Elizabeth Woodson is a Bible teacher and the author of Embrace Your Life: How to Find Joy When the Life You Have Is Not the Life You Hoped For. Elizabeth knows what it like to have unfulfilled longings and unmet dreams. In this conversation, she helps us walk through our own areas of loss or disappointment, reminding us that it’s okay to grieve the life we hoped for and shares how the spiritual practice of lament can help us find healing. Elizabeth shares six stages that can help us make peace with our stories and move forward even when the future is uncertain. Friend, whatever you story is — be encouraged that God has not forgotten you. Have faith that you can find purpose and joy as you embrace the beautiful and unique life God has given you to live. Get the show notes and noteworthy links at wonderfullymade.org.
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Embracing Your Actual Life — With Elizabeth Woodson
I’m wondering. Do you have an unfulfilled longing in your heart? Is there a gap between the life you want and the life you have now? We are having a conversation about how to find joy when your life looks different than the life you once dreamed of or envisioned. For most of us, life rarely goes as planned. While our guest can relate, she wholeheartedly believes that even in the midst of disappointment and unrealized dreams, you can still find purpose and joy. Our guest is a Bible teacher. She’s a theologian and an author. She is passionate about equipping believers to understand the rich theological truth of scripture. Elizabeth Woodson, welcome to our community. How are you?
I am doing well. I’m so excited to be here. Thank you for having me.
First, congratulations on the release of your new book, Embrace Your Life: How to Find Joy When the Life You Have is Not the Life You Hoped For. When I read that, I was like, “I’m having this girl on. We are going to have this conversation because this is a common experience, probably almost for all of us.”
We have all had situations where we are like, “This isn’t what I wanted it to be.” Sometimes it’s small, and sometimes it’s really big. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to share what I have learned in those kinds of seasons in my life with anyone who picks up the book.
Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and how you personally have found joy in the midst of longing and unfulfilled dreams?What the Bible says is true and life with Jesus is the best way. Click To Tweet
I am originally from the East Coast Midwest. I have a sweet story of Christian parents and their Christian legacy. I always like to tell people, “My faith journey was a dimmer switch.” I came to Christ as a kid. Over the years, I learned what it meant to find the gospel to be true in my life and who Jesus was for me, not just for my parents. I found that what the Bible says is true and that life with Jesus is the best way. That took me to college. I originally had a career in accounting.
I came out of the business world to do ministry many years ago to go to Dallas Theological Seminary to figure out, “How do I do ministry, love people, and study the Bible.” God has allowed me to work at two different churches in Dallas, teaching people the Bible, walking alongside them, and loving them in the hard seasons. It’s from the seasons I spend with them that allow the stuff in the book to come because I also want to provide truth to help other people. I have sat in many conversations with people with longings that don’t have easy answers attached to them.
Why is this message personal for you in your life and story?
I am single. I never married in my late 30s. Marriage has always been on my prayer list. I have been wanting a husband to partner in ministry with. That hasn’t been a prayer. The Lord has answered me an affirmative yet. There’s a season where singles in their 30s get to a point where you are like, “I have to learn how to live with the life that God has given me.” I don’t want to live and limp along. I want to thrive. I want to say, “God, you’ve given me goodness.”
How can I be happy? How can I be content without contentment being this resolve of like, “I will take what you’ve given me but what you’ve given me is beautiful, good, and vibrant?” Years ago, I set out on a journey to say, “Lord, what can I learn from your word, my mentors on my shelves in different books or people that I’m in a relationship with of how to see the goodness you’ve given me even though all the prayers I put before you haven’t answered the way I wanted you to?”
I can relate to life looking different than I once envisioned it myself. Many of us reading can relate. A step for me came from grieving what I felt were my losses. This is something you write about. You write about lament. What is lament? What does it look like to lament? What impact can it have on our lives, specifically in this area of unmet longings?
Lament is this spiritual practice that we see in scripture that gives us structure on how we can grieve our pain before the word. We can lament individually or in a group of people. We have seen Christians do this for generations to come together and say, “Lord, what happened and what we have walked through are not okay.” I love this because sometimes we can feel in the church that I have to keep it all together and pretend everything is okay when it’s not. We don’t see that in scripture.
There are so many Psalms of lament that show us that there is an opportunity for us to tell the world we are frustrated, angry, mad or sad and that he meets us there in that place. Psalm 13 is a Psalm I like to point people to. It’s a Psalm of David. When it comes to the lament and the structure of grieving, we tell God what’s going on. God is not afraid of our emotions. You are not going to offend him. He welcomes all of it. If your anger is directed towards him, tell him you are angry.
Be honest, either individually or in the community. We tell him but then we ask him to provide what we need. Lament is pregnant with hope because the only way that we are going to bring our pain to God is because we believe he can do something about it. He is the creator of the universe. If he can secure our salvation for eternity, then he can show up in the smaller areas of our life even when they don’t feel small. We tell him, ask him to help us, and confirm our trust in him.
God is sovereign. He’s in full control. He’s faithful. He is going to keep his promises. In the Psalms, we see the writers go from this place of big emotions to confirming their trust for God. I always like to say, “There’s a space between the beginning and the end of the Psalm. It’s a journey.” That’s what I tell people in the entire book, Embrace Your Life. It doesn’t happen immediately but we have an option or a step we can take, “I don’t need to stuff my pain down, buy all this stuff, eat all this food or do other things. What do I do with my pain?” I take it to the Lord and lament. He meets me there.God is not afraid of our emotions, you're not going to offend Him. He welcomes all of it. Click To Tweet
You talk about that so well. I was amazed to find that the Psalms of lament comprise the largest category of Psalms in the Bible and make up 1/3 of the entire Book of Psalms. We have permission to enter into this beautiful experience of lament, grieve and be honest. We don’t have to pretend and hold that perfect smile across our faces.
We can be authentic, grieve and do that alone with God or with people we trust in our church community. Thank you so much for talking about lament. What do you want to say to the girl or the woman who has unfulfilled dreams or longings and whose life looks very different than how she once hoped it would be?
We talked about it a little bit. It’s okay for you to be sad about what you lost. We don’t have to get over it and ignore it. We have real desires, and those desires sometimes go unmet for reasons that are outside of our control. She would feel the affirmation that it’s okay to acknowledge that you lost something and grieve it. Alongside that, God has not forgotten you, and he sees you. Within that, we can always hope that God may still bring it.
I tell people, “Hope with open hands. Continue to believe that God can bring what you desire until you receive confirmation from the Lord otherwise.” We hope with open hands because we want to be women who want what God wants for us more than what we want for ourselves, even when that is hard. We continue to hope but we also see the goodness. Sometimes when life isn’t going the way we want it to, it’s easy to focus on that one thing.
That one thing can be heavy and overwhelming but I want to believe and do believe that there’s always goodness in our life that God has given us. There’s goodness in our community, family, friendships, and the blessings of how he provides for us every day. We would ask God to give us the eyes to see the good and the blessing. To me, that invigorates us to say, “If God is doing this, he can do some other things, too.” That helps us get up, start walking, and believing because there’s a huge work that God has for us. He has a huge purpose for us.
It’s not limited by the things we have lost. One of my friends said, “Even though I have lost in my life, I do not have a losing life.” It doesn’t characterize the fullness of our life even though it does need to be acknowledged and processed. It’s the idea of it’s okay to believe that you have lost something. Continue to hope and believe that God has given you goodness that deserves to be celebrated because our God loves and sees us.
I love how you said, “Hope with open hands and want what God has for us more than what we want for ourselves.” That’s a courageous place to go. It’s a scary place to go but there’s so much freedom there. In my life, something also that I have found value in is being intentional with who I surround myself with. Am I going to let my social media feed or be inundated with all these things and images of strangers who have what I don’t have? Am I going to lean in to maybe inspiring women like two of our amazing friends here at the show, Katherine Wolf and Joni Eareckson Tada, whose lives look so different than the life they once envisioned for themselves?
Katherine never saw herself having a massive brain stroke that almost took her life and left her with a severe disability. Joni never imagined that at seventeen, she would become a quadriplegic. Yet, we know from women like these that joy is possible. They are two of the most joy-filled women I have ever been able to meet. It’s surrounding ourselves with women, friends, and people like this who show us the depth of a joy that surpasses circumstances.
We will choose to feed something. We will either feed our fear, insecurities, and discontent or we can feed gratitude, hope, and joy. A lot of that is based on what we are consuming. Who are we surrounding ourselves with? What are we watching and listening to? Let us listen to things that remind us that hope and joy are possible and not things that take us in another direction.
A big theme here on our show and in the conversations we have is this agency that God gives us in our lives to choose what we look at, what we pursue, and who is in our inner circle. We have freedom. Only we can do that. It changes everything. What does it look like to move forward in your life when you don’t have the answers? I have a sweatshirt that I wear that says, “Choose joy.” What does it look like to choose joy in the midst of uncertainty or a life that looks different than the one we once hoped for?Embrace your life. It's a journey. Click To Tweet
I love the word that you used, agency. It’s the freedom of the choices that we are making in our life. I believe there comes a moment where after we are able to acknowledge our pain and remember all of what’s true about the word, we have an opportunity and invitation from God to step out and live as if what we read and remembered is true. Perspective is huge in this situation. We know that God has a mission for us to step out into as his children. There’s a world that needs us to show up and bring the truth of who God is with our hands and feet. That’s the work that we can walk into every day.
There is a moment in our journey, I like to say journey because I want to be sensitive to the different timetables everybody is on, in which you are like, “How do I step forward? What do I step forward into?” That’s remembering the truth about God, “What has God given me? What’s the goodness that God has placed in front of me? Where is the opportunity for me to lean into the life of another person even as I’m walking through my situation?” This isn’t in some huge way, “How could I show up for someone else and minister to someone else?” It’s in that place of serving that I have found God to minister to me and show me his goodness and provision.
To me, it’s like, “Lord, give me the eyes to see because sometimes our longing can make our vision cloudy and feel like nothing is possible. There’s nothing for me to do. I have no place where I can show up.” You do have a place to show up. God still has a purpose and blessings for you, “Lord, give me a new perspective and one step.” That’s all I need. What’s the next step in terms of who can I pour into and serve even in the smallest way. To me, that is a beautiful place for us to live out what is still true about God in our lives.
Has that been helpful for you in your life? That’s what I call living an outward-focused life. Have you seen that to be instrumental in your life to find greater joy?
Yeah. You step into somebody else’s story, and you are present, whether you are bringing a mail to somebody, showing up to a special event, you call somebody or showing up at their house to be present with them. As you do life with someone else, to me, that is one of the best ways that our souls get refreshed because we were designed to live in a community with other people. Our pain can isolate us. When we get out and when we are with people, you choose the people who you are in a community with. It’s people who are going to be a good space for pointing us to the things of God. You remember what matters and what’s lasting.
Sometimes we can put our hope in fleeting things. What matters is my relationship with this person. What matters is what it means for me to be an image-bearer and show them who God is. What matters is the hope we have for eternity. What matters is showing up in the hard and broken spaces and bringing love, joy, and light to people. That’s what matters. Those opportunities I have had to be in a relationship with other people have filled me up in terms of community and have reminded me of what matters and what’s unwavering. That has been transformative for me in some of my lowest seasons.
Can you think of any other practices or whatever it may be in addition to what you have shared that have also refreshed your soul? Are there any other practices or things that you want to share with our readers that have been an encouragement to you?
The practice of celebration or gratitude has been helpful for me. They go hand in hand. Celebration is, “What can I do to celebrate the life that’s in front of me?” That is unique for everyone. For me, it’s good food with good friends, a conversation and a meal. Sometimes it’s music, art, and culture. It’s the beauty of God’s creation that restores my soul. When I think about gratitude, it is, “How can I every day verbally express three things that I’m grateful for?”
I love the sunshine and flowers as much as the next person but let me give specific things that I’m grateful for, “Lord, thank you for the friend that called me when I was going through a hard time. Through her, you showed me that you love me and you care.” As I’m verbalizing the things that God has done for me, that does something to me.
It brings my eyes up, reminds me of all the true things, and gives me the energy I need to take that one additional step that day. My perspective is so much different when I found myself doing both those things. It’s celebrating the beauty of God’s creation and verbally expressing gratitude for the things that he has done in my life.God has huge work for us. He has a huge purpose for us. Click To Tweet
In your book, you used Joshua from the Old Testament as a guide to help your readers unearth greater joy. Can you please walk us through briefly the six stages that you layout of self-examination, lament, hope, remembrance, faith, and joy that can help us make peace with our stories and experience greater contentment?
The six stages, to me, are wonderful opportunities to have some structure around how do I take this journey. Self-examination is keeping it real with yourself by the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we need to be honest, “Maybe something is wrong, and I need to address it. What happened? What is the thing that I desire? What’s the thing below the thing of what I’m dealing with?” I believe the Holy Spirit is present with us in that process.
Self-examination is, “How can I be honest about my longing?” Lament is a structured process for us to grieve the longing, “How can I bring my pain and sadness before the Lord and have him meet me there?” When I say meet, I earnestly believe the Lord does something. The process of lament is that we don’t go through that process and stay the same, even if it’s just a reaffirmation of what we see him reveal about himself in scripture. It’s hope.
We can only lament because we believe that God will do something, and there’s a little bit of hope in us. As we read through scripture and the book, what I want to do, and I have repeated it a lot in our time, is I want to point people back to the story of scripture. The patterns we see of how God works in people’s lives through those pages are what he will do for us. A pattern that we see is that God is always doing something. He’s doing a work of transformation.
We don’t know the full details of that. In scripture, we see that it is the work of transformation to restore our relationship with him through Jesus. God is always doing something. We would have a hope that God is still working in my life. I can’t see it, God. I may not be able to feel it but I have hope. As we are going through this process of lament, that hope is there within us. We remember, “Who is God? Who am I? What can I believe about God?”
He is sovereign and faithful. He’s going to keep his promises. Who am I? I’m an image-bearer whose sole purpose in this world is to point people to the Lord and help this work of restoration that God is doing. It’s not the work of salvation but the work of restoration. Faith is, “What’s one thing has God given me to do? What’s this next step I can take?” I need a little courage to take the step. I’ve taken in faith, believing that God will give me what I need to do that.
Ultimately, as I’m taking the step of faith, I am participating in the story of redemption that God is doing throughout scripture. It ultimately connects me with Jesus. Our joy is in Jesus. He’s never wavering and never changes. It’s a joy that’s not just for the present but it’s for eternity. I find myself coming back to each of these stages or spiritual practices in my life because sometimes I need to cultivate joy, remember who God is or remember hope. All of them get me to the place of, “How do I find joy when the life I have isn’t what I hoped for?”
If you could go back and give your younger self some words of wisdom, how old would she be, and what would you tell her?
She would be in middle school, so 11 or 12. I would tell myself, “You are okay the way you are. You don’t have to change the way you look or talk. You don’t have to pretend to be interested in things that you are not interested in. It’s okay to be a girl who loves math and loves to read books. You are beautiful. It’s okay to be the way you are. God loves you, and that’s enough. He will provide the friends you need.” That was the season when I moved to a new school. I needed some friends, and I was feeling on the outside of the community. Knowing what I know now, I would tell her, “It will be okay. You will be fine.”
Thank you for having this conversation with us. Your story and words of wisdom are an encouragement to all of us who, in one way or another, feel like life looks a little different or entirely different than the life we dreamt of as little girls, teen girls, young women or whatever it may be. Thank you for reminding us that God has not forgotten us and that we can hope with open hands and have faith that God has invited us into a great adventure or a life of great purpose, meaning, and joy. We celebrate with you the release of your book. If you want to learn more about Elizabeth, get connected with her on social media, check out her website or get a link to buy her book, you can visit our page at WonderfullyMade.org. Elizabeth, thank you so much again for being our guest.
Thank you. It was great to be here.
- Elizabeth Woodson
- Embrace Your Life: How to Find Joy When the Life You Have is Not the Life You Hoped For
- Katherine Wolf – Previous episode
About Elizabeth Woodson
Elizabeth Woodson is a Bible teacher and author who is passionate about equipping believers to understand the rich theological truths of Scripture. She loves helping people internalize their faith and connect it practically to everyday life. She is a contributing author for World on Fire: Walking in the Wisdom of Christ When Everyone’s Fighting About Everything and a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary with a Masters in Christian Education.