Why didn’t it work out?

Originally appeared online in the teen series: Q&A - September 22, 2020

Q: What am I supposed to think when something that seemed meant to be doesn’t work out? 

A: It seemed like it was meant to be. For at least a year, I’d been yearning to have a dog in my life. One day I learned that a puppy—just the breed I wanted—was going to be available soon. In the pictures he looked so precious!

He was even cuter in person than in the photos. I loved cuddling up with him and watching as he played with his new toys. But within a couple of days of bringing him home, I began to feel I’d made a big mistake. And it soon became clear that I was not the right owner for this puppy.

I was devastated. I’d already become very attached to him, and it was painful to contact the original owner and tell her that I needed to give him up. When I did, though, it turned out that there was a couple in the next town over who had one of these dogs and had recently expressed an interest in having a companion for him.

In general, asking “why” questions about hard experiences doesn’t lead to peace.

I was so grateful for the puppy’s new home and for being relieved of a responsibility I wasn’t ready for. But afterward, I found myself agonizing over questions like, “Why didn’t it work out, especially when it seemed so right at first?”

These questions consumed me over several months, and I wasn’t finding satisfying answers. Then one day during a service at my local branch Church of Christ, Scientist, we sang a hymn with words that spoke directly to the place in my heart that had been feeling so hurt. It said, 

Humble hearts accept Your blessing, 
   Turn from sorrow, want, and sin, 
Turn the page, rewrite that story, 
   As the Christ is welcomed in.
(Fenella Bennetts, Christian Science Hymnal: Hymns 430–603, No. 529)  

I saw that I could “rewrite [the] story” of the experience with letting go of this puppy by seeing the experience from God’s perspective—the perspective of divine Love—rather than from my own, limited, self-critical viewpoint. For the first time, I realized that I didn’t have to view things not working out as a tragic failure; instead, I could see the whole situation as an example of God’s tender care and grace—both for the puppy and for me. And later, when I ended up moving to a place where I couldn’t have had a puppy, this care was even more evident to me.

In general, asking “why” questions about hard experiences doesn’t lead to peace; those questions can actually keep us stuck in the painful feelings and speculation. In these moments, I’ve found comfort in a simple statement from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures where Mary Baker Eddy writes, “Mortal existence is an enigma” (p. 70). Knowing that we won’t find answers as long as we’re viewing things from the ground up—from a limited, material standpoint—liberates us from seeking explanations within the troubling experiences themselves. Then we’re free to lift our thoughts higher and ask questions like, “How did God care for me during this experience?” and, “How can this teach me more about listening for God’s direction?”

When I asked myself those questions about this situation with the puppy, something important became clear to me. I remembered that one day before I got the puppy I’d been praying about the decision and had opened the Bible looking for comforting answers. The page I’d opened to included verses in Second Kings that repeatedly ask the question “Is it peace?” (9:17–19). At the time, I’d been confused by this message. But I realized later that the morning I’d picked up the puppy, I had felt anything but peace.

It was reassuring to realize that God really had been there all along—before, during, and after.

One indication that God is working is a deep and abiding feeling of peace, even if there are occasional moments of apprehension. I had to honestly admit to myself that I had not felt that deep, spiritual peace that indicates the rightness of a decision following God’s guidance. This helped me let go of the feeling that something right had been taken away from me and changed my perspective to see that perhaps I’d been pushing ahead with my own plan even while getting divine nudges to go in a different direction. And it was reassuring to realize that God really had been there all along—before, during, and after.

Ultimately, even when we face what can, at the moment, seem like a disappointing outcome, it’s comforting to remember this promise from the Bible: “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28, New Living Translation). To me, it’s a reminder that as we accept that God’s infinite grace and love have been, and always will be, there for us, we’ll discover that, in fact, things really did work out for our good.

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