A few years back I remember saying to someone, “I’m so disappointed I don’t know whether to laugh or cry!” Whoever made up that statement must need to have their hormones checked because I do know what I wanted to do…cry.
Disappointment is a bully that knocks us off our feet—making it hard to stand back up or even catch our breath. Actually, disappointment can be tougher to handle than failure because the nature of it is so elusive. It hides and lurks in layers of hope that we’ve risked believing in. Hope that we’ll be chosen for the job. Hope in favorable test results. Hope in financial rough spots. Hope in dreams working out. Hope in the clarity of our decisions.
To understand disappointment we have to understand where it comes from and where it’s aimed. Most disappointment falls into one of three spaces:
- Disappointment towards circumstances
- Disappointment towards myself
- Disappointment towards God
Circumstances are disappointing when things don’t work out the way we’ve hoped or planned. A job we really wanted goes to someone else. Something we worked hard to gain or achieve is overlooked or forgotten. We stick to the rules, work the program, do the drills—and still come up empty. What do we do when circumstances don’t follow the yellow brick road or land us somewhere over the rainbow?
A few months ago Bobby and I had our hopes about as high as they could get. After years of prayer and hard work, it looked like he would get another shot at a big-league coaching job. We desperately could use the extra income as I run a ministry that helps the hopeless in Uganda. Not to mention we’ve been in the game for thirty-five years and have one of the finest resumes imaginable! At the same time my literary agent let me know a publishing house was interested in a book proposal I’d written and really wanted to sell. Everything seemed to be falling into place as the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers affirmed his desire to have Booby on his staff, and the Senior Editor of the publishing house cooed about how much she loved my material. It was a long week of waiting—and when the answers finally came we both heard, “We love you but can’t make it work…” Circumstances shifted us towards disappointment rather than celebration. Somebody else got the job. Somebody else got the breathless call of acceptance as we bowed our heads and prayed for new resilience and hope. It’s in the raw moments of disappointment where we either wallow or grow.
Wallowers tend to roll around in the hurt until they’re covered in its mud. This is where blame and anger have a field day. If we’re not careful disappointment can make us bitter; blaming other people, circumstances, and even God for our unfavorable outcomes. I have to admit that there have been times in my life where I smirked at the famous lines in scripture, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, and are called according to His purposes.” Romans 8:28
Although I love Jesus with all my heart and have for decades, there’ve been times when I questioned the “all things…” part of that verse. It’s tempting to think that only “some things” or “things we can control” work for our good. But God says ALL things—and that’s the hope. If circumstances have recently slayed you, remember this:
If you’re called and focused on God’s purposes, then even this turn of disappointment is part of the right outcome, an outcome that will end in good.
Sometimes our disappointment is directed towards ourselves. Our destructive habits soar out of control. We over-sleep and under-apply ourselves. We react in a way that embarrasses us later. We just don’t measure up to our own standards or the standards of the people around us.
In these moments of self-disappointment it’s tempting to think that God shares our view. Have you ever wondered if you’re one mistake away from making God so annoyed He just might throw in the towel?
Last week I received several messages from women struggling with eating behaviors. After losing weight and seeing healthy results from new choices— old behaviors crept back in—making the heartache of disappointing themselves (and God) seem too big to overcome. I reminded them of the words from the Apostle Paul to a church that was struggling with self-disappointment. “…He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we shall live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you.” (2 Corinthians 13: 4)
Nothing looked weaker or more disappointing than dying on a cross. Yet, it was the weakness of the cross that exhibited the power of God towards humanity. When we feel our weakest, His power is the strongest.
Just today I slumped in my car with tears streaming down my cheeks over the frustration of several health issues I can’t get relief from. I felt disappointed in myself for letting the stress and busyness of life overtake the health I worked so hard to achieve several years ago. All it took was the crabby words of a doctor to make me crumble in a disappointed heap. (Of course I waited till I was in the car to bawl…) Slumped between the steering wheel and my purse, a wave of hope came over me like a warm blanket. “I will cry to God Most High. To God who accomplishes all things for me.” (Psalm 57: 2)
It dawned on me that I don’t have to try so hard, or beat myself up over things I think I’ve failed at. We waste time feeling guilty when God is ready to accomplish new things on our behalf.
Of all the types of disappointment, feeling disappointed with God is the hardest to tame. If I had a dime for every time I hear, “How could a God who loves us let that happen?”…I’d be rich.
The older I get the more I’m assured of the answer. God is God and we’re not. It’s really that simple. As long as we think we know the best outcome to the things we hope for and pray—the harder it is to accept when things other than what we hope for end up happening.
Remember I mentioned not getting the book deal that I prayed for and really wanted? One night I was standing in my office next to my beautiful bookshelves filled with books. Hundreds of authors’ blood, sweat, and tears line my walls—but in the midst of these books I sensed a fresh breath of God blow over me like a new breeze. I was reminded that my life’s call is to share God’s love with audiences in any way I can. In that moment God proposed a new audience…the TV audience. I was approached months ago about writing a faith-based drama series focused on the life of major league baseball players and their wives—but kind of balked at the idea. After all, I know nothing about writing for TV, and besides, writing books is my comfort zone.
Remarkably, in just over a month and a half God aligned me with one of the best fiction writers in the industry, and placed us with a powerful production team in Hollywood. If I’d stayed stuck in disappointment I never would have heard God’s fresh invitation to something new. Perhaps the question isn’t “Why is God letting this happen?” but rather, “How is this disappointment going to bring about something fresh and good?”
Remarkably, even disappointment can be beautiful when we let God shape it.