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  • Writer's pictureKirsten Zerr

Hopelessness: Expecting the Worst from God

Updated: Mar 6

One day in grade school, we had a piñata to celebrate someone’s birthday. We would all get the chance to hit it. I was so excited until, as always, everyone had to line up in alphabetical order by last name. My last name (at the time) started with the letter Z. I was last. I prayed the piñata wouldn’t break open until it got to me. One by one, every kid got to take a whack at it. I held my breath for each one. Finally, there was only one more classmate before me. He hit it so hard, it completely busted the piñata open. Everyone cheered and scrambled for candy, except me. I was the only one who didn’t get to hit it. I was so disappointed and nobody seemed to care. Nobody helped me process the disappointment. Adults often told me that life wasn't always fair, and to get over it. Yet the reality is, a child can't "get over" an emotion that they don't know how to process - no matter how small. If a child isn't taught how to process an emotion, the child will either learn to react to the emotion or numb the emotion.

Because of my last name, scenarios like this often occurred. I felt like I seldom had choice. If we all got to pick a toy, all the good ones got picked over before it got to me. If we got to choose our seats, all the seats would be taken and I got stuck with the leftovers. I admit this all seems a bit dramatic. I truly had wonderful teachers and adults in my life, and we all know life certainly isn't fair. Yet, to a young child who didn’t know how to cope with disappointment, none of this felt like "tough love." It actually just seemed like nobody cared about how I felt. Soon, I began to believe that my feelings didn't matter. I created a negative belief system in order to help me cope in the best way little Kirsten knew how. Like all humans, disappointing experiences continued throughout my life. I would hope for good then get hit with rejection. This disappointment and rejection were rarely validated or even acknowledged. Again, I never knew how to cope in a healthy way, even with seemingly minor disappointments. Your nervous system doesn't care how small the emotion seems. If the emotion isn't validated and processed, your nervous system will begin to view the emotion as a threat, and you learn to cope unhealthy ways. In fact, if you don't learn to process the little emotions, you will never be able to process the big emotions. Over time, I learned to cope by expecting the worst so that I wouldn’t be disappointed. Little did I know, I would carry this attitude of hopelessness with me for years to come, often expecting the worst from others and from God.


A few years ago, my dad got diagnosed with cancer. Hopelessness plagued me and it weighed heavy on my heart, even after my dad passed. Hopelessness led to shame which began to suffocate me, and it made it nearly impossible to heal from the grief. I felt so much shame, I couldn’t even talk about it for months after my dad’s death. What was the shame I carried because of hopelessness? From the moment my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I didn’t pray nearly as often as I should have. When I did pray, I prayed with almost no faith. The shame nearly consumed me because my dad meant the world to me. How could I – a Christian – not pray more fervently for my dad? I wanted nothing more than to see him live, but I was afraid to hope. Then, a childhood friend of mine passed away. Next, my dog passed. Then, both my husband’s grandparents passed and my own grandma. This all happened in less than a year. Each heartbreak made me more hopeless and numb. On a subconscious level, I had come to expect the worst from God. Once some time had passed, I began confessing and seeking help. Soon, God’s healing love revealed something incredibly important about my prayer life and my relationship with God.


I was SO afraid of disappointment, that I wouldn’t even allow myself to hope. I never wanted to ask big things of God. It felt safer to assume the worst. In fact, I thought it showed humility to never ask for big things. It felt safer to assume God wanted me to suffer, it felt safer to assume God didn’t want to heal my dad, it felt safer to assume the worst from God. I felt like, “God will do what he wants. So why ask for big things anyways? I’ll just end up disappointed and hurt if I pray for an outcome that doesn’t happen. Look at all the pain I’ve experienced. Why should I hope for anything good? Plus, aren’t I being selfish for wanting to impose my will on God’s?”


I had a terrible belief that God wanted suffering for me, and that it was selfish to pray for my hopes. God never planned for humanity to suffer. God does not cause nor want our suffering. Suffering is a result of the fall. Faith tells us that God has not abandoned us to our own suffering, but that He can bring beauty from ashes! In part I knew this, I knew God could bring goodness from suffering, that suffering can actually refine us, and that wonderful things can come when we offer our own suffering up with Christ’s suffering. Here was problem, I wasn’t looking at suffering through the lens of faith, I was looking at it through the lens of hopelessness. Two problems arose from this – I lived in constant fear of suffering which made it difficult to be obedient to God, AND I usually assumed the worst from God anyways. So not only was I suffering because of my FEAR of suffering, I had absolutely no hope when suffering did happen. Hope gives meaning to suffering, yet I had none. My lack of hope fueled the lie that “bad things always happen to me.” This deteriorated my faith in God, and I coped by placing all my faith in my ability to control my circumstances. The irony of feeling too selfish and afraid to pray for my hopes was that (1) I wound up fearing suffering, which led to hopelessness and sloth, and (2) I chased control which led to pride and vanity. Oh, how the devil twists the truth.


I became a complete perfectionist that relied on myself rather than God. I tried to perfect and control my body, my grades, my business, my income, my house…everything. Yet the more I tried to control it all, the more I feared losing control. Worse yet, when I knew something was out of my control I resorted to hopelessness. For example, I knew I couldn’t control my dad’s cancer, so I automatically assumed the worst and resorted to hopelessness. On a subconscious level, I believed that if I assumed my dad would NOT beat the cancer, then I wouldn’t be so disappointed if he passed away. News flash, expecting the worst didn’t take an OUNCE of pain away when my dad did pass. It actually made it even harder to grieve.


This was a reality for most of my life, not just in this painful circumstance. My life was a giant pendulum where I swung between hypervigilant control and utter hopelessness. The result? I became extremely angry with God when my circumstances didn’t go the way I wanted. Eventually, to numb the pain, I would “surrender” the circumstances to God. Except I was really just resorting to hopelessness and using “surrender” as a shield. It wasn’t authentic surrender. Authentic surrender still takes faith which I would abandon just before I hopelessly “surrendered.”


Most of us were never taught how to process difficult emotions. We were told to toughen up and get over it. The result? We are so afraid of our difficult emotions - like feeling disappointed - we go to extreme ends to numb or prevent those emotions. We don’t know how to cope. What happens in our never-ending attempt to avoid anything difficult or painful? We succumb to hopelessness and control. We look to worldly things to fill the void. We create idols and wrap our identity in lies. Sometimes, we even blame God for life’s disappointments. We put too much faith in circumstance rather than God Himself. We put faith in the provision rather than the provider. Ironically, when circumstances fail us we tend to blame God, rather than remember that circumstances fail because circumstance are NOT God. We try to BE God when we control our circumstances, then we BLAME God when we realize our circumstances cannot be controlled. We then resort to hopelessness and more control, rather than surrender and more faith. When you don’t know how to cope with disappointment, you learn to fear it and numb it.


You either seek more and more control, or you resort to hopelessness. You believe, “I must perfectly control everything I can so that I will never be disappointed.” You become a perfectionist that is never satisfied. This is rooted in pride. At the same time, you believe, “I will always expect the worst so that I never feel disappointed.” You avoid deeper healing because, “What’s the point if I’m going to fail anyways?” This is rooted in sloth. Neither of these are rooted in faith. In fact, I often see women like myself swing between these two extremes in life. The result? You stay stuck. You try to control everything in your life while also feeling hopeless, that nothing will ever get better. 


This was my life, and I lived in these two extremes – either things were going my way, or they weren’t. Either I was maintaining control, or I was giving up hope. Then I realized something; God isn’t a God of “either/or.” He isn’t a God of scarcity. He is a God of “both/and!” He is a God of abundance!


He first revealed this to me when He showed me that I could surrender AND exercise the authority Christ won for me (read about it here). I realized I could surrender AND act boldly in faith. But He wasn’t done.


One morning I was meditating on the scene in the Bible where Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his Passion. The Holy Spirit showed me Jesus’ agony as he prayed to the Father. Even in scripture, we see Jesus asking the Father to “let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will.” -Matthew 26:39.


I’ve always known this is how we should pray, to ask something of God yet be open to His will. Even when I prayed for my dad, I would say, “Lord, if it is your will, heal my dad. But not my will, Lord. Help me to accept your will.”


Sounds good right? Here was the insidious part. I SAID these words, but I had no faith behind the words. When I said, “Let your will be done,” it was NOT because I was accepting the Lord’s will…it was because I didn’t believe my prayer would have any effect. In essence, my HEART was saying, “Lord, I want this but it probably won’t happen anyways. So just do whatever you want.” I prayed from a place of HOPELESSNESS, not FAITH! Faith moves mountains. Hopelessness only produces needless suffering.


So how did God show me that I could have hope, that I could ask for big things without fearing disappointment? In the garden, Jesus wasn’t afraid to ask the Father for something big – to “let this cup pass,” to prevent his torture and crucifixion. He prayed in perfect faith, knowing that the Father could absolutely prevent Jesus’ death. His human inclination to avoid suffering was not an act of selfishness, it simply showed his humanity. Yet, at the same time, he was not afraid of the Father’s will. Jesus prayed fervently until he got his answer. He didn’t give up hope – not for a second. Thus, the moment Jesus was arrested, Jesus was able to act in perfect obedience to the Father’s will even in the face of suffering.


I have to wonder if Jesus was disappointed to see the crowd show up to arrest him. Being fully God and AND fully human, Jesus certainly felt human emotions. Jesus – in his humanity – likely felt a pit of disappointment in his stomach, fully understanding what was to come. Yet, he didn’t allow the emotion of disappointment to prevent his obedience to the Father. It’s not the emotions that are sinful, it’s how we choose to react to those emotions. Will we allow those emotions to become lies from which we react? Will the feeling of disappointment lead to the lie that God has rejected me? Will that lie lead to disobedience toward the Father? Will it lead to control, pride, and hopelessness?


Or, could we allow ourselves to process the emotion of disappointment? Could we bring that disappointment to the Father who knows our heart? Could we pour out our heart in agony and allow our Father to hold us as a child? Would this moment of weakness and vulnerability allow the Father to heal our hearts and refine us? Would we feel a greater outpouring of grace to endure the disappointment in order to prepare for something even greater? Afterall, Jesus’ death brought something even greater. It brought his resurrection and our salvation!


I now understood what scripture means when it says things like, “For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” -Matthew 17:20.


“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” -Luke 11:9-13


I used to scoff at these verses. I never felt like they were true in my life until this vision of Jesus in the garden. Before this vision I thought, “Lord, I’ve asked for fish countless times and you’ve given me snakes! How can I believe this?” He reminded me, “No, you have asked for fish and the WORLD gave you snakes. If you would have faith in me rather than your circumstances, if you would throw aside pride and hopelessness, you would see that when you asked for fish, I said no because I was waiting to give you a FEAST!”


God wants us to persevere in prayer. I think the fear of disappointment causes us to give up too soon. We are afraid to ask for big things because, “What if it doesn’t happen?”, or, “What if it’s not the Father’s will?” Is it presumptuous and prideful to ask God big things? NO! In fact, I believe God wants us to ask big things of him. It shows our faith! At the same time, we can know that even if God does not give us a “Yes,” he is planning on giving us something even greater. Sometimes I ask for fish, and God gives me fish. Sometimes I ask for fish, and God says, “No. I will give you a feast instead!” But we will never know if we allow the fear of disappointment to prevent us from asking, or if we allow hopelessness to prevent perseverance in faith. What if God wants to give you the feast, but you keep saying “NO” to his plan because he didn’t give you the fish? You are so stuck on that fish, that you can’t even see the banquet the Lord has laid out for you! Too often, we want God to change our circumstances rather than our heart. If He always changed our circumstance, our faith would likely lie in the provision rather than the provider. "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" -Matthew 16:26


So what’s my new prayer motto? Pray as Jesus did. To pray with great faith and hope until I get my answer from the Father, to not assume I know the Father’s will, to not expect the worst from God, but instead, to expect the BEST! Then, I move in obedience no matter the circumstance. I believe that faith CAN move mountains, while also knowing God will pour out His grace when I encounter disappointment. I am reminded that I can sustain hope even in the midst of suffering. I’m reminded that suffering is not a sign that God has abandoned me. In fact, if we Christians are called to be like Christ, it means we have to pick up our cross as Christ did. “Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” -2 Corinthians 12:10


However, we must be careful not to confuse surrender with hopelessness in the midst of suffering. Instead, we surrender to hope and humility. I recently came across this quote by St. Augustine in referencing the Transfiguration (specifically Luke 9:33), “For now, Jesus says: ‘Go down to toil on earth, to serve on earth, to be scorned and crucified on earth. Life goes down to be killed; Bread goes down to suffer hunger; the Way goes down to be exhausted on his journey; the Spring goes down to suffer thirst; and you refuse to suffer?" -CCC 554. Jesus is the Life that came down to be killed, the Bread that came down to hunger, the Way that became exhausted, and the Spring which thirsts. Are we not called to be like Christ? We know Christ's life was marked by miracles AND suffering. Will we be like those who taunted Christ and said, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.'" -Matthew 27:42-43. Or will we be like Christ, who had the faith and hope to raise people from the dead, yet at the same time submitted in perfect obedience to the Father's will, accepting his suffering that would CONQUER death!


Hope gives meaning to suffering. Humility reminds us that God came down as man to endure unthinkable sufferings; who am I to think that I should never have to endure suffering when my God suffered for my sake? I can accept suffering so as not to fear it, while also holding on to hope that God will bring beauty from ashes. I can endure suffering AND expect the best from God. It’s both/and, not either/or. The Apostles had an “either/or” mindset as they watched Christ suffer and die on the cross. They believed his suffering and death signaled defeat. They were hopeless, until they saw Jesus rise again, conquer death, and bring us our salvation. Here we see that Jesus suffered, AND gave us the BEST thing ever…our salvation! After Pentecost, the disciples picked up their crosses and were “crucified with Christ” (Peter was literally crucified), yet came to expect the BEST from God during their entire ministry. They suffered AND performed countless miracles in the name of Jesus. They were filled with hope despite suffering! Suffering does not beget hopelessness unless we allow it to.


It’s not that you aren’t allowed to be disappointed by circumstance, it’s that you must learn to cope with disappointment in a healthy way so that you no longer fear disappointment and suffering. Allow yourself to say, “I am disappointed, and that’s okay. I am allowed to feel disappointed. It doesn’t mean God has abandoned me. I can still expect the best from God!” Christians often hide behind false humility to numb their difficult emotions. You’re not actually surrendering your disappointment in humility, you are numbing your disappointment because you FEAR it.  You would rather hide under false humility by saying, “I shouldn’t feel disappointed. I should be grateful for what I do have.” You should be grateful, but you can’t feel grateful AND fearful at the same time. Unprocessed emotions cause you to live in a state of fear and hopelessness. In your attempt to numb, you wind up becoming a victim to your emotions. You keep saying you should feel grateful, yet you are unable to find any real gratitude. If you want to feel grateful, then you need to process the emotions you attempt to numb. Numbing doesn’t make you a better Christian. Numbing is not humility. In fact, you cannot choose the emotions you want to numb. If you numb disappointment, you will inadvertently numb love. Love is what you need in order to HEAL disappointment. What a trap the devil tries to lead us to.


Finally, we must understand our tendencies to turn our goals into our gods. Disappointment reminds us that this goal, no matter how good it is, is NOT God. Disappointment is our reminder that this object, or this body, or this person, or this NOT God; that absolutely nothing in this world can replace the love, joy, and peace from our Lord. It reminds us that everything outside of God is DUST, that all created things can and will bring disappointment. God is the only true, lasting source of everything you wish to hold. So, should we let disappointment stop us from pursuing our goals? NO!


Disappointment is simply what leads us back to God when our goals, our circumstances, or even other people BECOME our god. We come back to a God who will NEVER disappoint us or abandon us when life brings us its disappointments. This mindset shift allows us to persevere THROUGH disappointment, to ask BIG things of our Lord, and to act in BOLDLY faith. One way or another, your prayers will be answered, but you won’t know if you don’t ask in FAITH and PERSEVERANCE. If I pray for something to happen, God may say yes! If I pray for something to happen, God may say no. To this I can respond, “GOOD! My Lord has something even better planned.” Even if I can’t say this right away because my disappointment, sadness, or grief feels too strong, I can have faith that God will not abandon me in those moments. I am still ALLOWED TO FEEL! If I try to numb the grief, the pain, or the disappointment, I will also numb the love God so desperately wants to give me. I will put up walls and continue to rely on my own strength.

Maybe you don't feel God's love simply because you won't let yourself feel anything. God knows exactly how you feel. You can’t hide anything from him. He wants to pour out his love, but you must be vulnerable enough to let yourself FEEL. When you let yourself feel the pain, you will finally see how powerful God's love really is. Even Jesus has felt these painful emotions too. Even Jesus wept. I can feel both disappointment AND hope for better things to come. I can open up my brokenness to my Lord, and know that He will heal it, so that I can one day rejoice again in all the Lord’s plans for my life.


“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” -Jeremiah 29:11

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