“It Was Not Supposed to Be Like This.” A Potentially Toxic Phrase

Have you ever stepped back and looked at your life, or your current situation and said these words?

“It was not supposed to be like this.”

It is usually a phrase born out of sorrow or desperation. A place of pain. At least that has been my experience.

“It was not supposed to be like this.”

We say it when things are out of whack. When we are frustrated by where life has taken us – or where we have taken life.

“It was not supposed to be like this.”

We say it when things are not going according to plan. At least, according to our plan – our “Plan A.”

This simply complex phrase can be an epiphany that spurs us on to improve our situation, or it can become something much more toxic – and that toxin can sicken us, and those around us spiritually, and emotionally. Yes, it is contagious.

I am not about to pass judgment on anyone and everyone who is currently thinking those very words. The last thing someone in that situation needs is someone telling them that “it ain’t so bad.” Everyone has their own challenges, and everyone reacts to them differently.

But I would like to dig in to that phrase a little, to see if there is something to learn. Enlightenment can help, whereas, in the words of Elder Holland“no misfortune is so bad that whining about it won’t make it worse.”

So, for the next few minutes, no whining, no pity party. No thinking that you are the only person who has ever felt this way. Because you are not. We all have. I have. But, even if it loves company, shared misery is still miserable.

“It was not supposed to be like this.”

Are you sure? How exactly do you know?

We tend to look at life in such a linear fashion: We want to get from Point A to Point B as smoothly as possible. That is our “Plan A.
Plan A single

Yet strangely, life rarely pays attention to our Plan A, and presents us with a Plan B that is often not to our liking. It is rarely smooth, and easily accomplished. It winds up feeling more like this:

Plan B

I am quick to point out that we might find ourselves on a very rough path through no fault of out own. Many of the trials and challenges on our lives come at us anyway. (Think Job.) Apparently Lehi loved these kind of challenges: “For it must needs be that there is an opposition in all things… (2 Nephi 2:11)

But often, we find ourselves on a crooked path because of something we chose to do – or did not do. Self-inflicted off-roading. (Think Jonah.) Sometimes these self-inflicted paths are tricky to discern, because we are so busy looking for someone else to blame for sending us that direction.

What about the “right path?” What do we know about God’s Plan A for us? We know this is His Mission Statement: “For behold – this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. (Moses 1:39)

You might notice that there is not a lot of detail in that Mission Statement.  Why? I think it is because everyone has a different plan. Wildly different – but the end goal is the same. Which begs the question, why would we ever compare ourselves with someone else to get a fix on where we are on our personalized journey?

 

We are most likely to utter the phrase, “It was not supposed to be like this,” when we are mired in the twists and turns of Plan B. The tricky part is figuring out why we would resort to a potentially toxic phrase. I see three options:

1) It is an epiphany. It would be the “Oh my goodness, I took the wrong exit and need to get back on the freeway,” type of moment. It calls for course corrections, and motivates us – and usually involves repentance in some fashion. This is the best use of the phrase – as repentance is awesome.

2) It is merely an observation. “Hmm. Looks like I took a wrong turn somewhere – I wonder where this road will take me? Do-di-do, I guess I’ll just keep driving.” It is a wimpy approach to life, and won’t return us to the path. (If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else,” Yogi Berra)

3) It is toxic. That phrase can play on an endless loop in our minds, slowly poisoning ourselves until things start to die. What can it kill?

• Hope – I am not where I want to be, and I am never going to find my way back. I give up. I can’t do this anymore.

• Patience – This shouldn’t be taking so long. God does not hear me.

• Gratitude – This is so unfair! As gratitude is absent or disappears, rebellion often enters and fills the vacuum.” (James E. Faust)

• Focus – I don’t have time to worry about you – I’m consumed by worrying about me, me, me!

• Contentment – It is impossible for me to be happy, because I can’t be happy until… The opposite of Paul’s approach, “… I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” (Philippians 4:11)

• Our future – that phrase is mired in the present and in the past. “The past is to be learned from but not lived in. We look back to claim the embers from glowing experiences but not the ashes. And when we have learned what we need to learn and have brought with us the best that we have experienced, then we look ahead and remember that faith is always pointed toward the future.” (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland)

 

I wonder if Jonah ever had that phrase run through his head in his “time-out” in the belly of the fish. I imagine he must have said to himself, “I really didn’t see it working out this way in my head.”

Jonah Fish

But while Jonah was probably complaining about his fate in the fish, he probably didn’t realize what was actually going on: He was being saved. He was being saved from death, both physical and spiritual. This smelly, slimy Plan B was exactly what the Lord had chosen for Jonah to get him back on His Plan A, which Jonah had abandoned.

Do we ever do that? Do we regard our difficulties and sufferings as wrong, or unfair, and fail to see them as God’s way of helping us to fulfill His only real goal – His Plan A – to help us return to Him?

“It was not supposed to be like this.”

Perhaps it was supposed to be exactly like this. Now what?

We move forward. If we realize we aren’t where we are supposed to be, we move. We take the epiphany, the nudge, the belief, the prompting, or the divine intervention, and we respond with action. That is what we call faith.

“Faith is for the future. Faith builds on the past but never longs to stay there. Faith trusts that God has great things in store for each of us… Keep your eyes on your dreams, however distant and far away. Live to see the miracles of repentance and forgiveness, of trust and divine love that will transform your life today, tomorrow, and forever.” (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland)

“Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.” (2 Nephi 31:20)

Because THAT is God’s Plan A – and we won’t get there by entertaining toxic thoughts.

MMM logo small

 

Great talks:

The Best is Yet to Be,” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland.

Content With the Things Allotted to Us.” Elder Neal A. Maxwell

Gratitude As a Saving Principle.” President James E Faust.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Great post. I find it very hard to not to think that God has forgotten me and my children as so many plans don’t work out as I hoped they would.

  2. So true – even when you feel like you are doing everything you can… I had a conversation about “my plan A” once with my dear sweet dad and he said maybe I needed a plan B – my response was that at that point in my life I really felt like I was on Plan Z… sometimes the twists that we are given are just really twisty… is that a word…

    Anyway – thanks for validating my current plan Z… though lets be honest – it’s probably up to a double letter by now – 🙂

    1. I think one of the struggles I have is highlighted by your comment “MY plan A,” or “MY current plan Z.” The trick is discerning what God’s plan is for me, then following it – instead of trying to create my own.

  3. Finally at the main computer and not on my tablet.

    My 2 cents: Like most people, I have uttered this phrase more than I would like to count…at least in the way you are talking about. My plan was to have a few kids by the time I was reaching my mid-thirties, not facing the fact that this righteous desire may never be fulfilled during this life. I also thought we would be done with our education and have careers by now, but alas, that wasn’t in our plans either. It was not until after I was married, that I enthusiastically said the phrase, ‘it wasn’t supposed to be like this”…I’m married…and happily married to boot! I’ve moved a few times, lived where there was snow, etc. My perspective changed because when I was younger, I didn’t know I could have such an awesome spouse and marriage. I didn’t think I would ever move out of south Texas and live where there are 4 seasons, etc.

    I’m sure I’ll still have the woe-is-me, this is not MY plan, but I work and will work hard to listen to what God’s plan is.

    If I have learned anything from my life experiences, is to make plans and goals, but be flexible!

  4. There are so many wonderful things in this post worth sharing and I know just the person to share them with. Well done!

  5. Jessica. boy can we relate.

    My whole life seems to be “so what is your plan A, so you can know what you don’t get?”

    As a still having trouble speaking English RM, I made a friendly wager with a friend that I would not get married until he returned from his mission….with my future EC sitting at the table with us. I paid that wager while he was still in the MTC.
    I have purchased 3 houses and moved 22 times in the last 26 years. Only once have we lived in a purchased home more than 18 months….and each time my EC followed after SHE sold the house. Our current home, we have moved into and out of 3 times over the last 10 years.
    Each time we have moved, it was right as we started getting comfortable and settled…only asking “why? do we have to do this again?”

    And after we moved again, we have been able to look back and see “why” Father wanted us where He sent us. “Why” something that should have been a “sure thing” was swept out from under us. and “why” something painful turned out to be good for us. We haven’t always enjoyed the journey of Plan B, but looking back I wouldn’t change most of it.

  6. One of the hardest things about this topic is knowing whether or not we are actually off the wrong exit…whether to work at making changes or just suck it up in the state, condition, job or whatever that we’re in. Some situations are unchangeable, but others actually could change/be made better if we would put forth some effort. Some situations actually could take a turn for the worse if we try to change them- EVEN if we got the answer to prayer that change was necessary. So the question might be do I change my condition or do I just change me? That discernment is crucial and could even be vital and life saving at times. And yet it’s so frustratingly hard to get answers sometimes.

  7. When I find myself on Plan B (which is often), I recall a scripture that has become a favorite: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial WHICH IS TO TRY YOU (emphasis added 🙂 as though some strange thing happened to you:” 1Peter 4:12. I think there are three reactions to any given circumstance: faith, fear, or pride.

  8. Thanks for the links and great quotes. I think a lot about this topic and have been trying to study conference talks to help me understand more day to day stuff. Good article.

  9. Alma’s people were like Mosiah 24:15 “they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord”. I’ve been pondering these words over and over lately. Then I come across your article about being positive in hard circumstances, great thoughts btw. I’ve been thinking about this -submit cheerfully- part mostly. If we imagine them submitting cheerfully by physically laughing, joking, smiling all the time through their trials (I would think they had completely lost it) then the phrase becomes foolish. But as you pointed out it is about not letting toxic thoughts enter but really looking to who can make things perfect. I think submitting cheerfully has to be a deeper understanding of the atonement and really having hope in Christ which does ultimately bring you cheer in the long run. I think I have felt -submitting cheerfully- through trials in such ways as; Peace even in chaos, an acknowledging thought like “I believe we/I can get through this as the Lord continues to assure”, or the feeling of heavenly hugs even though it all feels lost.

  10. Well, this is so good. And so true. And I would SO love to forward it to a few who need to read it but wouldn’t . It really has combined with Testimony meeting today, to give me a perfect Sabbath Day. There are no words for what is in my heart. Thanks you seems so pitifully small. Nevertheless, thank you MMM. For all you do, this THANKS is for you!

  11. The title of your post caught my eye because this past month I have repeated this phrase at least 100 times, although for the complete opposite reasons you describe. My plan A for my life involved a career. I didn’t want to get married or have children. A worthy priesthood holder talked me into marrying him and when I got pregnant I chose to give up my career. It was the hardest decision I have ever made, and mourned for a few years over it.

    I eventually embraced plan B, the one God had in mind for me, and put all of my energy into raising five wonderful children. Now twenty years later as they are starting to leave home on missions and to college, a career opportunity landed in my lap that far exceeds anything I had decades ago. I am overcome with gratitude that I chose to put my life in His hands and it turned out WAY better than I could have predicted. It hasn’t all been sunshine and roses, but the life I have now is infinitely better than the one I thought I wanted as a young adult. It wasn’t supposed to be this way but I am so grateful it is!

  12. I really can’t count how many times I have uttered this phrase. I have learned though that just because we didn’t think that we wanted the result, it really is what is best for us. My mom passed away suddenly 19 yrs ago this coming week. For years, I would have given ANYTHING to have her back, loving and guiding me. I don’t recall exactly when I realized that the life and family I love and have lived would have been SO different if my mom were still here. I know it took me a while to accept, but I no longer long for what could have been and have embraced what is. Plan B rocks!

  13. My almost four-year-old son was diagnosed with high-functioning autism just a few weeks ago. We live in a developing country and have for about two years, and I’m scared we won’t be able to get the right help for him here. This sentiment (expressed in my words as, “This isn’t what I signed up for!”) has been rolling around my head for quite some time. But in fact, this is exactly what I signed up for, and it is exactly how it’s supposed to be. Thanks for the reminder and the encouragement tonight. It was just what I needed after an emotional and difficult month.

  14. My husband started a new job last month, and is renting a room and living in Colorado while I’m here in Kansas — waiting patiently (or not) for our house to sell while I keep up with our 5 kids ranging from diapers to early morning seminary. I’m exhausted, I’m discouraged, and I’m tempted to doubt our decision because, well, “I didn’t see it working out this way.” The Lord reminded me in the temple on Friday evening and again, in this post, that He sees it perfectly. Abraham 2:8 “My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning; therefore my hand shall be over thee.” Thanks, MMM!

  15. Thank you. I got blindsided by grief yesterday, not for my husband, who is “safely dead” and serving with vigor in the spirit world, but for the choices of my kid that if carried to their logical conclusion will preclude temple blessings in this life. I would really like to see what God’s Plan B for that child looks like! (Or maybe not.) In the meantime, I went to church, forked over my tithing, stayed for all three hours, and got a blessing. Even though what I wanted was to stay home, knit, and cry.

  16. I would like to put in a request. (more of a demand) Would you be willing (read: just say yes) to put a “like” button for WordPress at the end of your posts? You know I’m addicted, and It would really help me out to be able to expand the scope of my addiction to your blog. But if not, that’s fine too. You don’t have to lose sleep over my suffering…which is intense and almost unmanageable. Don’t even worry about it. *covers face and sobs* *peaks through fingers to see if there’s even a crack in his expression*

  17. AuntSue
    My life did not become what I had planned. But it has still been rich with wonderful experiences and some difficult learning experiences. And yes, sometimes I was whiny, but that did not help. What did help was looking for the things in my not-according-to-plan life that were beautiful, that were loving, that were good, that showed my Father loved me and was aware of my struggles and was helping me learn the things I needed to learn in this life.

  18. Thank you, Thank you, THANK YOU! I’ve had a tough emotional week dealing with a final visit with my father in mortality, and you’re words were just what I needed to hear.

  19. Wonderful Post.

    Also enjoyed the talks, thank you.

    “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.” (2 Nephi 31:20)

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