How to cope when life doesn't work out as you planned

A billboard created by Banksy near the Canary Wharf financial district in London in 2011.Reuters

It's both a blessing and a curse that life doesn't always work out the way we plan.

It's said that millennials are hardwired for disappointment. In the West, we've grown up in peaceful, affluent times, repeatedly told we're special and can do anything we set our minds to.

And then we graduated into an era of high unemployment and low financial security, while feeling enormous pressure to achieve personal and professional success. The Instagram/Pinterest life manual would suggest that by the time you're 30 you'll have launched and edgy start-up with an ethical dimension, found love with someone who looks as great as you do, maintained a healthy social life and found time to run an ultramarathon to raise money for Kenyan orphans.

In many cases, having a Christian faith doesn't seem to help matters, because we've been told in church that 'God's got a plan' and skewed that into thinking it means goodness and blessing all the days of our lives.

Six months ago, my mother died from cancer – relatively speaking, she died before her time. A month or so before she died I had people telling me that God only had good things for me.

Yes, there are many good things in my life, and yes, there are many things God has taught me through her illness and death, but that still doesn't make it a categorically good thing that she died – well, not for me at least.

But that's just one example. I have some friends who can't get pregnant, others who would love to be married but haven't met the right person yet, some who are stuck in jobs they hate and others who can't get one, and a few with long-term health issues.

Most of these situations have caused my Christian friends to struggle with their faith to one degree or another. While there's nothing wrong with a questioning faith, a faith that stumbles at these hurdles isn't what we'd wish for our generation.

These things are the stuff of life, and particularly the life of someone in their 20s and 30s. We may not be prepared for difficulties, but sooner or later, we're all going to face them.

I can completely understand where the 'good things' comment came from: an earnest desire to tell me 'everything's going to be ok'. I know, because I've certainly wanted to think the same thing sometimes. I'd love to believe that my mother's death was the only difficult thing I'll face – a survival attitude that says 'Get through this and things can only get better'. But that's not exactly a great foundation for our faith. If we're living for the next high point we're surely setting ourselves up for disappointment.

So far, so depressing. But there's hope.

I love what 17th-century archbishop Fenelon wrote in a letter to a young woman: "You will learn most in times of deprivation, deep mediation and silence of the soul before God. It is here where you will learn to renounce your own selfish spirit and love humility." How very different that is to what we're told we should be aspiring to.

The response to difficulties isn't to say 'things will be better tomorrow', because there's a good chance that your health might not improve, it might not be the last job rejection you get, and you may well still be single. There are, however, other things that can help us do more than just 'survive'.

We need to remember that God is always good. His character doesn't change despite our circumstances. It's so often said, but it's also true. Sometimes I've resorted to playing Hillsong's 'Oceans' on repeat until I believe that "He's never failed and He won't start now."

God is with us. He weeps with us, and He doesn't abandon us. Even though it doesn't mean we won't sometimes feel desperately lonely, knowing that God sees, knows and cares does change things. Someone told me recently that God will comfort us, but we have to go to Him. That might mean turning away from some of the other things we crowd our lives with in order to call out for help.

He also gives us each other. There will always be people who say the wrong thing, and in times of grief, this can become uncanny (and I've definitely put my foot in it too on more than one occasion). But then there are also heroes who emerge in such circumstances. I have a few friends who have shown me what it means to "rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn", and for that I am ever in their debt. The friend who will jump in the car when you've reached the end of yourself is worth her weight in gold. If anything, millennials – who are less likely to 'settle down' young – should be championing and demonstrating what loyal friendships look like.

God gives us hope for tomorrow. It's not an empty hope that tomorrow everything will be ok. It's an eternal hope, through Christ, in a future with Him; and a daily hope, giving us the strength to persevere. If nothing else, knowing that Christ died for me is a pretty good reason to get out of bed in the morning.

We can seek contentment, not happiness. It sounds lame – as if we're 'settling' – but it's remarkably hard to achieve, particularly when we're surrounded by things telling us we deserve better. It may mean letting go of the picture we had of what we thought our lives would be, or redefining how we think about success. I'm a big planner, so I'm constantly having to revise my plan when things don't work out how I thought, but mostly I'm grateful that I can't predict what's around the corner – both the bad and the good.

We can choose to worship. This doesn't mean a stiff-upper-lip approach that stifles what we're feeling, but it does acknowledge that God is worthy of our worship however we feel, rain or shine. For me that generally means showing up to church even when I'm not in the mood, and singing along, even if I'm not feeling the ecstatic vibe of those around me.

And lastly, we can better prepare ourselves if we expect difficulties. Life's hard, and yet we're told to give thanks in all circumstances. I like to think that 'giving thanks' doesn't have to look pretty all the time, but we should recognise that our faith is something – or rather someone – worth holding on to.