What to do when you don't get what you want

Peace can go hand in hand with trouble, writes Katrina Roe

“It’s not about you.”

These are the famous opening lines of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, a book that has sold over 50 million copies worldwide and spawned infinite adaptations.

We shouldn’t be surprised when life gets tough

Yet how many of us really live and think and breathe as though our life is not about us? I know I don’t. And this realisation is never more salient than when dealing with loss and disappointment in life.

I’m not talking about how we react on the outside. Most adults have enough self-control to summon up the expected behaviour. We’ll congratulate a colleague who got the promotion we wanted, celebrate when somebody else wins the award we had pinned our hopes on, clap loudly when somebody else’s child is named a school leader instead of our own.

But how do we deal with it internally when we don’t get what we want?

In the past few weeks, I’ve experienced three major disappointments. Each time I’ve felt disbelief, anger and a sense of injustice over missing out on something I wanted.

But we shouldn’t be surprised when life gets tough. Just before he was put to death, Jesus warned his disciples that life was about to get difficult – for them. ‘In this world you will have trouble,’ he said (see John 16:33). Notice how, in that memorable example of being forewarned about life’s hardships, Jesus wasn’t specific about when or where the trouble would take place.

Instead, he simply and starkly pointed out that trouble should be expected.

I take it that trouble can come in various forms, including disappointment or loss. Yet so often our loss is another person’s gain. And just knowing that can bring perspective and peace.

This is the truth I’ve tried to gently whisper in my latest children’s picture book, Lily’s Balloon.

The idea started as a simple one – to show an object moving through the lives of different people, touching them in different ways. It was intended to show how interconnected we are, even though we don’t always realise it. But as the idea developed, it became much more about loss and letting go. About how when we can’t get what we want, there may be somebody who needs it more. And maybe, just maybe, knowing that can provide some comfort.

If only Lily could see the big picture.

Some stories fall from the sky and others grow from a tiny seed. I’d had the vision for this story in the back of my mind for quite some time before one of life’s thunderstorms of trouble prompted it to germinate.

I wrote it the day after my husband lost his job as a national newsreader. He’d been in a severe depression for some time, but losing his job understandably brought him to a new low.

And that’s when the image came to me of a little girl at a fair, who finds everything around her overwhelming. She wants to enjoy it. But she can’t. It’s too loud, too crowded and too smelly. It’s a picture of depression; we may be surrounded by good things, we may have everything we’ve ever wanted – but it doesn’t make us happy.

That’s when Lily sees a gently bobbing balloon that makes her feel quiet and peaceful inside. The balloon brings her joy. But Lily’s moment of peace is short-lived. When her balloon drifts away, she’s devastated. What she doesn’t see is that her balloon goes on to give peace and hope to two other children who need it even more than her.

If only Lily could see the big picture.

This generation of children has grown up on the Hollywood/Disney gospel of ‘You can be whatever you want to be.’ They’ve been fed a lollipop and popcorn diet of ‘Follow your heart’s desire…’

By contrast Paul in the New Testament book of Philippians teaches: ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.’ (Phil 2:3-4)

Looking to the interests of others means we don’t always get what we want. We can’t always follow our hearts or our dreams.

Sometimes, there are other people’s dreams at stake, and other people’s hearts to consider.

“Take heart! I have overcome the world.” – Jesus

Before Jesus warned his disciples that trouble was coming their way, he told them something else quite strange. ‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.’ (John 16:33)

Peace and trouble. Hand in hand. Yes it’s possible, if we know that it’s not all about us. If we know that someone else is in control.

As Jesus declared: ‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33)

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