Turn Life’s Disappointments Into Spiritual Opportunities

People will disappoint you in life, and they will disappoint you often. Yet each person who hurts you or causes you some sort of disillusionment is actually doing you a favor. They are providing you with opportunities to prove how unconditionally you can love and forgive your brothers and sisters under God. It is easy to love those who love you, but as Jesus reminds us in Luke 6:28, it is very difficult to ”bless those who curse you.” Jesus asks a lot of us with this statement, but you can benefit immensely if you can put it into practice.

All people are damaged. When they behave badly, it is often because of pain that has accumulated from their past. Sometimes, when someone we know well hurts us, we are able to see clearly what may have caused their behavior. But when dealing with strangers, business associates, or people we just don’t know that well, we have very little information about their personal history. We don’t know what has happened in those people’s lives to cause them pain. We don’t know about their childhood, and we don’t know what may have happened to them earlier in the day or just before you walked through their door! It is for this reason that I use the following affirmation:

People are doing the best they can with what they have.

This is almost always true. Whether it’s a snarky customer service rep on the telephone, your boss, or your spouse, people are trying to get by day to day with the coping skills that they possess. Show compassion, and repeat that affirmation when you begin to feel irritated. How many times have you hung up the phone or walked away from somebody’s office shaking your head and thinking, “Gosh, what got into him today?” Even the nicest people in the world have bad moments. Perhaps you just encountered someone at a bad time. It happens every day. I know that I would not want my character to be judged for a transgression I made when I was under pressure, exhausted, or upset about something.

I once had a complete meltdown in a bank, screaming so loud at the teller that security was called to escort me out of the building. Now, let me state for the record that I do not normally behave this way. However, this was the same day that the pediatric endocrinologist had told me that my little Shane would not live to see his second birthday. My nerves were shot. The bank teller, who probably still tells the story of the crazy screaming lady, had no idea what kind of emotional devastation I had lived through and had no way of knowing that I was reacting to other, potentially tragic circumstances in my life.

We all have these dark human moments, and we all have to cut each other some slack as a result, because people are doing the best they can with what they have. And you have no idea what that perfect stranger is going through in his or her own life today.

If you really want to make spiritual progress, you can and should pray for the healing and happiness of those who may have “trespassed against you.” When you pray for those who have hurt you the most, those who have really wronged you, your prayer benefits the world and aids in your own spiritual growth. Dramatically. It makes God happy, and it increases your ability to attract goodness and abundance into your life. Carrying a grudge multiplies the energy of darkness and constricts your own opportunities for happiness, as forgiving increases the light and expands your own possibilities for joy.


Sometimes when someone hurts us, we bemoan the circumstance and ask, “Why? Why did this happen when I can see no possible good coming from it and I did the right thing?” I bet you can think of any number of circumstances that left you scratching your head and asking, “What was that all about?”

Here is the answer, another universal law:

It isn’t all about you all the time.

Does that sound harsh? It really isn’t. It’s actually very liberating. Sometimes people come into our lives because it is our duty to give them opportunity: the opportunity to fulfill their own promise, the chance to do the right thing. But one of God’s gifts to us is free will, so each of us has the ability to choose to do the right thing — or not. So while we are fulfilling our part of the promise by working with people openly and with trust, if they betray that trust or behave in a negative or destructive way, it is their choice to do so. When that happens, we are challenged to pray for them, forgive them, and move on. We have fulfilled our spiritual obligation as long as we have acted with integrity through the process.

This approach can apply to both business and personal relationships, and sometimes both at the same time. Here is an example from my own life that really helped me to understand this concept and not get subsequently trapped in a morass of bitterness.

After finishing a draft of my novel about Mary Magdalene, The Expected One, I went in search of an agent to represent me and the book, which was the result of fifteen years of work. Looking for representation — and validation — while facing rejection is a tough process that most of us in the arts have to go through, and it can be very disheartening. So of course I was thrilled when contacted by a very successful and talented literary agent who expressed interest in my book. After reading my manuscript, she wanted to meet with me; we were both excited about the possibility of working together. I sat with her for hours in her office as she paged through my manuscript, asked questions, and gave me ideas to perhaps make the book more marketable. I worked with this woman for the better part of a year. She told me repeatedly that she would sign me as a client officially and get busy showing my book to publishers just as soon as she was sure that the manuscript was where it needed to be. I had no reason to believe otherwise, and I continued to wait. In the meantime, I also rejected other offers, because I was committed to working with her, and I believed that she felt the same.

And then, quite suddenly, she sent me a single-sentence email that said, “After much consideration, I have decided that I cannot represent you.”

That was it. No explanation, no apology, no acknowledgment that we had been working together for a year. She simply and unceremoniously dumped me.

Of course, I was devastated. And angry. Not just at her but at God. How could he have paired me up with someone who would waste a year of my time? Not only did I now have to start over in the very difficult search for an agent, but my book had been kept off the market for a full year. I believed in that book with all my heart and soul. I knew that the information in it would make a difference in a lot of people’s lives, just as it had in mine. I had to believe that God wanted me to publish a book with a message about love, faith, and forgiveness. So why did he waste a year of my time?

And the answer is: he didn’t. None of that time was wasted, because all of it figured into a divine plan of which I am only one single element and which I cannot even begin to understand completely. I learned a lot from that experience, and the first lesson was this: it wasn’t about me. It was partially about giving that agent the chance to be a part of the work I was creating, because perhaps God wanted her to have that opportunity. On some level, we were supposed to work together for her learning and benefit, as much as mine. She chose by her free will not to participate in my work, and whatever her reasons were, they are honestly none of my business in the long run.

But I did gain another enormous spiritual perk from this experience, as it came with the lesson:

No one can steal your destiny.

No matter what anyone “does to you” along your path to either personal or professional happiness, that person cannot interfere with your destiny. Only you are in control of that, within the master plan created with God. You will encounter setbacks in this crazy world of seven billion souls that will frustrate and challenge you. We all do. But your destiny cannot be changed or diminished by another human being’s actions when you are firmly on your path toward carrying out God’s plans.

The old adage “When one door closes, another one opens” is absolutely true. God will always provide new opportunities for you if the actions of another interfere with your divine mission. Such interference is only temporary. How can it be anything else? God is bigger than any human being’s free will, and he will always steer you in another, healthier, and more abundant direction. The divine architect will not have his master plan thwarted because one of the laborers doesn’t want to do his or her part on the building site that day. He will find new laborers for you to partner with so that you can continue to build your own monument. And when you know that all such setbacks are temporary, you will find it much easier to forgive humans for being human. People are doing the best they can with what they have.

You can probably guess that my story doesn’t end there. Rather than dwelling on my anger, I prayed for that agent, and I prayed most of all that she would never dismiss an aspiring writer with quite so much disdain ever again. I prayed that she would recognize her treatment of me so that she would not hurt anyone else in the same way. Perhaps that was the real point of the experience. And then I let it go and moved on, knowing that God would open other doors for me. Which he did. Lots of them. And they were bigger and better opportunities than any that I could have had within the old circumstances. I could write a separate inspirational book just about the new agent who came into my life and how he changed it miraculously through his unconditional support of me and my work. He was the angel who helped me find my destiny and fulfill my dreams. Which leads us to the final lesson of this concept:

The more forgiving you are, the faster the new opportunities will come your way.

Have you ever been in a car with a GPS system? If you have, then you know that you type in your destination and an electronic map appears, usually accompanied by a voice that tells you how to get to your desired location. But if you make a wrong turn and cannot follow the original directions laid out for you, the GPS system recalculates automatically. It takes into consideration the altered direction you are now heading in and then creates a new path to get to your desired destination. It is the perfect metaphor for what God does when you are forced to change course. He recalculates and sends you to your original destination, but by a different route.

The more you experience these setbacks, the better you get at learning not only to acknowledge them as part of God’s plan but to actually appreciate them. Peter and I now refer to this concept as ”God’s GPS system,” and when someone lets us down, we wait with anticipation to see how God is going to readjust our course. It can be a lot of fun to see what amazing journey he will send you on!

Kathleen McGowan is the New York Times bestselling author of The Source of Miracles: 7 Steps to Transforming Your Life through the Lord’s Prayer (Copyright © 2009 by McGowan Media, Inc.), The Expected One and The Book of Love. Her books have been translated into more than thirty languages. She lives in Los Angeles with her three sons.

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