15 strategies for when life doesn’t go like you planned

Life happens. No matter the amount of planning, education, intelligence or hard work, life is NOT going to go as you planned. Not all the time, anyway. Stuff will happen that you don’t expect.

I once came home with my five-year-old son and his friend to find yellow jackets swarming in my den.

One Christmas Day, my family had to evacuate our home because we had a natural gas leak.

We’ve all had the stomach flu at Christmas. Not just one Christmas–two. Seriously.

I have been through a long list of events I never planned.

So, what’s my advice to you? Just sit on your sofa, wearing flannel pajamas, and binge watching decorating shows?


Seek God’s will in planning, working toward goals, and dreaming dreams. Then, when the unexpected happens, try not to panic. Remember that God is still God. He is working in your life. He, alone, can empower you to do anything He calls you to do.

Say Philippians 4:13 aloud if you need to: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Then what do you do? Try these 15 strategies:

1. Ask God to help you. No matter where you are or what you are doing, you can (and should) talk with God, especially when something unexpected happens. If you are with other people and need to pray silently, do so. If you can pray out loud, go for it. God wants to give you what you need. He is waiting on you to ask Him for His help.

I have prayed in church, in my car, in the shower, in every room of my house, in my yard, while working out, in hospital emergency rooms, in hospital chapels, in hotel rooms, and more. You can, too.

Psalm 17:6 offers encouragement to pray in the midst of life: “I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.”

2. Deal with what is happening. Do you need to call an exterminator? A family member? A doctor? A vet? A dentist? A plumber? A babysitter? An ambulance? Focus on handling the immediate situation. Ask God to help you do what needs to be done. You can fall apart later.

3. Be flexible. When something happens that you didn’t expect, you may need to change your plans. Maybe you won’t get to go out to see that new movie you’ve been wanting to see this Saturday night because your baby is sick. Not the end of the world, right? Just reschedule.

But what if something happens that causes you to change your plans for something bigger than date night? For something you really want to do? Like celebrating your birthday or wedding anniversary? Or going on vacation? Well, that is probably going to happen to you. Happens to everyone sooner or later.

So what do you do? How do you be flexible when you have to cancel big plans but don’t know when you’ll be able to reschedule? Tell God how you are feeling and put the situation in His hands. Ask Him to help you do what you need to do.

Let me give you an example from my life.

Several years ago, my husband, Oliver, and I were planning to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. That’s a big one, right? But, we were looking after my 89-year-old father-in-law, Papa George. He had some health issues. His wife had just passed away. After praying over the situation, Oliver and I decided to postpone our 25th anniversary trip for a while so we could take care of Papa.

A few months later, Papa George died. We did the funeral. We cleaned out Papa’s house.

Then, Oliver and I finally got to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary–on our 26th–by going back to where we’d honeymooned. And you know what? It was wonderful! Better than I could have imagined. Oliver and I felt free to enjoy our time together.

4. Read God’s Word–the Bible–daily. If you are in the midst of a crisis, time in the Bible is vital for you to hear from God so you can do what He’s calling you to do. If you are enjoying a peaceful time in your life, you need to prepare for the next crisis by learning more of God’s Word.

If you have never gotten serious about spending time reading the Bible and praying every day, start now. Today.

You might want to use an actual, physical copy of the Bible.

Motivational speaker, author, and comedian Kenn Kington (kennkington.com) says he prefers to use a physical Bible because he’s yet to have a text message pop up on one of his Bible’s paper pages.

I use the Life Application Bible (the NIV translation) for daily study. If you want to buy one, here’s an Amazon link: https://amzn.to/34nz8Af (paid link).

But, if you prefer the convenience of a Bible app on your smart phone, consider downloading the (free) YouVersion Bible app, which gives you the opportunity to access many different Bible translations, as well as numerous online devotions.

I like participating in a weekly women’s Bible study that includes a workbook with homework and meetings every week to discuss our homework. I need the accountability.

Check your church or a church in your area for women’s Bible study groups. Usually, the only cost involved is buying a workbook, typically in the $10-13 price range.

If you’d rather do an online Bible study, check out Proverbs 31 Ministries: http://www.proverbs31.org.

For more information about doing Bible studies, check out my posts: strongforhertasks.com/2020/08/11/a-daily-quiet-time-with-god/; strongforhertasks.com/2020/12/31/online-vs-in-person-bible-studies-pros-cons/.

5. Trust God. He’s the One who put the stars in the sky and knows them by name. God makes the sun rise every morning and set every evening. Not us.

“Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place…” Job 38:12.

He does know what He is doing, even when life doesn’t make sense to you. If you are struggling with this, tell God you are struggling with trusting Him fully. Ask Him to grow your trust in Him. He is trustworthy.

6. Don’t live your life based on your feelings. Fear, uncertainty, anger, frustration, hurt, regret, shame, sadness, embarassment, anxiety. These are just feelings. They come and go. Particularly at certain times of the month. Feelings should not rule your life. God and His Word should.

One of my favorite Bible study authors, Beth Moore, advises you to ask God to help you bring your feelings in line with your calling–whatever God is calling you to deal with or to do.

Asking God to help you bring your feelings in line with your calling works. I’ve tried it. Many times.

7. Don’t compare yourself to others. Why? Because God personally made you who you are. He gave you gifts and abilities to use for His kingdom. Comparing yourself to others causes you to either feel bad about yourself or to puff yourself up with pride, thinking yourself better than others. Neither will serve you well.

Pay particular attention to how you feel when looking at social media. Remind yourself that most people post pics only of the good parts of their lives. Seeing a family you know vacationing in Hawaii or moving into a bigger house can cause you to feel sad–especially if you are in the midst of a trial.

The truth is that we all will have to deal with stuff we didn’t plan. That includes the people you follow on social media. So, be glad when something good happens to someone you know. Show sympathy when something bad happens to someone you know. And avoid falling into the comparison trap.

8. Talk with someone you trust. Is your husband a good listener? Can you talk with your mom? Do you have godly friends who will listen to you? Need to talk with your pastor?

We all must have people in our lives who will allow us to vent. Not try to solve the problem for us. Not tell us what to do. Just listen and care. Sometimes, just saying out loud what you are feeling in the middle of a trial can help you feel calmer and see the situation more clearly.

Word of caution: make sure you choose to vent with someone who doesn’t gossip. Picture the person you know who constantly talks about everyone else. Yeah, her. She’s not the one to talk with when you are dealing with stuff because she will talk about you to everyone else, too.

Remember Proverbs 11:13: “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.”

9. Do something kind for someone else. Look around you. Think you are the only one going through a tough time right now? Not hardly.

In the midst of dealing with something you didn’t plan, you can easily feel sorry for yourself. And isolate yourself. So, ask God to give you opportunities to help others in unselfish ways.

Be sensitive to how God may lead you to show His love to others. Do you pass a homeless person on your way to work? Buy him a meal.

Do what God shows you to do.

A neighbor have a death in the family? Send a sympathy card.

A widow across the street need a ride to a doctor’s office? Give her your time.

Do what God shows you to do. You will be amazed at how much better you will feel helping others.

10. Get wise advice from another woman who’s been through it. Do you know someone who has been where you are? Invite her to lunch or to get coffee. Get her to tell you her story. Listen. Really listen.

What did she learn?

What are her recommendations for your situation?

When I was physically and emotionally exhausted from helping take care of my mother-in-law near the end of a long battle with Alzheimer’s, I asked advice from my godly next door neighbor who is 20 years older than I am. I recalled that she, too, had helped care for her mother-in-law through an extended illness.

Know what my neighbor, Linda, told me?

“There will be an end. Your mother-in-law won’t live forever. You want to be able to stand at her funeral and feel good that you did everything God called you to do,” Linda said. “You just need to finish well.”

That’s what I did.

Three months after receiving Linda’s advice, my mother-in-law mercifully went home to Heaven. Not only did I feel good at the funeral (which sounds weird to say), but several years later, I still feel good that I finished well with my mother-in-law.

11. Get professional, Christian counseling when needed. A professional Christian counselor can compassionately point you to solutions and strategies based on God’s eternal, unchanging principles. A trained, credentialed Christian counselor can help you with anger, anxiety, depression, loss of a loved one, divorce, abuse, addiction, and many other family and mental health issues.

How do you find a Christian counselor?

Start with a phone call to your church office. Does your church offer a counseling center? Or, does your church staff refer people to a local Christian counselor?

Also, you can visit the Focus on the Family website to sign up for a free, one-time counseling consultation and you can see a list of Christian counselors across the United States of America:


12. Celebrate, anyway. We don’t get to plan when the next crisis will come our way. Or how long the crisis will last. So, if possible, when something unexpected has happened, go ahead and do the celebration you had planned.

Have I had to do this? Yes.

Several years ago, I had to choose to celebrate my son’s birthday anyway.

You see, after being in the hospital, then a rehab facility for several weeks, my 84-year-old dad died in the middle of the night in the emergency room at a local hospital. I listened as the ER doctor stated out loud to all of us in the room the time and date of Dad’s death. I realized this was my son’s 15th birthday.

Would we cancel our son’s birthday party that was already scheduled for the weekend?

In the flurry of phone calls, preparations, and my mom’s grief that followed, my husband and I had a choice to make. Would we cancel our son’s birthday party that was already scheduled for the weekend? Or, would we go ahead with the party?

After praying, my husband and I believed God was calling us to celebrate our son’s birthday as we had planned. We assured our son and his friends that the party would take place on Saturday. So, after we all left the funeral home on Friday, I allowed myself some downtime at home. Then, on Saturday morning, we began celebrating our boy turning 15.

Wasn’t easy. But it was the right thing to do.

13. Do something physical. Is there a park near you with walking trails? Lace up some athletic shoes and go for a walk. Do you have a bicycle? Go for a ride. Go for a swim. Try out that Zumba class you’ve considered. Pump some iron.


Because God made our bodies to release mood-boosting endorphins when we exercise. Plus, doing something positive for your body will make you feel like you’ve accomplished something in the midst of your difficulty.

When I was helping take care of Papa George that last year of his life, I made myself start working out with weights at a local fitness center where my family has a membership. I’d seen other women using the weight machines and the free weights at our gym. I’d been thinking I should do that.

So, in the midst of doctor’s visits and discussions of medications and fixing yet another meal I hoped Papa would eat, I gave myself permission to do something just for me. I humbled myself and asked one of the gym employees (another woman) to show me the right way to lift weights. I began faithfully going to the gym twice a week to use the weights.

While I did not turn into a supermodel (never the goal), I did finish every workout in a better mood than when I started.

14. Let go of something. Seriously. This is okay for a Christian woman to do.

If you are in the midst of a crisis, take a look at your schedule. Is there anything you can quit doing for a while until the crisis passes?

For example, if you lead your daughter’s Brownie troop, can you get another mom to take over for a while?

Do you teach a children’s Sunday School class? Let your church’s children’s minister or pastor know about your situation so you can step away from serving temporarily.

It is okay to push the pause button on something.

Do you need to pay someone to clean your house for a while?

You can’t do everything. Certainly not all at the same time. It is okay to push the pause button on something. You can hit play again when the crisis has passed.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

For more information about seasons, check out my post: strongforhertasks.com/2019/05/22/9-ways-knowing-life-comes-in-seasons-can-help-you/

15. Look in the rear view mirror. When you look back on a crisis in your life, take time to realize that God brought you through it, then look at what God taught you because of it.

For me, the next Christmas after we all had the stomach flu was really wonderful because I realized God had taught me gratitude for what I would call a normal Christmas. Just being together as a family. Just being well.

What about you? What has God done in you during the tough times?

Deuteronomy 31:8 tells us that: “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Even if you happen to see yellow jackets swarming in your den.

God is with you.

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