression, I realize that for me, it can be an occasional temptation not only to have depressive thoughts and wallow in them, but also to try to use them to manipulate others into feeling sorry for me. There you go. I said it out loud. For me, a few years ago, I had an episode that lasted about thirty minutes in a bookstore parking lot.

For those few minutes, I was captive again to thoughts that I had not had for years. This time, though, was different. I knew what it was like to be free, so I began to talk out loud in my car to my thoughts and to Satan, the originator of anything that’s not godly, and I said I would not believe those thoughts again. I was free and I was going to remain free.

Sometimes you have to say out loud like a lunatic or read from a card if you don’t feel like saying it, that you are free. Our words are weapons against the enemy, and we do not need to be afraid to use them.

You may be depressed, or you may know someone who is. If you fit one of those categories, please don’t make this post about blaming yourself for your depression. Jesus absolutely adores you, no matter what choices you do or do not make. Hear my heart, though, when I say that personal choices that violate the Word of God can cause painful mental and physical side effects.

What to Do If You’re Depressed

If you are feeling trapped, get help from His Word, from friends, from a counselor, and from processing out loud. But remember that there’s a woman here who has come out on the other side. There is hope for you. As a matter of fact, there’s some Scripture that sustained me through so many of my days. May I end by sharing it with you? Psalm 27:13, 14 says, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

You will see His goodness, friend. I’m living proof. If you want us to pray for you and hold out hope for you, please leave us a comment below. We’re all in this together.

If you are struggling with depression and are having thoughts of suicide or know someone in your life who is suicidal, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to speak to a trained professional. The hotline is open 24 hours a day, and the call is free.

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Want to listen to Beulah Girl’s latest posts? Check out the Beulah Girl podcast on Soundcloud. Subscribe on Soundcloud and receive all of our latest episodes!

If you want to learn more from Suzy about depression, check out her other articles/episodes in this depression series: Avoiding Comparison That Leads to Depression and When Suicide Seems Like the Answer.

 *Updated and adapted from post originally published November 4, 2017.

Suzy Lolley

Suzy Lolley

Suzy Lolley taught both middle school and high English for many years, and is currently an Instructional Technology Specialist for the public school system, a wife, and a workaholic. She loves nothing more than a clean, organized house, but her house is rarely that way. She enjoys being healthy but just can’t resist those mashed potatoes (with gravy) sometimes. When she cooks, she uses every dish in the house, and she adores a good tea party. She loves Jesus and is spending the next year documenting her journey to a less independent, more Jesus-dependent life on her blog.

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