When Your Hard Work Doesn't Pay Off

You workout and eat well during your pregnancy, but you still have issues postpartum. You follow the healthy living rules, and you still get the diagnosis. You try to do all the right things, but you still get that result. Last Thursday, I felt so discouraged from trying to do the right things that I was too tired to get back up. I am working on a book proposal, and I have rewritten the same few chapters several times, but received an email from my editor friend that my my writing was confusing and not cohesive. And I knew she was right.

It feels like I work with all my might, hit a wall, and repeat. That day, I lost my joy, lost my strength (Nehemiah 8:10). I dragged myself and daughter to Bible study, but couldn’t hide my despair from those sweet ladies. They saw the sadness written all over my face, I broke down, and they prayed for me. Then the Lord showed me something that answered everything. 

Healthy Living Doesn't Always Lead to Health

If I’m strategizing of how to tackle a problem, I assume I can just do the right things and receive the right result. In a perfect world, we would sow and reap good fruit, just like Proverbs says. But the other wisdom books like Ecclesiastes and Job show me that a broken world also yields thorns. For example, I exercised and ate the best I could when I was pregnant, only to deliver a healthy baby who was sent to the NICU and I was stuck with an ab separation and a weakened pelvic floor. I have followed a healthy lifestyle, but was still diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. I think progress means stepping with one foot in front of the other and arriving at a destination. I get really stuck on working hard and not producing results. Last week as I cried in front of my Bible study friends, the Lord gave me the story of Jericho to show me that I need to keep going around instead of straight through:

"Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. And the Lord said to Joshua, 'See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him.'” Joshua 6:1-5

Going Around

The Lord didn’t tell Joshua to take a battering ram and storm on in. He commanded them to march around the city; not just once, but once every day, and on the last day to shout for victory and the walls would fall down flat. Seems like a roundabout way to get in, but that’s exactly what I needed to hear. The Israelites were victorious because they were obedient. It doesn’t matter how hard I work and try to push down the walls of achieving a healthy body or break into a publishing deal, it matters how obedient I am to the Lord. He might make me walk in circles before I can walk on ahead. 

Process Over Product

Before I left the house that morning, my husband said not to worry about writing a book, but that what I’m doing is more about the process than the product. I shrugged it off but secretly took it to heart because I knew that’s what the Lord has been teaching me. As I walked home from Bible study, I took one step in front of the other. Ellie, on the other hand, wanted to get out of the stroller, backtrack, and take detours on bumpy sidewalks and through low-hanging trees. “She’s doing it right,” I thought to myself as I urged her to keep moving so we could get home and eat lunch. My agenda was to hurry up and get there; hers was to explore and have fun on the way. 

Obedience Over Results

I was still rebelling against the thought of walking in circles, because that seems pointless, right? Then I thought about how the earth I was walking on spins around on an axis, and travels around the sun in a wide arc for years upon years. What do the planets accomplish by going around the sun? Wrong question. Life is not about the movement of the earth, but the movement within the earth, the people who dwell on its surface. For me, it’s not about the movement of my feet or the forward progress of my work, but the transformation within my heart. The Lord might lead me around so He can move me within.

I started that morning with a walled city in front of me too big to conquer. I walked out the door, downtown to Bible study, and by the time I circled back home, the walls fell down. The walls were not of some foreign city but the barriers around my heart. 

Today, my perspective on work has changed. Being victorious is not about results, but about obedience. Progress isn't forward motion, but obedient movement. I know I will easily forget this, feel like I have failed, and get discouraged. But the Lord is greater than our hearts (1 John 3:20). He is constantly moving to change us for good, and is faithful to complete the good work He started (Phil. 1:6) as He walks beside us, breaks down walls, and rejoices in victory over us.  

Action Steps

I know discouragement will come at me again, and this is what I will do when it happens:

  1. Pray. Pray for the Lord to show me where I am depending on myself instead of Him, pray against satan and the enemies of joy, pray for renewed strength.
  2. Read. Read Scripture. Today, it was Joshua 6 and Isaiah 41 and 42. "For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” Isaiah 41:13
  3. Praise. Being surrounded by praise music is like running to the refuge of the Lord. I let the words drown out my own sinful thoughts.
  4. Ask for prayer. I would rather hide my pain, but I know that I need prayer from others to get out of my funk. I’m terrible at hiding my emotions anyways.  
  5. Write. Writing is a way to untangle my thoughts and set me straight, whether that’s in a journal or for a blog post. I decided to share this with y’all today because I have talked to several other friends who feel like they have done everything right and still get it wrong: a wife who remains gracious to an adulterous husband; a friend who is healthy but struggles with infertility; and countless others who have confided that they don’t feel like they have done anything to deserve their thyroid diagnosis. May this post bring you a new perspective on persevering, and comforting words from a fellow try-hard friend whose only hope is in the Lord. 


Have you struggled with doing the right things and not getting the result you worked for?


Have you been discouraged lately? What brought you renewed hope?