How to Face a Devastating Setback and Thrive


I wish I knew when a setback was headed my way.  That way I could have time to prepare myself, somehow ward off the worst of its effects. But wishful thinking and looking into the future don’t really help in coping with a setback, particularly one that affects major areas of your life. I often read articles and studies dealing with stress and the consequences it can have on our minds and bodies. Apparently learning to cope with stress is an important life skill if you want to live past fifty.

I often think of Job during a serious setback. Moses had some pretty awful ones as did many others in the Bible. But Job’s was the worst. He didn’tsetback deserve it and he lost everything a human can lose. I suppose that is why his story is in the Bible. We live in a world where a new and even more difficult setback could be just around the corner; the Bible tells the truth as it is and fortunately, it gives us some ideas as to gaining coping skills.

I have suffered a number of setbacks in my life. My first marriage to a narcissist set me back a dozen years in many ways. I have suffered chronic pain and periods of ill health. I am no stranger to financial loss. Personal losses within the family are stacked up in the memories of both my husband and me. But mine is not a litany of despair. Each setback has left me wiser and humbler, careful to listen to my own heart and to the Holy Spirit, and with more compassion for those who suffer setbacks of their own.

Surviving a setback is a matter of being honest with oneself and with others. The beauty of a setback is that if you allow God to use it in your life, you find yourself bolder than before, less intimidated by the things life or the enemy throws your way. So here are some strategies for facing your setback:

  1. Accept the reality of it and absorb the hit.

Denial will only prolong the inevitable. Let yourself grieve and wallow a bit. By feeling the seeming enormity of what happened, you can actually shorten the misery. Numbing yourself just prolongs the acceptance process. By simply acknowledging and allowing the situation to be what it is, you will find yourself moving past it much faster than if you run.

  1. Live moment by moment.

Much of our emotional pain comes from living in the past or projecting into the future. If we stay in each moment as it comes, we can save ourselves a lot of pain. If we let our thoughts run wild with all sorts of regrets and anxiety about what may happen, we simply pile on more agony to what is already difficult. Check out your body, emotions, and circumstances at the moment. Are you safe? Do you have what you need for that day? Do you have anyone who cares about you? Live in that reality instead of imagined ones where you are bankrupt or alone.

  1. Practice your story.

setbackNo good story is without conflict. But whether you make it through this setback is in part determined by how you see the story of your life panning out. Are you on an adventure or are you a victim of your circumstances. How you frame your story greatly determines your outlook on life. I try to remember there is always the third day. In the Bible, everything looks bleak until that third day arrives. Then Jesus arises, the enemy is defeated, and Israel gets to go home.

  1. Know your territory.

Do you really understand what it is you have control over versus what you don’t? Make sure you are not taking credit for disasters that lie outside of your control. Through no fault of his own, Job lost it all. Through no fault of our own, bad things happen. And even if we do share blame in what comes our way, remember that no condemnation awaits those who abide in Christ.

  1. Do what is right in front of you.

This is so important. In as much pain as you might be in, getting out of bed and doing what you can will boost your mood. Sometimes the most powerful act of spiritual warfare is getting out of bed and doing your little chores around the house. Or taking care of the kids, going to work, or dealing with what needs dealing with. Each little act is a declaration of hope! Don’t discount your small disciplines as weak. Each one is your light flickering in the darkness.

  1. Take a break from your tragedies.

An unrelenting difficulty is dangerous to our health, mental and physical. As little as you might feel like having fun, give yourself an occasional night off where you can live a little. When in some of the worst times of my life, I made a cup of my favorite tea and buried myself in a book I had already read a dozen times, I was able to give my mind and body a rest. Praise music or working in the garden or whatever refreshes you helps to alleviate the constant pressure.

  1. Surrender to God’s will for your life.

Even Job surrendered. God never answered Job’s question directly. You might not get one either. But I find the act of surrendering my life to God increases my ability to cope with whatever is going on. Once, during a very stressful time at a job where I had discovered my boss in a grievous wrong, I surrendered the outcome to Him. I wanted justice as I saw it. But He let me know that the pain I was suffering was actually because I had obeyed Him. The stress was because I had done the right thing at great personal cost. He had put me there because He wanted to rectify thatsetback situation.

My error lay in the belief that if I feel pain, life has gone terribly wrong. Not so. Remember we are in a fight when we become Christians. A powerful force of evil is at large in this world. Our job is to follow Christ right into the heat of battle. While ultimate victory is guaranteed, sometimes we take some bruising hits.

In the end, everyone suffers. But only you can choose to make your suffering a part of a story that ends well or not. We get to choose whether we grow or not. Our calling as overcomers is a calling that is tested. Remember that the next time a dreaded setback occurs.

The image I want to leave you with is that of Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednigo. They went into that fiery furnace, but when they got in there, God Himself met them there and kept them from harm. We may lose our homes, our health, and our jobs while we are here in this fiery furnace, but the Keeper of our souls will not let us come to any real harm in the one area that matters. Our spirits, filled by His spirit, can transcend any setback, with peace, faith, hope, and love.

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6 Replies to “How to Face a Devastating Setback and Thrive”

  1. Great tips on how to deal with setbacks. Job is one of my favorite biblical reminders that I can make it through the worse & still trust God.

  2. Heather Hart says: Reply

    This. So much truth here, and your tips are spot on.

  3. Wonderful post, at a needed time.

  4. I’ve been there too! These are wise words. All too often I follow the script and avoid the pain, hate the pain, dull the pain of my setbacks, when God wants to use it to make me wiser and humbler. A life free from pain would colorless. Thanks for sharing. This message is healing.

  5. Marcie Cramsey says: Reply

    Beautiful post. You provide great wisdom in how to handle setbacks in life. I have experienced many over the years. As I have learned to abide in Christ in all things, He has made me better through each difficulty. Thank you for your insights! They are a blessing!

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