Read an Excerpt
I Didn't Sign Up for This Life!
I have a recurring nightmare.
I'm in college, sitting down to take a final exam, when I suddenly realize, "Hey, I never signed up for this class!" The exam is on biochemistry or nuclear physics, when I thought I had signed up for basket weaving. What I assumed would be a no-brainer turns into the ultimate test. Everyone else seems to be zipping along, while I stare blankly at the first problem. They're making it look so easy, I think to myself. Waves of fear and insecurity sweep over me as the reality dawns that I am completely unprepared.
Sometimes life can feel like that. We suddenly find ourselves faced with a challenging examlike cancer, a prodigal child, or the loss of a loved one. We want to cry out: "Hey, God, this isn't the life I signed up for! I specifically remember signing up for great parents, a great marriage, and great kids who rise up and call me blessed. I signed up for lifelong friendships, thin thighs, and vibrant health. Instead, I find myself in the middle of a life I DIDN'T sign up for. My husband says he doesn't love me anymore. My daughter just pierced her tongue. The bills are stacked a mile high, and my company just announced another round of layoffs. To top it all off, I'm forty pounds overweight and my doctor says I'm a heart attack waiting to happen."
Can we be honest? Was there ever a time in your life when you said the following prayer: "Dear God, my life is going way too smoothly right now. Could you please arrange for me to get in a car accident so I can suffer from a severe back injury?" Or maybe you've prayed this one: "Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to get pregnant, but do me a favor: complicate the delivery or make sure my child is born with serious health problems."
What? You never prayed those prayers? Do you know anyone who has?
The obvious truth is: No one signs up for the challenges of life. But in the real world, tough times are inevitable. We all want to live "happily ever after." Since you've picked up this book, I'm guessing that, in one way or another, you've encountered a few bumps on the road to bliss. Believe me, I know exactly how you feel.
Is God Trying to Teach Me a Lesson?
I originally planned to title this book God, Please Don't Teach Me Anything Else ... I Really Don't Want to Know. When you're going through tough times, people love to "comfort" you with reassuring words about how it will build your character and how you're learning important life lessons. I want to say, "You know, I'm pretty content with my character right where it is. And I already know everything I want to know: like how to drive through McDonald's for a vanilla milk shake when someone hurts my feelings and how to avoid working on deadlines by calling my mom. With Oreos in one hand and a chocolate-covered doughnut in the other, I'm prepared to face whatever life can dish out." Are you with me?
I recently shared this life-concept with my spiritual mentor, who was unimpressed. "Now, Donna," she said in a voice usually reserved for the students in her first-grade class. "You know you don't really mean that. You know you want to learn all that God has for you so you can become the person he wants you to be." Then she explained that an easy life is not necessarily a good life and a good life is rarely easy. I know she's right, but wouldn't it be great if there were an easier way? Wouldn't you like to get a Ph.D. in the School of Life without ever taking a challenging class? Imagine if you never had to face adversity, never had to make any tough choices. Never had to live with the painful consequences of other people's choices.
In reality, choices are the stuff of life. First you make your choices; then your choices make you. This is how the Bible puts it:
This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. (Deuteronomy 30:1920)
So, basically, we human beings have to take a multiple-choice exam every day of our lives. It's the same question every time.
While living on earth you can either:
a. Choose life.
b. Choose death.
c. Refuse to make any choices (which is, in itself, a choice).
d. Go back and forth between a. and b.
Of course, while we're taking this particular exam, God is standing there saying, "The correct answer is 'a.' Choose 'a.' Your life will be so much better if you choose 'a.' "
It might seem that life would be easier if God would do the choosing for us. Eve could have passed the first exam with flying colors if God had reached down into the Garden of Eden, grabbed her greedy little fingers, and prevented her from grasping the forbidden fruit. In the same way, God could have prevented your husband from choosing to make his career a higher priority than your family. He could have prevented your teenager from getting into that car with a bunch of drunken friends.
God could have created a world filled with flawless humans who always choose right, but he already had an entire universe teeming with created things that had no choice but to honor him. The stars in the sky must obey him and the planets must remain in their appointed orbits. The flowers in the field must show forth his glory. The oceans must proclaim his power and majesty. The birds of the air and the animals that fill the earth must illustrate his beauty and creativity. They cannot do otherwise.
We are the only created beings who get to choose how we will respond to God and the world around us. We are the only creatures facing that multiple-choice exam with a pencil in our hand and the power to say, "God, I know what you want me to do, but I'm going to choose the opposite anyway. I'm going with 'b' and you can't stop me." It was a risky move on his part to create humans as free moral agents. God knew that from the beginning, but he willingly opened himself up to the pain of rejection. He is indeed grieved when people choose to disobey and dishonor him, but God doesn't force himself on anyone. I believe he finds more joy in one person who chooses to love himand to keep on loving him even in the face of adversitythan he finds in all the beauty of every other created thing combined.
Perhaps you have experienced a major tragedy. Or maybe you are simply overwhelmed by the accumulated weight of one disappointment after another. You can't always control what happens to you, but you can choose how you will respond. You can say, "This isn't the life I signed up for ... and I refuse to accept how things have turned out. I'm going to stay stuck in this place of pain forever and no one can stop me." Or you can declare: "This isn't the life I signed up for and I'm absolutely heartbroken about it. But I know I have to move forward to find hope and healing. God, please show me the way."
Are You Ready to Get Real?
This is a book for people who want to follow the path to hope and healing. There's only one requirement: You have to be willing to get real. With God. With yourself. With everybody else. I'm telling you right up front: If you like books that give THE definitive answerneatly packaged and distilled into ten simple stepsyou will not like this book. If you like books written by straight-A students who know all the answers, who never blow it, never doubt God, and never struggle, you will not like this book. Repeat: You will not like this book! But if you're willing to enroll in a class taught by a fellow student of life, I welcome you to read along. I think you should know that I've pulled no punches. The test for every sentence was "Is this true in my own life ... or is this a nice platitude that 'ought' to be true? Am I just writing this because it sounds like something Christians are 'supposed to' say?" If it wasn't true for me, I didn't write it. As a result, this book is guaranteed to contain 0 percent oughts and shoulds. Instead, it's 100 percent real life.
Since I'm asking you to be honest, here's an honest confession: I've wasted years of my life arguing with God. I've expended immeasurable time and energy telling him how unfair he was, how unfair the universe was, how life had done me wrong, how everybody else got a fair shake while I got a raw deal. Nothing in my life made sense to me. I resented almost everyone on the planet because I didn't think anyone's suffering could possibly compare with mine. When I met people who had clearly suffered more, I resented them too, because they got more sympathy than me. In case you haven't guessed it by now, I was an emotional wreck.
The hardest part was this: In many ways, I was absolutely right. Life had been unfair to me. I had faced some tough exams. My circumstances were incredibly painful. Significant people in my life had hurt me, and "they" were clearly wrong. I was clearly right. Guess how far "being right" got me? It wasn't until I let go of the need to be right and started pursuing the need to be healed that I found any hope for a better life.
I can say unequivocally that I am a completely different person today than I was when I set out to write this book a year ago. I don't have all the answers, and I've flunked my share of tests, but I do know one thing for sure: What God has done in my life is nothing short of miraculous. He has transformed me from "The Dead Woman Walking"1 into a glorious testimony to the power of Christ's resurrection. I now know, with every fiber of my being, that God can bring new life where there was once nothing but death. If he can breathe life back into my weary heart, mind, and soul ... there's hope for everyone.
My initial goal in writing This Isn't the Life I Signed Up For was simply to offer comfort to women like myself who felt like they'd been mysteriously plopped down into the middle of the wrong life. I had no idea that God was going to give me answers to questions that had baffled me for years. In fact, I had actually come to the place where I didn't believe there were any answers other than "Life is tough. Hold on till you get to heaven." I know differently now.
I know what it feels like to survey your life and conclude, "This isn't the life I signed up for!" At last I have experienced that incredible moment when I can honestly add the phrase, "But I'm finding hope and healing!" God is bringing good out of the painmuch to my astonishment and delight. I am certain he can do the same for you. It is my prayer that you will find hope and healing on the pages of this book. And if you read it with an open heart and mind, I'm confident you will.
I've written a separate Growth Guide2 to accompany This Isn't the Life I Signed Up For, because working through this material, as opposed to reading through it, can make the difference between being entertained and changing your life. I hope you find this book thought-provoking, stimulating, convicting, and yes, entertaining. But if that's all that happens, I will have failed in my purpose. My purpose is to give you what God has given me: a chance to discover the life you did sign up for.