As usual, this is as much a reminder for me as it is for anyone else. When anticipation drives you, disappointment can leave you stranded. I’m learning to live more in the present, but sometimes, that’s just not how my funny little mind works.
As a highly imaginative person, I deal with quite a bit of disappointment in my life. I’m a daydreaming pro. I plan. I hope. I pray. I anticipate. And, as you fellow humans know, nothing ever turns out exactly like I expect.
As a writer, I also deal with more than my fair share of disappointment. Sometimes, I’m disappointed in how what I write turns out. But most of the time, the disappointment comes from the publishing aspect. It took me a long time to be comfortable with putting my writing out there for others to read. Now, now it’s almost natural. But it’s still sacred. If I put my work out there to be read, good grief do I want people to read it! They don’t have to rave about it and shower me with compliments (though that would be nice), I just want to know someone is taking in the words I spent myself to pour out. And when that doesn’t happen, my heart sinks.
It’s the worst when it’s something you’ve really labored for– a piece where you’re particularly vulnerable. I don’t get it sometimes– how a list of my favorite movies can get ten times more clicks than a post that bares my soul, that I desperately think could be beautiful. I understand from an Internet marketing standpoint how this works, but my fragile artist’s heart just doesn’t get it. Maybe, for the sake of that achey breaky heart, I’ll start spam-titling my posts just to get clicks. And maybe a few people will stay and read my post about what God’s doing in Atlanta even after they realize it’s not actually “10 Reasons Honey Boo Boo Could Take Phil Robertson in the Hunger Games.” (No, I’m not really going to do this.)
But even that’s a small thing, comparatively. Disappointment can be dealt in far greater blows. Your church could split. Your college could be shut down. You could be rejected for jobs you thought you had in the bag. The launch of the church plant you’re a part of could be indefinitely postponed. I’ve you’ve ever thought like me, you’ve wondered if everything you touch is doomed to failure.
And of course, there are the disappointments bigger than what I’ve faced. Yet so many people have.
Infidelity. Cancer. Death. And the list could go on.
Disappointment isn’t a lone emotion. It’s a magnetic catalyst– for anxiety, depression, loneliness, low self-esteem, distrust, apathy, selfishness, laziness, indifference, despair, and much more.
Disappointment can drive you crazy if you let it. Or it can drive you to the very opposite of itself– hope.
Hope that next time, things will be better. And faith that nothing ever turns out exactly the same way twice. Hope that what feels like the end of the world is just a bump along the journey. Hope that the overarching plans and pictures are bigger than you could have ever anticipated or imagined. Hope that what was broken can be pieced back together. Hope that there is more than what you were hoping for when disappointment knocked you off your feet.
Disappointment is a catalyst for negative traits and emotions, but when you respond to it with faith in God, it ultimately leads to this strange, beautiful hope. When we trust God, we learn to “glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-4.)
There will always be disappointment this side of eternity. There’s no escaping the flaws of the world. We can and should hope for good things in life– we wouldn’t be alive if we didn’t. But our ultimate hope is not in this life– it’s in Christ. The hope that does not disappoint is the hope that this life is not the end, that the intangible will become tangible, that God will do all He’s promised and more. When we anchor our hopes, dreams, and desperations in anything other than Christ, disappointment overcomes us. But with Christ, we are more than conquerors over all the things life throws at us. We are victorious. Not because our lives are perfect, but because in Him, we have true hope. We believe in a future that will not disappoint.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes that’s the only thought that keeps me going, that keeps me from drowning in despair. Our natural instincts and the voices of the world tell us that the failures and disappointments we face are the ultimate realities. They cannot be overcome. They are all we have to look forward to. We are tempted to lose hope at every stumble. We are told to live distracted. To entertain, immunize, and isolate ourselves in such a way that we don’t have to deal with disappointment.
I buy into this lie sometimes. I get disappointed and I forget where my hope rests, I fall into all those negative emotions, and I become scared of being disappointed again. And when I do, it keeps me from taking risks and from loving with abandon. That’s a shame, because those are essential actions of an authentically Christian life.
S0 what keeps us from being overwhelmed by disappointment? In my experience and from the counsel of those much wiser than me, I’ve discovered a few things that keep us grounded in real hope (and they just happen to all be alliterated):
Prayer. This may be the “duh” one, but when we start getting it right, then we can stop putting it on lists like this. God wants us to grow through our tribulations, yes, but He doesn’t want us to go through them alone. If it’s up to us, we won’t grow; we’ll shrink. We need to spend time with Him, voice our disappointments to Him, and listen for His response. He is the God of comfort. He is the God of love. He will get us through.
Power. The power of the Spirit and the power of God’s Word are irreplaceable. They’ll guide us in the confusing times and lead us not to make the same mistakes. Even if we do, they’ll give us the courage to try and try again.
Perspective. I often deter drowning in disappointment by reminding myself that I’ve been through worse, or that many other people around the world and throughout history have faced far worse disappointments than I have. While this is a helpful strategy, the most important perspective to have is to remember that God’s designing a bigger picture. He’s got every trial, every letdown, every heartbreak mapped out as a tiny tile in a beautiful mosaic that will ultimately point to Him, the master artist. And when we stand back and take it all in, I know we won’t be disappointed.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION: How do you cope with disappointment?