Why Isn’t Life Fair?
How to handle when things don’t go your way

Let me tell you a secret about how your mind works.

Say you wanted to buy a new pair of athletic shoes, and you expected to pay around $100 for them. If you found the pair you wanted for $75, you would be happy.

But what if you expected those shoes to cost $50? Then, when you found that pair for $75, you would be disappointed. Same shoes, same price—different reaction. Why? Because of your expectation.

At Philadelphia Youth Camp, campers often chant, “Attitude is everything!” It’s true. The English poet John Milton put it this way: “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” Think of the reaction of a homeless man who is offered a small, simple log cabin to stay in compared to a rich woman who expects a luxury hotel suite—and is offered that same cabin. One sees it as “heaven;” the other, “hell.” Attitude makes the difference.

Usually when you get upset about something, this is the reason: You expected something better. And usually, that expectation actually doesn’t make sense.

The fact is, every human life has its share of problems. Things break, accidents happen, sickness strikes, other people make mistakes, you make mistakes. The Apostle Paul wrote that God made this physical creation in “bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21, Revised Standard Version). Solomon said, “[T]he race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, … nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Things don’t always turn out how we expect or hope.

Yes, I understand that life isn’t always fair, you might think. Yet when it comes to your expectations, if you are like every other human being, you tend to expect life to be more than fair to you. That is why you get agitated when things don’t go the way you want. Your mind and emotions don’t say, I understand that life isn’t always fair. Instead they scream, This is totally unfair! Silly, isn’t it?

God wants you to learn to handle problems and setbacks in a mature way. There are even times when He wants to give you a blessing, but He deliberately withholds it to help you grow in character. The events we remember during the spring holy days teach this lesson.

When God brought Israel out of Egypt, He wanted to give them the Promised Land, a land of immense blessings. But rather than give it to them right away, He led them through the wilderness for 40 years. What was one reason? “[T]o humble thee, and to prove [or sorely try] thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no” (Deuteronomy 8:2). God wanted to see whether they would obey Him even when circumstances got difficult and did not go as they expected.

Here is the amazing thing: The whole time they were in those trials, God was with them, blessing them in ways they probably didn’t realize (verse 4). But He definitely made things harder than they would have liked (verse 15). He gave them troubles and challenges that they did not expect, yet were for their ultimate benefit (verses 5, 16, last part).

Read all of Deuteronomy 8: It describes what happens when life is “too good.” We tend to get self-satisfied and spoiled. Imagine if God fulfilled your every desire and request the moment you asked for it. Imagine if He ensured that everything always worked in your favor, that you caught every good break, that you attained nothing but straight A’s and standing ovations—no matter how hard or how little you worked for them. You would grow pretty lazy and unmotivated, don’t you think?

God promises that if you delight in Him, He will give you your heart’s desires; if you commit your way to Him and trust Him, He will bring it to pass (Psalm 37:4-5). But sometimes you do not delight in Him or commit your way to Him as much as you think. Sometimes your desires aren’t quite right. Sometimes God knows you are better off without something.

Even when you are on track, God isn’t obligated to fulfill His promise right away. God is not a vending machine—in goes 75 cents and out comes a Snickers bar. Sometimes God makes you wait. Sometimes He wants to build your patience. Sometimes He wants to test your faith. You have to trust Him to bring it to pass in His time.

Recognizing these truths will help you to accept those times when things don’t go exactly as you had hoped and to endure the disappointment with a much more balanced, mature and positive attitude.

Now that you know this secret about how your mind works, you can do something about it. When you find yourself worked up over something, check to see whether you had unreasonable expectations. Keep God in mind, and trust that He knows what’s best for you.

Learn to be like Paul, who said in Philippians 4:11-12, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound ….” Paul knew not to expect to always abound—so he handled it beautifully when he was abased. And he always saw God in the picture (verse 13). That’s how to handle life not being “fair.” Attitude is everything.