I do not remember the day that I got my rejection letter from the University of North Carolina. That moment did not crystallize, me standing at a cold Massachusetts mailbox with a much too thin envelope clutched in my teenage fist as I cursed the clouds above. That would have been dramatic, but I am not sure that’s how it happened.
My father went to UNC. My mother went to UNC. My uncle went to UNC. My younger brother went to UNC. My little sister went to UNC. I was supposed to go to UNC. I grew up loving the UNC basketball team, throwing frisbee on the Carolina campus and dreaming about wearing that shade of blue for four perfect years. But then I got rejected.
Situations like that force me to deal with a harsh reality—there are some things I want that I will simply never have. Experiences or possessions or friendships that will for a host of reasons never really be mine. And I have a hard time rectifying that limited reality with my limitless God.
Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever realized that a dream you have is sunsetting instead of sunrising? Ending instead of beginning? Maybe it’s a job promotion you killed yourself for that slipped through your fingers. It was yours. It was meant to be. You had sacrificed so much and then it just disappeared.
More than likely though, it was a moment of love unreturned. Have you ever loved someone that would not love you back? Maybe it was that guy you were supposed to be with. When you were around him you felt this strange mixture of being stirred up inside but at the same time feeling as if you were home.
He was the one in a world full of not the ones. But it didn’t happen.
He fell in love with someone else. Someone not named you. And despite your best hopes that particular dream ended.
What then? Where does that leave God? What if that desire wasn’t something you hid from him? What if it were something you prayed about fervently and patiently? What then?
I wrestle with this sometimes but what I am starting to think is that disappointment, sunset moments, only point to how bright my sunrise really is. Throughout the bible, we are told that God knows our true desires, those things we really need above all else. And in his midst alone, do we find our satisfaction. So when I experience something that hurts, an expectation that was unmet, maybe what I should think is, “If that felt good at first and that’s not the thing that God has planned for me, how amazing is that thing going to be?”
There’s a verse in Psalm 103 that kind of makes me think about that. It describes God as he “who satisfies your desires with good things.” So when I got rejected from UNC, a place I thought was a good thing, I can’t help but think, “If that wasn’t the good thing, just imagine what is?” And I ask that question confidently because we know, that God is in the business of good. In Romans 8:28 we’re told “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It’s not “in some things” or “in the things we understand” or “the things we dictate to God.” The verse says, “all things” according to “his purpose.” If it were my things and my purpose, I would have told God “We’re going to UNC,” and then missed Samford University. And my wife Jenny. And ultimately, my children L.E. and McRae.
The challenge in all that though is being honest about the things that burn. The good things that turned out to not be the good things after all. I think God wants to dialogue about the desires we have that didn’t get met. I don’t think he wants us to fake it and shine up our hurts as if they didn’t. I think he wants to hear you say, “God, I want to die when I see Bill and his fiancée. That should be me.” I think he wants us to be honest about those things so that in those moments he can hold us, he can comfort us and he can reveal our true good things.
There will be things you think are good, that you don’t get. God is not an ATM or a genie who grants wishes. He doesn’t take orders from us or fulfill our hopes in the shape and size and speed we demand.
Because He’s bigger than that. He’s better than that. And above all, he loves us much, much more than that.