FamilyLife Today®

Stuck in the Past: Elizabeth Woodson

with Elizabeth Woodson | February 26, 2024
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Stuck in a rut, thinking about the past? Elizabeth emphasizes practical steps and coping strategies on how to climb out of seasons of discontent and difficulty.

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  • About the Guest

Stuck in the past? Elizabeth shares practical steps to overcome discontent and difficulty, guiding a way out of life’s challenging seasons.

Stuck in the Past: Elizabeth Woodson

Stuck in the Past: Elizabeth Woodson

Stuck in a rut, thinking about the past? Elizabeth emphasizes practical steps and coping strategies on how to climb out of seasons of discontent and difficulty.

Show Notes and Resources

Connect with Elizabeth Woodson and catch more of her thoughts at her website and podcast, Marked.
And grab Elizabeth Woodson’s book Embrace Your Life in our shop!
Or we’ll send it at no cost to you with a donation of any size this week, as our way of saying a huge “Thank you!” for partnering with us toward stronger families around the world.
Intrigued by today’s episode? Think deeper about Feeling Stuck in our FamilyLife episode, How to Be “All There” in your Marriage.
Want to hear more episodes by Elizabeth Woodson, listen here!
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Stuck in the Past: Elizabeth Woodson

With Elizabeth Woodson
February 26, 2024
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Elizabeth: I always talk about how disappointment is the friend we don't want, that just shows up every so often because we live in a fallen world, so, stuff just is not going to go the way we want it to. And sometimes, we do have unreasonable expectations. I think a life that is devoid of difficulty is an unreasonable expectation.

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: I was thinking—two tests for a marriage—

Ann: —oh.

Dave: —these reveal the character of a person. How they handle prosperity—

Ann: —yes.

Dave: —and/or how they handle adversity.

Ann: Oh, yes.

Dave: Which one’s harder?

Ann: Well, when you are in it, you are thinking it's definitely adversity. But, man, I’ve seen more people fall away in prosperity.

Dave: When adversity, trials, or hardship hit a person or a marriage, it's the test.

Ann: —yes.

Dave: You find out what you are made of. Most marriages—a lot of families—when they go through really serious hardship, they don’t make it. That’s what we are going to talk about today.

Ann: I know. I’m excited.

Dave: We’ve got Elizabeth Woodson with us. Her book is called Embrace Your Life. Elizabeth, welcome to FamilyLife. You’ve never been here, right?

Elizabeth: Never been here. I’m excited to be here.

Dave: I love this subtitle.

Ann: Me, too.

Dave: Did you come up with it?

Elizabeth: I did.

Dave: Everybody canrelate to How to Find Joy When the Life You Have is Not the Life You Hoped For.


Ann: Everybody just thought: “Y--yes.! Y--yes., and Amen.”

Dave: I wonder how many people think, “I’ve got the life I hoped for.” No, most think, “I wanted it, but—the question is—I don’t have joy if I don’t get it.”

Talk to us; how did this book come about?

Elizabeth: I tell folks it came about for two reasons: one, it's just my own personal journey. Seasons of discontent; seasons of difficulty. I always tell people t’s like you’re in the valley, and the timer has run out on how long you wanted to be there. And God’s saying, “Oh, no! We’ve still got more time.” [Laughter]

And then, it was stories of working in ministry. I’ve worked on staff at two different churches in my vocational ministry experience. I would have this chair in my office. People would come in—it’s this big ol’ chair, a wingback chair—and they would tell me their stories. Some of them were really great, and some of them were really hard.

There were two types of people that would come in with the hard stories: those who, whether financial, or health, it’s a relationship—I worked in single's ministry, so it was a lot of relationship stories. [Laughter]

Dave: Yes.

Elizabeth: But it was also, they were trying to press through. They were trying to make it. They were trying to still have a joyful attitude in the midst of their difficulty, and then, there was the other group where it was the same story all the time. I am a person that believes in giving people time to process. It just takes time to get through some stuff.

Dave: Yes.

Elizabeth: But, year after year, I’m hearing the same thing.

Dave: What do you mean, “The same thing?”

Elizabeth: I’m hearing the same complaints about their situation—

Ann: —give us a few.

Elizabeth: “It’s never going to get any better.” I hear people talking about, “Oh, well this person did this thing however many years ago, and that’s really the root of what I’m going through right now.”

So, really, its people pointing back to a past event, whether there’s a broken relationship, it’s financial difficulty, or it's a health issue, and they can’t move forward because they can’t get past what happened.

Dave: Wow.

Elizabeth: Again, you know, we have to process the things. But when people are just replaying the tape—

Ann: —yes.

Elizabeth: It’s as if you can see, “Oh, you're stuck. You’re stuck.”

I distinctly remember there was one girl I was talking to, and she was talking about a past broken relationship. She couldn’t move forward and receive new relationships. She’s a wonderful, wonderful woman, but she couldn’t walk into that because of the bitterness and because of the brokenness. I was sad, because “There is so much that God has for you—"

Ann: —"and you’re going to miss it!”—

Elizabeth: —“you’re going to miss it, because you can’t get past.”

Dave: Could she hear you?

Elizabeth: No. I tried to be encouraging, but there is a point at which the Lord and the Holy Spirit has to do that work in you (if we’re receptive to it). Sometimes, we’re not receptive to it—fear and a lot of different reasons make it complicated.

But that’s why I wrote the book, because sometimes people need hooks to hang their hat on. “Elizabeth, how do I get out?”

Dave: —yes., right.

Elizabeth: “How do I move forward?” A lot of those stories and people were with me as I was writing the chapters of that book.

Ann: Have you ever gone through those times of adversity that you thought the same thing?—

Dave: —yes, we want to hear your story!

Ann: —where you thought the same thing, “The timer has run out?”

Elizabeth: Oh, yes.

Ann: You were thinking, “That’s it.”

Elizabeth: Yes, yes.

Dave: Here’s what I want to do: I want to bring a wingback chair in. [Laughter] You’re sitting in it in your office—in our office, and you're telling us your story.

What was your story?

Elizabeth: I think one piece of my story is death and grief. Losing a lot of loved ones in a short period of time. Grief is, I would say, no respecter of man. It just pops up at the most inconvenient times. It’s like, “Man, I thought I would be past this. This is just really heavy, and I don’t have what I need to function. I don’t have what I need to present in this relationship, present on my job.” You know, I’m bursting into tears, and I’ve got to excuse myself to go to the bathroom.

It's like, “Lord, this is really hard. Why does it keep happening? And why in this season? And, why this person?” So, it was just really sad. I remember, I moved to Dallas to be with my grandparents, and right before I moved, one of them passed away.

Ann: Hmm.

Dave: Wow.

Elizabeth: And then, right after I moved, probably about six or seven months, my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer and passed away four or five months later. I thought, “Lord, I’ve uprooted my life to spend time—and at this moment, you’ve taken both grandparents to be with the Lord.” It is those situations of adversity and difficulty. For me, it just is, “Lord, how?”

Another one for me is the pandemic. The pandemic really exacerbated, sometimes, my difficulties with depression. I was in my house. I live by myself. I’m single; never married. I tell people I’m wonderfully happy, but during the pandemic it was a little bit too much of me.

I remember just being in my bed and weeping with the Lord: “I long to be with people, and it’s not happening at this moment,” for obvious reasons. It was just this sadness that wouldn’t go away. After other seasons of difficulty, I’d say, “Elizabeth, you can’t stay in this bed. You’ve got to do something.” It was in that moment that that book—

Dave: —oh, really?

Elizabeth: —Let me take the stories and lessons that I’ve given other people and put them on paper; how the Lord heals through the pages. I saw Him do that for me, bring healing. And again, mental illness is a complicated, difficult journey. The book is not a simple answer for that, but it is, “How I can find hope in those places?” This might not go away, but I still believe that the gospel provides me with something that can sustain me and let me go find it.

Dave: How did you—I’m sure it’s multifaceted, but how did you get out of the bed?

Elizabeth: I’ve had friends, in a really simple way, say, “I need you to put your feet on the floor. I need you to put some clothes on. [Laughter] I need you to take a bath. I need you to put some perfume on, and your day will be just that much better.”

It was just those simple things from other people who I reached out to in difficult times, and they’ve said, “I need you to practically do these things just today. We’re not saying what you need to do tomorrow. We’re not even saying what you need to do this evening, but just right now, I need you to do this, and this is going to lead you into a better place.”

Ann: Even though you don’t feel like it.

Elizabeth: Even though you don’t feel like it.

Ann: --yes.

Elizabeth: And it’s in those moments, I listened to those people and the wisdom they’ve given me to say, “I’m just going to do this one thing,” and have enough energy to do the next step, and then the next step. It’s one step at a time for me in those kinds of seasons.

Dave: And does it ever dip?

Elizabeth: Oh, yes.

Dave: You feel like you crawl out, and you’re on a journey—

Elizabeth: —yes.

Dave: —and then you find yourself back in the valley?

Elizabeth: Yes, always.

Dave: Yes.

Elizabeth: I think that’s the aspect of—our journey with the Lord, and our journey of healing, is just that. And so, journeys, sometimes you’ll have a great few weeks, you’ll have a great few months, you’ll have a great year, and then something happens.

Ann: Yes.

Elizabeth: And so, for me, it’s always, “Can I give myself grace in that place?” The Lord doesn’t expect us to be perfect, but He expects us to be faithful. But then, also, is my response time a little bit shorter than it was before?

I think sometimes we want the Lord to change us really quickly.

Ann: —yes, we do!

Elizabeth: —and He does it slowly, over time.

Ann: Yes! “Lord, come on!”

Elizabeth: That’s the whole point! The Lord is with me. He loves me. He has grace for me. He’s not abandoning me. He’s not disappointed with me. So, let me love myself the way He loves me. And, in this moment, give myself the grace I need.

Ann: When you say, “embrace the journey,” what do you mean?

Elizabeth: For me, it’s, if I run, where am I going to go?

Dave: Hmm.

Elizabeth: There eventually comes an end to which, all of the ways in which I want to ignore, the pain comes to.

Ann: That’s good.

Elizabeth: I think there’s a frustration with that, as well—whether it’s comfort, whether it’s control, whether it’s approval—I’m going to run to a different relationship. I’m going to run to Texas’s gift to the world, which is Blue Bell® ice cream. [Laughter] I’m going to run to that. Rocky Road. It does make some things better.

Ann: I do like that one. [Laughter]

Elizabeth: But in the end, it doesn’t satisfy. So, I think there is this aspect of—part of the reason I encourage us to embrace is, what you really long for can only come from the Lord. All that other stuff you are going to go to—because you are going to go somewhere; all that other stuff—is not going to satisfy you. It’s going to leave you with additional habits—

Ann: —yes.

Elizabeth: —things that are easy and hard. Again, I want to emphasize it’s not always a straight line.

Dave: Yes.

Elizabeth: It’s not always easy; but what the gospel provides is, that what your heart is yearning for, God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can provide.

And so, Embrace is, “Lord, I’m going to walk with You through the journey, and I’m going to take what You give. I’m going to be empowered by You, and I’m going to be healed by You. I’m going to be strengthened by You and believe—” I think about the words of David: “The goodness of the Lord; I’m going to find in the land of the living.” [Psalm 27:13]

I can thrive now. It might not happen today. It might not happen tomorrow; but it is possible for me because of Jesus.

Ann: Any stories in particular that you can recall that you’ve watched somebody really embrace a really hard situation?

Elizabeth: Yes. I think about a friend of mine who had a chronic illness, and it was one where she needed a kidney transplant. She’s my age, going in for dialysis. She thought, “This is not the life I signed up for.”

Ann: Oh, she’s young.

Elizabeth: She’s young. She is an actress [with] this very bubbly personality, super-charismatic; but she cannot live in that space. She’s gifted in that. I see her continue to—when she’s not on dialysis, continue to—try to show up for auditions, continue to try to work, to try to live, to try to do life with her family and the life—

For her story--her story has the blessing of a kidney transplant finally [coming] through. To be in the hospital with her when she got the news (because she was in the hospital for a medical difficulty related to her illness)—to see that it’s been a long road, and God’s come through. To see the faithfulness of God; to me, those are things that anchor us.

Ann: Yes.

Elizabeth: She’s seen the faithfulness of God in small ways, but she saw it in a really big way. Her health is not perfect now, so it still requires her to show up and be present with God in His faithfulness. But to me, just to see someone labor for years in waiting on the Lord and to see their relationship with God transformed when they saw God come through. And she’s still walking in that now. That’s one story that sticks with me, because I was there—

Ann: —yes.

Elizabeth: —when she got the news. It was really fun to be a part of the journey with her.

Dave: Have you seen the opposite?

Elizabeth: Yes. I’ve seen it from afar, and I’ve seen it up close. I think it’s a moment of disappointment with the church and disappointment with God.

Dave and Ann: Yes.

Elizabeth: Stories of friends and their kids, or friends themselves, who say, “The Jesus I see in this world, I really don’t want anything to do with. I’m not sure what I still believe in but there's been too much harm done in the name of Christ, and I don’t want to sign up for this anymore.”

Then, I've seen people waiting on the Lord, the timer ran out for them, and they chose to go find what they were desiring all along. It’s been too much.

Ann: It’s been too long.

Elizabeth: It’s been too long.

Ann: “You’ve abandoned me,” they feel like.

Elizabeth: Yes.

Dave: What do you think—I’m asking both of you; what do you think—the difference is in the ones who embrace pain and come out better, closer to the Lord, and others go through the exact same difficulty, and they’re turned away?

Elizabeth: —yes.

Dave: —because, if I’m listening, I’m thinking, “I don’t want to be this person; I want to be that person! What do I do? How do I embrace it?”

Ann: My thought is, I’m thinking of one of my mentors in seminary. She was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember saying to her, “Are you mad? Are you mad at God?” She was probably in her late forties. She said, “How can I be mad when God is the only place that I will find any kind of hope or help?”

I think it’s like you said earlier, Elizabeth: “What are my options?” Because, if any of us have lived long enough, we’ve tasted and seen when we try to go hide, or we get triggered and we try all of the ways in which we’re just trying to escape any kind of pain. It just doesn’t work.

And yet, there’s something about falling on your face before God over and over. Then, He takes our eyes off of ourselves, and He puts them somewhere else. I think when we are in the midst of pain, and we feel His presence—and we don’t always feel it! Sometimes, it's just an act of faith. But, for me, I get on my knees and say, “Lord, I’m just going to be obedient today and do the things—” It's exactly what you said: “I’m going to put my feet on the floor. I’m going to take a bath. I'm going to go take a walk.”

But then, when you feel His presence, and when you're in the Word and it’s still, “Uggh!” Even this morning! My soul comes alive: “This is what I was made to do; to be with Him.” What are your thoughts?

Elizabeth: I think it's similar because, in those moments, you are making withdrawals from the deposits you’ve made previously.

Ann: Yes.

Elizabeth: If you’re just showing up in a hard season, and the spiritual account is empty, it's going to be difficult because it's this process of remembrance; of, even though my feelings are telling me, “God’s abandoned me,” “He’s not good,” or even some of the ways in which our suffering gets twisted: “God is punishing me for something that happened twenty years ago.” There’s all this stuff people hear in church. So, we can start to think things that are not true.

But if we have been internalizing the character of God, the stories in which He has delivered people of Scripture, the testimonies of believers today—that’s why I love people sharing their stories. I need my heart to be emboldened based upon what God has done for you, because if He did it for you, He can do it for me.

To me, it’s that we’re making those deposits. That’s why we are in the Word. There are many reasons to be in the Word—

Ann: —yes—

Elizabeth: —because it becomes easier for me to withdraw in those seasons of, “Oh, I don't have much to give; but, Lord, I know all of this to be true about You, and I’m going to walk in that.” And I always say, even for people who do leave and take that exit door, what I love about the Lord is, He doesn't move. He’s always waiting.

Ann: He’s always there.

Elizabeth: He’s always there. He’s pursuing His people. The grace of journeys—sometimes, even if we hop out of the room and hop back— [Laughter] God, in His grace, I think about the story of the prodigal son and the father. He just ran to his son. [Luke 15:11-32]

Ann and Dave: —yes.

Elizabeth: And that’s the image we would have for the Lord even in those seasons where it is difficult for us.

Dave: I love what you said about making the deposits before the storm. I remember Dr. Tony Evans, years ago, said, “You don’t build a foundation for your house—"

Ann: —"in the storm!”

Dave: —"in the storm.”

Elizabeth: Yes, yes.

Dave: It’s before the storm comes, so that it’s going to stand.

The thing I was thinking when you were talking about it, and even when I was reading your book is, expectations—

Elizabeth: —yes.

Dave: —and disappointment. You said—at the very beginning, you talked about how many people say, “I didn’t sign up for this.” How many people say, “I didn’t sign up for this?” We work in the marriage space. That happens in almost every marriage. “I didn’t think it would be this hard. I did not sign up for this.” So, you go into—whether it’s marriage or a job or, you name it, going to live with your grandparents—you have these expectations.

In Detroit, everybody knows about this, because every football season they have expectations that the Lions are going to—maybe the Cowboys, the same thing. And then, when it doesn't work, people are throwing things and putting bags over their heads because we didn’t come through like they expected.

I think we do the same thing with life. Talk a little bit about that. Expectation and disappointment. How do you balance the two? Because disappointment is going to happen.

Elizabeth: It’s going to happen! I always talk about how disappointment is the friend we don’t want that just shows up every so often, because we just live in a fallen world and so, stuff just is not going to go the way we want it to. And sometimes, we have really good expectations about something. There’s nothing wrong with the expectation that my marriage would be good and happy, or that I would have a relationship with my children that is full of joy.

All these things that we expect to happen. Sometimes, we do have unreasonable expectations. I think a life that is devoid of difficulty is an unreasonable expectation, because Scripture points us so much to the difficulties we will find along the way. But are we willing to live with open hands? The problem comes when we hold our expectations so tightly that when they don’t happen, it crushes us—

Dave: —yes.

Elizabeth: —instead of saying, “Lord, life is a good gift that You give, so when it doesn’t match up to what I want, I know that You know better. Even if I don’t understand why You would allow this to be included in my journey.”

Ann: Okay, I’m going to give you a scenario. As you were talking and sharing that, I thought, “This reminds me of this woman I met in this women’s ministry.”

She’s in her fifties, she has a child; she’s single, and she’s never been married. She’s come up to me every month and she said, “I’m walking away from God.” I said, “Why would you do that? You’re fantastic. You’re smart.” She said, “Because He’s not there for me. I’ve been wanting to be married my entire life. I’ve been asking Him to bring me a good man my entire life.”

Dave: And you said, “It’s overrated.” [Laughter] “You know my husband, and it’s overrated.”

Ann: [Laughter] “I’ve been here for a while, and that’s not always it.” She said, “But He doesn’t love me. He doesn’t listen to me. I don’t make that great of an income, and I’m in a job where nobody notices me, and I’m tired of it.” She actually ended up trying to take her life, and I saw her right after that.

What would you say to that constant disappointment? She says, “I’ve been trying to walk with Him, but He has not delivered.” She said, “I have delivered. I’ve done my part, but He hasn’t done His part.” I bet you’ve heard that before.

Elizabeth: Yes. Those situations are always super-sensitive, because the compounding impact of disappointment is just super, super-weighty.

I like to point people, in the most gentle way I can, to, “I know it feels like God hasn’t shown up in any way, but let’s go down memory lane.”—

Ann: —that’s good.

Elizabeth: —"Let’s talk about some of the ways He has shown up.” As we start to—whether it’s that morning He’s showed up, and we go to the past month and the past year and the past few years—all of a sudden, the heart softens just a little bit to realize, “Oh, maybe He hasn’t fully kicked me to the curb. The goodness of God is in my life.”

That’s what disappointment does to us. It strips us of our vision and perspective.

Ann: Do you think the enemy is in that, too?

Elizabeth: I do. I know the enemy would love for us to forget all of what God has [done]. Thinking back to Genesis 3 in the garden, as the enemy is talking to Eve and promising her that she will be like God if she would do this thing. The thing was, she was already like God because she was made in His image. We already have all we need because we are connected to God, but the enemy wants us to forget that.

Ann: Yes.

Elizabeth: Despair and disappointment make us forget; and remembering what God has done—I always tell folks, “If there is breath in your body, you are blessed.” So, if we remember, it doesn’t make the disappointment fully go away, but maybe all of what I’m thinking about God—I need to come back to that, because He is showing up. What does that mean about who He is and what He is doing in my life and what He can do? If He’s done those past things, He can do some future things.

Ann: That’s really good.

Dave: That sounds like—if I’m listening, and I’m struggling—you just gave me step one. That’s something I can do right here, right now, today: open the Word and get another glimpse of who He is.

Ann: Think about Scripture—"Let me remind you of the faithfulness of God.” Moses did that over and over: “He rescued us here; He came through here.”

If you’ve had a journal, go back in your journal, and see how God has rescued you. Maybe you start a journal, one of those “grateful” journals. Maybe say, “God, maybe my eyes haven’t been seeing the faithfulness that you bestowed but help me to remember today and go back and even tell my family, “Here’s how God has been present today.”

Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Elizabeth Woodson on FamilyLife Today.

You know, remembering the past is one of the intentional ways I try to help my own heart in the present. I’ve been on missionary teams before where we’ve done this thing called an Ebeneezer jar. It’s basically a big glass jar that we put in the middle of the room during one of our staff team meetings. We write down on little slips of paper all the ways that God’s been faithful; things that we’re thankful for, things where we’ve seen Him show up, and things where we’ve been intentionally grateful to Jesus for the fact that He has worked in our lives. 

We take the time to read those little pieces of paper out loud to the whole room, and then we throw them into the jar in the center of the room. We applaud and praise God for what He’s done. It’s really cool to see that jar fill up over time. It’s really a testament to how God has worked in the past, so that we can remember in the present that He is faithful. And as we look to the future, we’ll know that He’s going to be there, too.

Elizabeth Woodson has written a book called Embrace Your Life: How to Find Joy When the Life You Have is Not the Life You Hoped For. I think, probably, everybody can relate to that in some form or fashion: “It’s not turning out the way I wanted it to.” The book is for anyone who is wrestling with unmet longings and searching for joy between the gap of what they want to see happen and what the actuals are of their everyday life. So, this book is going to be our gift to you when you give today.

You can get your copy now with any donation by going online to and clicking on the “Donate Now” button at the top of the page. Or feel free to give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. The number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

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Now, tomorrow, how do you embrace peace, hope, and community during life’s challenges, when things are super, super hard? Elizabeth Woodson is going to be back with Dave and Ann Wilson tomorrow to unpack that for us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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