3 Steps to Cope When God Says 'No'

I really wanted to win. I worked very hard to win, got some tear-inducing recommendation letters, made it to the finals, fasted, prayed with expectation of success and prayed some more, and after all that, still, I did not win. 

By the time I told a fourth person in my life out loud, “I didn’t win,” I was able to say it without crying. It was still devastating, watching what would have been a secure, prestigious, career-catapulting and all-around amazing life for the next 12 months slip through my fingers, but I suppose I’d cried it out in the three preceding conversations.

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The initial shock subsided and I began facing the reality of my situation: I was back at square one with no solid plan for the next twelve weeks, let alone twelve months. I wanted something more than I’d wanted anything in a very long time, and God had said, “No”. There’s no “better luck next time!” either; this dream door has been dead-bolted.

So, what now?

Times like these show us that there is only so much we can do for ourselves and when we reach our limit, our fate is simply out of our hands and totally in God’s hands. Still, while we can’t twist God’s arm and make Him say “yes” to something He’s said, “no” or “not yet” to, there are three things we can do to own our lives and future.

1) Mourn the loss. When a “no” from God devastates you, it means you really invested in the thing you asked for and did not get. It mattered greatly to you. Give yourself permission to feel that, whether alone or with your support system. After long bouts of sobbing with the first three people in my circle, I was simply able to talk about it with the next three people.  While it took me a matter of hours to begin the moving-on process, it may take you longer, but the point is to feel it without getting stuck in it.  There is good news ahead and more steps to get there!

2) Understand what God’s “No” means.  The door that God opens, no man can close, and the door that He closes, no man can open.  When you start to accept that closed door, and the fact that it will not be opening for you, a new understanding of who God is can start to take hold in your heart.

God’s “no” means, “I do not want that for your life.”  God’s “no” could have even saved your life. Here’s how I know: The Lord says, “I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.” We cannot see what is coming, but we can trust that the God of this universe, who sees and knows all things -- and most of all, who loves you! -- is looking out for what will make you your best and highest selves and what will give Him the most glory.  The “no” is a part of His plan to “prosper you and not to harm you.” Hope in that.

3) Make a New Plan. A solid “no” is always more devastating because you no longer have room to hope for that thing.  On the flip side, a solid “no” is the best, because you no longer have room to hope for that thing! A portion of your time, energy and resources just got freed up. A “no” from God means you are one step closer to the thing you’re actually supposed to have or supposed to be doing. How will you get there? Spend serious time in communion with God, asking for guidance, clarity and discernment for your future. 

Two sure-fire ways to tell what God’s purpose for your life might be are where your passions lie and the areas He has uniquely gifted you in. How can you add skills to shore up your unique gifts and passions? How can you pursue your gifts and passions more and for God’s use? Think about these things and create a new life plan that will allow you to put your gifts and passions to work for God, for yourself and the people around you. 

Remember: “Many are the plans in man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that will prevail.” Don’t get discouraged when things don’t work out the way you planned, just make sure you’re doing your part, seeking God and His plan for your life, and leave the rest in His loving, capable hands.

Brooke Obie is Editor-at-Large for EBONY.com and writes a spiritual life column on EBONY.com.