Disappointment: Appointment to Growth, or Harvest of Emptiness?
Life is full of disappointments. Disappointments arise when someone or something fails to meet our expectation or hope: an infant cries and is not picked up; a toy breaks or is lost; rain prevents an outing. As the child grows, its expectations grow, generating a potential for greater disappointments. Disappointments are a part of normal life, but they can lead to frustration. In turn, frustration can breed bitterness. Yet those who trust in the Lord have another way to deal with disappointment.
Disappointment need not control you when your will or some specific plan is defeated. When you think what should have happened was blocked, consider the end results rather than whether or not you had your own way. (In missing a flight or getting delayed in traffic, some have been spared from plane crashes and car accidents.)
Disappointment need not control you when your requests or prayers are denied. Before succumbing to disappointment, ask yourself, Was my will or desire right? Did I have the right to ask, or was I appealing on the basis of grace or mercy?”
Disappointment need not control you when your character is doubted. Jesus performed miracles, yet He was doubted by most and trusted by only a few. Why should we fare better than our Savior? Often when we seek to do right for God, we are falsely accused of wrongdoing. That is not disappointment but the pain of rejection.
Defeated expectations need not be disappointments when you regard your feelings through the filter of the Cross. In the Cross, we believers reckon ourselves as already dead to the things of this world, and how can anyone disappoint a dead person? Besides killing us (and then we go to heaven), the worst anyone can do to us is make things seem worse than they are.
Many Christians are easily disappointed because they are too well adjusted to this world. Some of our problems occur because we take comfort in temporal things. Others arise because we get into conflict with one another as to who is most noble. As followers of Jesus, we need to be humble, creatively maladjusted people who do not bow down to the idols of materialism, self-gratification and pride.
In order to handle disappointment, we need to know from where it comes. Sometimes disappointment arises from impulsiveness. An impulse is a moving within the will that motivates us to act. The rabbis wrongly teach that man is not born in sin. Yet they correctly identify two human impulses: yetzer tov, the urge to do good, and yetzer ha rah, the urge to do evil.
There are large and small impulses. You have an impulse to tell an annoying talker to be quiet, or to take the last cookie on the plate. Or you have the impulse when a task is described to say, “I’ll take care of that!” Or when a need is expressed, you may have an impulse to give everything you have to a certain cause.
Disciplined people do not act impulsively. They review each impulse, act on some, partially act on others and resist the rest. For the mature person there is also a fourth possibility—to defer an impulse and deal with it at a more appropriate time.
Part of discipline is choosing to be with those who know us, want to see us control our impulses and will help us. Nevertheless, ultimately we are responsible for how we allow ourselves to feel and react when faced with our own impulses.
Some have an impulse to win, even at the expense of others. True success in life can be gained by a refusal to compete with anyone except yourself—by a resolve to better yourself instead of besting others. That’s how Christians ought to think, not just when things go wrong, but even when they go right. Ask yourself, “What could I have done better?” This is particularly important in areas where you are gifted. That’s where you ought to concentrate all the more on doing better because you know you can excel.
Disappointment also arises from presumption. The Bible warns against presumption. We read in Numbers 14:44-45 that in their presumption the Israelites invaded the hill country, though Moses warned that the Lord was not with them. The Amalekites and Canaanites beat them back. When the Israelites presumed upon God, expecting Him to do what He had never promised, they were disappointed in battle.
James 3:1 tells us, “Let not many of you become teachers.…” If we presume to teach or make lofty pronouncements without knowing we have been called to do so, we will inevitably disappoint ourselves, others and God.
Finally, James 4:3 warns, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss.…” If we want only what we ought to want, God will not disappoint us.
How To Avoid Disappointing Relationships
Besides disappointing family relationships, perhaps nothing is as devastating as a fellow church member or coworker whose work becomes “shirk.” Sometimes they quit altogether. When they leave, you feel abandoned, and because there’s more for you to do, that loneliness turns to disappointment.
Sometimes disappointment turns to grief when you see people turn from the position of God’s grace and decline to practice the faith. You wonder how they could have stood with you and prayed fervently, because now the faith seems to mean nothing to them. Or you may have put much of yourself into mentoring those who seemed enthusiastic and eager to grow. Then they slipped into immorality and fell so far away that you wondered if they were ever saved. Yet even when they quit you and seem to have quit God, remember that He has not stopped working with them.
To avoid disheartening disappointments, build different, stronger kinds of relationships. Begin and continue all associations with a realistic view. Do not attribute value and strength that is not there. Do not entertain unrealistic expectations. Whatever you do or give, do it as unto God, not merely for a person or a cause. He is the only One who will never let you down. Even if your relationship with a person is devastated, what you did and gave retains its value and stands as a sacrifice to the Lord. When you know you have done what you should, it is easier to bear disappointments and you have fewer of them.
Don’t allow yourself to become possessive of others. They are fellow travelers whose paths should lead to God, not to you. Seek those to whom you can give, not from whom you can get. That’s what Jesus wants you to be.
Never give up on a disappointing person or situation. Those we love and nurture sometimes “backslide” and fall into all manner of sin, only to return to the Lord later. Always treat such individuals as though they can and will return. People change. God changes them. Compassion and forgiveness must remain at all times.
Even pain and sorrow can help us learn and grow. Defeats can turn into victories. C. S. Lewis once said, “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” Pain files us into shape. Pain compels us to consider our ways. We don’t wish pain for anyone, yet we cannot altogether protect ourselves or others from it.
Some say that the antidote to disappointment is to stop caring. Most of the pain we feel comes because we do care. Not caring means not risking potential disappointment. Yet it is better to care even if it causes pain. Then we can let Jesus reconcile us to the situation.
How to Handle Disappointments
When filled with ourselves, our fears and our desires, we focus our minds on self. Our view of reality becomes fogged. That is when we must remember to refocus on God. Those who have sunk into this kind of crisis often do not recognize it. They base their actions on feelings, fears or desires, forgetting that the Lord has called them to love Him more than self. That happened to Peter. After the arrest of Jesus, Peter’s own life became so important to him that when he felt threatened, he panicked and denied the Lord. (See Matthew 26.)
God regularly tests our commitment to Him. At such times we are often tempted to focus on ourselves and our desires. The truly dedicated person who wants to put God first will avoid thinking, Could God possibly intend that I should deal with this or undergo this pain?
If you do get into a fog of self-centered concern, remember that Yeshua expects you to take up your cross and follow Him. The key is to focus on God.
Remember that your investiture in the cross is God’s answer to disappointments! The operative verse in dealing with disappointments should be Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
When undergoing painful disappointments, ask questions and remember the scriptural answers:
- Who was crucified with Christ?
- Me and my sins.
- Who then feels pain?
- Who has overcome the pain and death that people inflict upon me?
- Who lives in place of the old me?
- Who should be afraid?
- No one, for I am dead, and Christ fears nothing.
- Who should feel the distress and anxiety of life?
- Not I. I am crucified with Christ. He has overcome all and promises to make me an overcomer.
- Who can be defeated by the incidents of life?
- Not Christ, for He is victorious.
- But suppose the world rejects me? Defames me? Causes me pain? Kills me?
- It will not be the real me, for I am already dead. They can disappoint and deny the Savior, but they can’t deny me, for only Christ lives in me and the rest of me is dead to the world.
When disappointment comes, that is the greater reality. We who belong to Christ are dead to the world. Everything good we experience is a bonus, and every disappointment is just a petty annoyance.
Cross-centered disappointments are always appointments for growth. Me-centered disappointments can be harvests of emptiness. All successful investors have had their progress slowed by setbacks and disappointments, but there is one rule of investing: You don’t take a loss until you sell. An investment is still an investment and might rebound to value (albeit there is a time to sell and cut one’s losses). But God never sells. He always holds on.
When disappointments come, ask yourself whether you have invested your time, energy, hope and love in people and situations or in the Lord. As long as you keep doing things as unto the Lord, your investments will never be devalued. When you invest yourself for the Lord, whom you love and who loves you, He will never disappoint you.