Can I Find Joy When the Life I Have Isn’t the One I Wanted? With Elizabeth Woodson [Episode 215]

Joy Life Not Wanted Elizabeth Woodson

We all live with some sort of longing—a gap between the life we want and the life we actually have. As we navigate this gap, we try to hang on to the hope that God will change our circumstances or fulfill our desires.

For some, those prayers are answered. Yet for others, the longing persists, making us weary at best and debilitated at worst. So, how do you find joy in this life when it isn’t the life you hoped for?

Author and Bible teacher, Elizabeth Woodson, joins me on the podcast and shares how you can find joyful living in that gap. She’ll take us to the Old Testament book of Joshua where we’ll learn to accept reality, find contentment, and live with joy.

Unfulfilled longings in this life are inevitable, but that’s why you’ll appreciate Elizabeth’s biblical wisdom and practical advice to help you walk through your current life situation with a new perspective.

Meet Elizabeth

Elizabeth Woodson is a Bible teacher and author who is passionate about equipping believers to understand the rich theological truths of Scripture. She loves helping people internalize their faith and connect it practically to everyday life. She’s a contributing author for World on Fire: Walking in the Wisdom of Christ When Everyone’s Fighting About Everything and a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary with a master’s degree in Christian Education.

Today we talk about Elizabeth’s book, Embrace Your Life: How to Find Joy When the Life You Have is Not the Life You Hoped For.

[Listen to the podcast using the player above, or read the transcript below. Then check out the links below for more helpful resources.]

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Episode Transcript

4:13 Podcast: Can I Find Joy When the Life I Have Isn't the One I Wanted? With Elizabeth Woodson [Episode 215]

Elizabeth Woodson: And so we have to slow down and just be able to admit maybe something isn't the way I want it to be, and, Lord, can you help me with that? And that within itself is a courageous decision to make, but sometimes can be really hard just to admit that we have something we need to navigate through and something that's not okay.

Jennifer Rothschild: We all live with some sort of longing. It's the gap between the life we want and the life we actually have. As we navigate this gap, we try to hang on to the hope that God will change our circumstances or fulfill our desires. And for some those prayers are answered, yet for others the longing hangs on. So how do you find joy in this life when it isn't the life you hoped for? Well, today author and Bible teacher Elizabeth Woodson will set you up for joyful living right in the middle of that gap. She is going to take us to the Old Testament book of Joshua where we will learn to accept reality, find contentment, and live with joy. So let's hit it.

K.C. Wright: Welcome to the 4:13 Podcast, where practical encouragement and biblical wisdom set you up to live the "I Can" life, because you can do all things through Christ who gives you supernatural strength.

Now, welcome your host, Jennifer Rothschild.

Jennifer Rothschild: Welcome, our people. We're glad you're here today. Hope you've had a really good week. We have had a good week around here. I personally have had an exceptionally good morning because -- can I just tell you what happened? K.C. shows up to do the podcast with me, and he brings presents.

K.C. Wright: I love bearing gifts.

Jennifer Rothschild: Okay. So I always have coffee for him.

K.C. Wright: Always, yes.

Jennifer Rothschild: But, y'all, I -- oh, my gosh. This morning K.C. comes in with a bag of popcorn, which is Ozark Popcorn, which is really good --

K.C. Wright: Yes, yes.

Jennifer Rothschild: -- and it's confetti. Okay, so that is like a major treat. But the real treat was Aslan bookends.

K.C. Wright: Yes.

Jennifer Rothschild: Okay. They're lions, they're antique, they're bronze.

K.C. Wright: They are beautiful.

Jennifer Rothschild: And they were somebody's trash --

K.C. Wright: Right.

Jennifer Rothschild: -- right? --

K.C. Wright: Right.

Jennifer Rothschild: -- that you found.

K.C. Wright: Yeah. And I've been inside your personal study. You know how the White House has the Oval Office. You know how in the Bible days they had the Tabernacle. Well, here in the Rothschild homestead we have the Upper Room or the Secret Place. But honestly, Jennifer has this room here in her house where she writes and she spends time with the Lord, but it's filled with my favorite person, C.S. Lewis.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes. I have a C.S. Lewis.

K.C. Wright: Because she loves dead authors.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes.

K.C. Wright: But her favorite dead author --

Jennifer Rothschild: C.S. Lewis.

K.C. Wright: -- is C.S. Lewis, of course. And you know the thing with her and C.S. Lewis, and she's been to Oxford and all these things.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes.

K.C. Wright: But these lion bookends, I saw them and I had to give them to you because they fit perfectly.

Jennifer Rothschild: Well, everything about them. Okay, so I love lions anyway, because, you know, Jesus is the Lion of Judah, right?

K.C. Wright: Yes.

Jennifer Rothschild: And I love the picture of the lion being strength and then, of course, Aslan in the C.S. Lewis Narnia books. So, y'all, it was all I could do to get down here into the closet and focus on the podcast, because I cannot wait to get up to my desk. I have my dad's Matthew Henry Commentaries. They're these big, large green volumes, and on top of them I have just this picture of him in his study. And I am going to put my bookends from K.C. on either side of my Matthew Henry Commentaries, and I cannot wait.

K.C. Wright: Right now she bookend the popcorn.

Jennifer Rothschild: Well, I did, yeah. Because I had to come downstairs, so I just put the popcorn between them in the kitchen, yeah.

But anyway, that's interesting that, you know, we're talking a little bit about Lewis, K.C., because he deals a lot with longings and with joy. And isn't it interesting that that's what we are talking about today, is finding joy when what you think are your real longings aren't met. Because technically, our truest longings are met in Christ. But Elizabeth gets super practical with us. So you're going to enjoy her as K.C. introduces Elizabeth Woodson.

K.C. Wright: Elizabeth Woodson is a Bible teacher and author who is passionate about equipping believers to understand the rich theological truths of Scripture. She loves helping people internalize their faith and connect it practically to everyday life. She's a contributing author for "A World on Fire: Walking in the Wisdom of Christ When Everybody's Fighting About Everything," and a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary with a master's -- wow -- in Christian education.

Jennifer Rothschild: You go, girl.

K.C. Wright: You are going to love Elizabeth. So lean back, relax, and listen in as Jennifer and Elizabeth talk about her new book -- and here's the title -- "Embrace Your Life: How to Find Joy When the Life You Have is Not the Life You Hoped For." This is going to be so good.

Jennifer Rothschild: All right, Elizabeth, given the title and the subtitle of your book, I've got to start with this question. All right? So is the life that you have the one that you expected or wanted?

Elizabeth Woodson: You know, that is a great question. And I would tell you the life I have is not the life that I expected, for a couple of different reasons. I am single, in my late 30s, never married, and that just isn't what I expected. It's not a bad thing. I love being single. But probably at this point when I was younger, I expected that I'd be married and have a couple of kids, and that's just not what the Lord had for me.

And then I spend most of my time doing ministry. And I have a background -- I went to college for business, spent about ten years doing accounting work, and the Lord took me out of that career path and set me into ministry. So if you would ask me years ago if I would expect myself to go around and tell people about Jesus for a living, I would tell you no, that would not be what I expected, yeah.

Jennifer Rothschild: You'd be married with kids and have a tidy accounting job, huh?

Elizabeth Woodson: Exactly. Exactly.

Jennifer Rothschild: Well, I'm glad I asked that question, because I think there's a lot of people listening right now who might suddenly identify with what you just explained. Their details may be different, but life didn't turn out exactly how they expected. And for some, that may be a difficult thing. You're saying, you know, that's not a bad thing for me, it's just not what I expected. But for some listening too, it might be that it's a very difficult situation. So here is the question I would ask you. Because I would assume from your title the solution to this is to learn how to embrace your life, to be able to live with joy in that gap, you know, in between the unmet longing and the reality. So how do we start that process?

Elizabeth Woodson: Yeah. You know, I think we start the process by admitting that something's wrong, and more so that there is a gap. Because sometimes we try to -- we feel ashamed that we don't like the life that we have. You know, we maybe feel ashamed that we're not content. We can just cover up our discontentment. Or pain. Sometimes, like you said, it's just really painful things in our life that are with us and journey with us longer than we would like to and we cover them up with lots of different things: coping mechanisms, comfort, shopping. I tell everybody Amazon Prime probably was one of my favorite things in the pandemic.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah.

Elizabeth Woodson: And, you know, I think maybe those packages outside my door are telling a different story, that I need all this stuff. And so we have to slow down and just be able to admit that maybe something isn't the way I want it to be and, Lord, can you help me with that? And that within itself is a courageous decision to make, but sometimes it can be really hard just to admit that we have something we need to navigate through and something that's not okay.

Jennifer Rothschild: Well, yeah, because we -- it's, like, innate in us to try to fix and control, and to admit there's a gap is to say I might not be able to fix this and I don't feel in control of this.

Elizabeth Woodson: Right.

Jennifer Rothschild: But in your book you use a story, the story of Joshua actually, to kind of guide us through this process. So I'm curious about his journey. Like, what about his journey with God was what gave you such inspiration?

Elizabeth Woodson: You find Joshua at this point of transition when you pick up the major part of his story. So he shows up as a part of the story of Israel being delivered out of Egypt and serving Moses in the wilderness for 40 years. But then he has a whole book named after him. And you pick up the book at this moment in which Moses has died. Israel is about to cross over into the Promised Land, they're about to take hold of a promise that they have been waiting for for generations. And at this really epic moment, what I would expect to be someone that Joshua cared for, a friend, a mentor, when he served for so long, is not there.

And so, you know, you -- what God tells Joshua that -- what you read in the first few verses of Joshua Chapter 1, to me just ring full of so much truth that we can hold on to in seasons where -- you know, grief is hard. Losing a loved one is hard. I've lost close family members, and that grief -- still processing through. But what do we do in the midst of that?

And so Joshua's story showed me some truths about God and some truths about ourselves that we learned because of God, but also showed me what I could do with my pain. And I learned that I could lament it. If you turn the page to Deuteronomy 34, turn a little bit back, you see that before they crossed the river, they lamented the grief of the death of Moses.

And so God gives us something to do with our pain, and we bring it to him and we're honest about it, and in that place we receive healing and hope.

Jennifer Rothschild: Well, I'm curious, then, if you could give us kind of like -- because some people might have just heard the word "lament" and thought, okay, what is that exactly? So give us an idea of what that looks like, Elizabeth. What is the practical nature and how do we lament well?

Elizabeth Woodson: Yeah. You know, an example that I love is Psalm 13. And it's a psalm written by David, and it's a psalm of lament, like, he is crying out to the Lord. And so what you have are these three movements through the psalm. It's a really short psalm. First we have just David telling God what's wrong. That we just tell God in our own words. We don't have to pretty it up for him. He already knows all of our pain and our sorrow and our anger, whether it's with somebody else or even towards him, that we share that with him.

You hear David talk about, "Where were you? You've forgotten about me. I thought you were going to do something and you haven't done that." And so when we read those first few verses, we hear David just telling God what his sorrows are, what his frustrations are.

But then you see David ask God for help, right? Lament is pregnant with hope because we're crying out to the only one who can do something. Right? So situations in which we're not in control. But God is always in control. And so David just asks God to show up for him, to provide for him, to deliver him. In that same way we ask God to show up in our situation, to provide the things we need. We've told him, we -- told him what's wrong, we ask him for help, but at the very end we reaffirm our trust in his character.

You see David talk about how God's faithful and that he remembers who God is. And I always like to say I want to believe -- I don't know how long it took David to write that psalm, but that maybe there was a little bit of time between him telling God his problems and then reaffirming trust in God's character. Because it's a journey --

Jennifer Rothschild: It is.

Elizabeth Woodson: -- and it takes us time to be able to hold on to what's always true, but to rehearse that truth to ourselves.

Jennifer Rothschild: I agree with you. I wonder how long it took. Because at the beginning of Psalm 13, it almost can sound like a bad Facebook rant. You know, "How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?" But then he ends with, yeah, "I'll trust in your unfailing love." I'm glad you gave that encouragement, because we don't flip a switch, and sometimes it is that process. But lament gives us a pathway for those emotions.

But here's something interesting too. When you were talking about the first chapter of Joshua -- you know, I remember that verse. As a kid, I memorized it. In 1:9, "Be strong and of good courage, for the Lord your God is with you." Okay, so there's -- that depicts a choice. So if lament is the feelings, when you're living in this gap in the midst of the uncertainty or the transition, or whatever it is, how do choices impact how we live well during that season?

Elizabeth Woodson: Yeah, you've got to choose to show up for the day. And that's a phrase I like to use, that in the midst of all the things that are difficult, we still remember that God has something for us to do. Now, doing -- we serve this productivity culture. Doing is not where we find our value. But it is, Lord, because I love you and I live life for you that I'm going to honor the things you've given me to steward well. And that's just the life. And each of us has a different story, a different group of people he's given to us, whether it's our kids or it's our coworkers or it's our neighbors or classmates, that we would show up to love people and we would find joy in helping those people find joy and see God meet us in that place.

But I love that last verse. Because if you read through the rest of the Book of Joshua, you see that Joshua encountered a lot of difficult things. And God told him in the midst of it, keep going, be courageous, do not be afraid, because I'm with you. And so we can show up for the day because God's presence goes with us at all times.

Jennifer Rothschild: Well, and that's a good word. Because there's a lot going on in our world right now, a lot going on, a lot of uncertainty, tensions. Anxiety's, like, sky high. So I'm curious for you personally, how have you found that kind of joy in the midst of just all that's going on in the world? Especially with being a single woman and being sheltering in place, perhaps isolated, how have you found joy?

Elizabeth Woodson: Yeah. You know, some of it has been just personal habits and spiritual habits and disciplines that have helped me stay focused, right? So I think that things can, like you said, overwhelm us, make us very anxious. And so in the moment when I feel my anxiety rising, how can I pause? And for me, it's to rehearse what's true. So whether it's pieces of God's character, being grateful for things that he has done. So in the moments, I might feel like, God, where are you? You haven't answered this prayer. Then I remember, Elizabeth, he did these things, specific things. Remember that friend that called you just out of the blue when you were really low? That was the Lord. And when I remind myself of those things, my countenance changes, the affections of my heart are stirred for the Lord, and it just gives me the strength I need to push through for one more moment or one more day.

But it also is community, right? So I don't do it by myself. So even in the midst of being in my apartment by myself for longer than I would have liked --

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah.

Elizabeth Woodson: -- it is how can I still connect with people, whether it's a phone call, whether it's a parking lot meet-up and we're both in our chairs, you know, just talking, whether it's virtual. I thank God for just virtual community and just the people I've been able to meet up with on Zoom. But how can I do it with other people when I don't -- when I am led to stay by myself, what are the ways in which I can find God's people and be encouraged by them when I'm having a hard time encouraging myself?

Jennifer Rothschild: Because sometimes that gap between what our real life is and what we hoped it would be, sometimes it can feel like a pit that we've fallen into.

Elizabeth Woodson: Yeah. Yeah.

Jennifer Rothschild: So it kind of feels like what you just described are some very practical ways to not let that happen. To remember the goodness of God, rehearse it, and then to stay in community. That's super practical.

All right, we're going to head to the last question here, Elizabeth. And I told you before we started, I haven't been able to read your book yet, and I can already tell from what you said, I'm very anxious to read it. I just read about it, and I'm very anxious to read it, and I know that our listeners will be too.

But let me ask you our last question. All right. So it's super easy for me to embrace my life when it's good or when at least I understand it. Even if it's not so good, at least if I can, like, figure it out, like, that's easier to embrace. Okay? But sometimes we got to embrace what we can't avoid. And so I would love it if you would finish up by giving us some very practical ways that we can find joy and embrace our lives in the midst of things being very uncertain. I know you might have just given us a couple with remembering and community, but anything else you can give us that's very practical.

Elizabeth Woodson: For me it is, like, what are the moments of celebration? Again, here's what I think happens. Because there are things that we carry that are really hard. I don't want to make it sugar coated or make it seem like everything always goes away. There are some of us that carry things for the entirety of our lives, and in God's sovereignty we trust him. Even if we don't understand, we trust him. But those moments or things can cloud what we do have. And I believe that's what Paul was referring to when he talks about learning to be content, that he sees the beauty of the blessing that God has bestowed on his life. And there's always blessing, I believe there's always blessing, and that we would be people who have regular habits of celebration, regular habits of celebrating the smallest things. Like, we wake up in the morning and you have breath in your body and you are able to move throughout the day in whatever capacity that God is giving you -- we all have different levels of capacity -- that's a blessing from the Lord. Every time you interact with another image bearer, that's a blessing from the Lord. Every moment -- a good song, a good movie, a good piece of art, or a great conversation, laughter that makes your belly hurt, that's a good blessing from the Lord. And there are really big blessings and smaller blessings, but they all come from the same gracious and wonderful God who has not forgotten his children.

So all that being said, I am a fan of celebration. That we would be a people that see the moment of blessing, we celebrate it, whether it is, again, speaking it out loud or gathering some people or setting out a time in your day to say, hey, I'm going to enjoy the good things of the Lord in this moment, whether it is a good book, a movie, a conversation with a friend, that I'm going to intentionally do that. Because we will not accidentally fall into celebration, accidentally fall into gratitude, or accidentally fall into joy. We have to be intentional about those things because the world we live in wants to pull us in a different direction. And so that's been a really great on-the-ground, everyday tool for me, is to say, Elizabeth, when you're in a moment and you're feeling down, I need you to celebrate. I need you to say what's true to the Lord. We lament, but we also walk with hope and joy. And we do all of them. They're not linear. They're things that you just need to grab whatever spiritual discipline in whatever moment you're walking through.

But joy is Jesus. And he is with us in every moment and we have a life eternal with him. And so I tell people there's always hope, so celebrate the beauty as we wait to celebrate the beauty to come.

Jennifer Rothschild: (Singing) Celebrate good times, come on. That's great. Thank you so much.

K.C. Wright: There you go. We're breaking into a little Kool & The Gang.

Jennifer and K.C.: (Singing) Celebrate good times, come on.

Jennifer Rothschild: There you go.

K.C. Wright: Yeah.

Jennifer Rothschild: All right. Let's celebrate, our people, the good things of God. The little things, the big things, it's going to fill that gap of uncertainty with joy for sure.

And you know what? I actually have a free download that you can get that will help you write it all down. I call it my Good Life List. It's something I featured in my Amos Bible Study, because in Amos I challenge the people who read the book to be Good Life List makers. So if you go, we will have that free download right there for you. But we'll also have a link to it on the show notes.

You need Elizabeth's book, our people, so you can find a link to her book "Embrace Your Life" at the show notes at

K.C. Wright: And you'll also, as always, find a full transcript there too. I'm telling you, it's such a blessing, those show notes.

Okay, we are wrapping this one up. I don't want to let you go. I've had so much fun today. So until next week, fill that gap with some joy. Rehearse the goodness of God. Good thoughts, not bad thoughts, right?

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah.

K.C. Wright: God is so good, and his mercy endures forever. He loves you. And no matter what is going on in your life, you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength. I can.

Jennifer Rothschild: I can.

Jennifer and K.C.: And you can.

Jennifer Rothschild: All right, wind it up. We are going upstairs to put Aslan on the desk.

K.C. Wright: Yeah.


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