We don’t seek out disillusionment, but sooner or later, it finds us.
This unwelcome visitor showed up at my door years ago when a slander storm wreaked havoc on our family and ministry. The slander destroyed godly reputations, severed Christian fellowship, and laid waste to years of fruitful ministry. It felt like a lifetime of serving God had all been for nought, and I sank into despair. Over the next several years, I would pray and hope for good. But as false accusations continued to swirl and devastate, I wondered if it was worth praying since God didn’t seem to answer.
“While God wasn’t changing my circumstances, he was using my circumstances to change me.”
But God was answering my prayers. Even though I didn’t perceive it initially, the good I had been hoping for was happening inside my heart. While God wasn’t changing my circumstances, he was using my circumstances to change me. Through a study of the book of Ecclesiastes, God graciously freed me from my despair and helped me find peace and joy in the middle of our storm.
Busy with an Unhappy Business
Our painful circumstances had blindsided me, yet I shouldn’t have been so surprised. We were not experiencing something unusual or unique. God already said that this is the way life truly is. As Ecclesiastes 1:13 tells us, “It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.” Perhaps this is not a verse you have underlined in your Bible. But if we carefully consider it, this divinely inspired text will transform our perspective of life’s hardships and heartaches.
Ecclesiastes 1:13 informs us that everyone in this life will “be busy with” “an unhappy business.” Now, we women know busy. Every day we are busy with something: school, friends, family obligations, household tasks, job responsibilities, church commitments, community outreach, and the list goes on. However, many of us don’t count on being busy with an unhappy business. Yet as Ecclesiastes makes clear, “unhappy business” is a regularly scheduled event on life’s calendar. That’s why we should be ready for it.
When we expect an unhappy business, we are not caught off guard or disillusioned when it turns up. However, if we ignore the fact that it is coming, we will resent its arrival every time. And resenting and resisting our unhappy business will only blind us from seeing who gives it to us in the first place.
God, the Giver
If Ecclesiastes 1:13 simply taught that we will be busy with an unhappy business, then we all would despair. But thankfully, this verse also contains these words: “God has given.” God is the giver of every painful and perplexing experience in this life. What sweet, comforting words. Whatever our difficulty — fill in the blank — God has given it to us.
“God is the giver of every painful and perplexing experience in this life.”
I needed to embrace this truth in my difficult circumstances. I was struggling with bitterness toward those who were sinning against my family. But when I began to own that, ultimately, God was the giver of my unhappy business, I was then able to get my eyes off others and repent of my bitterness. The Puritan preacher Thomas Watson wisely said, “Whoever brings an affliction to us, it is God that sends it.”
Knowing that God sends our affliction changes everything. Rather than bitterly begrudging our trouble, we can humbly accept it. That’s because we know the Sender. He is good and does good (Psalm 119:68). He promises never to leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to resist (1 Corinthians 10:13). He pledges to help us (Psalm 46:1) and to comfort us in all our troubles (2 Corinthians 1:3–4). And he causes all our unhappy business to work together for our good (Romans 8:28).
Trusting vs. Trying to Understand
While we can be sure that God is up to good in our unhappy business, we don’t always perceive it. Time and again, right when I thought I was finally seeing the good that God was creating in our baffling circumstances, it would all collapse. What is God doing? I asked, wracking my brain. The harder I tried to understand, the more frustrated I became. Once more, I found help in the book of Ecclesiastes. We read in Ecclesiastes 3:11, “[God] has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”
We discover from this verse that God gives us the desire to know what he is doing: “He has put eternity into man’s heart.” Yet he also limits our understanding: “[Man] cannot find out what God has done.” In other words, God has ordained our longing to understand and our inability to do so.
Now, we must not conclude from this that God is being unreasonable and unkind. On the contrary, God is graciously teaching us to trust him. While we may be unable to figure out what God is doing, we can learn to trust him anyway. As Charles Spurgeon once said, “The Christian . . . trusts [God] where he cannot trace him.” And of all the reasons we have for trusting our God, there is none more glorious and guaranteeing than this: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).
Hope in God Alone
At times, we think we are trusting God when we are not. Such was the case for me. As the slanderous onslaught continued, I realized I wasn’t hoping in God. Instead, I was hoping for a particular outcome. Whenever the desired outcome failed to materialize, I would despair. I needed to set my hope on God, regardless of the result. Much of our misery in trouble is due to misplaced hope — hoping in something or someone other than God himself. But quiet confidence in God alone generates stability and delight amid all the unhappy business of life.
We should trust God like Sarah and the other “holy women who hoped in God” — women whom the apostle Peter commends as examples for us to follow (1 Peter 3:5). We know from reading the Old Testament that disillusionment called upon these women. Yet they were not surprised by the visit. They knew God was the giver of their unhappy business. And they trusted in his sovereign goodness even when life didn’t make sense. They did not place their hope in changed circumstances but fixed their hope on God and him alone. By God’s grace, we can go and do likewise, no matter how busy we are with life’s unhappy business.
Carolyn Mahaney is a pastor’s wife and homemaker who has written several books with her daughter, including True Life: Practical Wisdom from the Book of Ecclesiastes. Carolyn and her husband, CJ, have four children and twelve grandchildren.