Doing Disappointment

I am a bit of a planner. Wait, scratch that – I obsessively plan out everything. When I go on holiday, I have the itinerary sorted months beforehand, with the schedule virtually down to when blinking is allowed (to those of you for whom this sounds stifling: don’t worry, there are scheduled relaxation times). The rest of my life is planned to the same degree wherever possible.

The problem with planning so much is I am often disappointed. It rains on the day I planned for that coastal walk – so my holiday is ruined! More seriously, the life I envisaged for myself starts to slip away because of a failed relationship, or an uncertain career.

While as a super-planner I might be an extreme case, we all get disappointed. People let us down, situations don’t turn out how we expected, we don’t live up to our own expectations…

And disappointment’s a tough feeling to deal with. Proverbs 13:12 says:

Hope deferred makes the heart sick. NLT.

It’s certainly true that life’s disappointments can often be the first step down a slippery slope to doubt and hopelessness.

Being a Christian doesn’t shield us from disappointment. Jesus himself said ‘in this world you will have trouble’, and the Bible is full of people loving God and going through discouraging times. In Exodus 5, after Moses has followed God’s instructions all the way to Pharaoh’s palace to free the Israelites (which isn’t going well for him), he cries out to God:

Why, Lord, have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name he has brought trouble on his people, and you have not rescued your people at all. NIV.

That’s a cry that’s familiar to me – ‘God, I’m doing my best here, and it doesn’t really look like you’re pulling your weight! Isn’t this what you wanted me to do? Then how come it’s going so badly!’

Of course, we know now that Moses’ story doesn’t finish there, that God made good on His promises and all the Israelites walked free. When we’re going through disappointment, we’re told in scripture to trust in God and His promises for us. They are the one thing that will never disappoint.

What really causes disappointment?

Disappointment is defined as ‘sadness or displeasure caused by the non-fulfilment of one’s hopes or expectations’. So without hopes or expectations, there could be no disappointment, right?

Now, I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t hope! In fact, hope is one of the ‘three things’ that remain after all others are gone (1 Corinthians 13:13), but the problem comes when we don’t place our hopes and expectations in the right places.

Consider a specific disappointment that you’ve dealt with, or are dealing with now, and think about the source. I bet that it comes from you resting your hopes and expectations on at least one of two things:

1. People

Newsflash: no one is perfect. People, even good people who love us, invariably let us down. So when we place our hopes on people, we’re bound to be disappointed. Our relationships can be huge sources of disappointment purely because no matter how we might wish it, no person can fulfil all our needs. God never intended that to be the case. He left a hole in us all that only He can fill, and there have been times in my life when I am sure God has allowed me to be let down by people just to remind me of that fact! He wants me to search for fulfilment in Him.

2. Circumstances

Much like people, our circumstances are bound to let us down because, let’s face it, things change. Even if we go through a wonderful season of life where everything seems to go our way, we cannot count on this lasting for ever. There are so many things out there that could hit us and totally knock us for six. So if we place our hopes on our circumstances, we’ll only be disappointed as they change. God never changes. His promises are eternal, and so are the only firm platform on which to place our hope.

The truth is, as long as we place our hope in earthly things, we will always be disappointed eventually.

What now?

So what do we do while we’re in the throes of disappointment (other than weep into our ice-cream tubs)? I’m going to suggest two things here:

1. Rejoice

Yeah, you heard right. Habakkuk 3:17-18 sets a great precedent:

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Saviour. NIV.

It can sound like both the ultimate Christian cliché and the hardest thing to do in the world, but the Bible tells us that when things aren’t going our way, when the situation seems impossible, when we can’t see a way out – rejoice. Praise. Celebrate.

Be thankful to God for delivering you from your disappointment, even when that delivery isn’t obvious yet. Or rejoice for all the good things you do have in your life. Or rejoice that God has already won the ultimate victory through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Whatever it is you have to be thankful for, shout for joy to the Lord (Psalm 98:4)!

2. Switch providers

I don’t mean your mains gas or your phone contract. I mean think carefully about where you’re placing your hopes and expectations. If you aren’t leaning on God for your provision, you may want to switch your tariff.

While disappointment can be gut-wrenching, really it’s an opportunity to cling to God as our source and deal with the things in our lives we have been leaning on instead of him, so that every day we can lift our voices to God and say:

All my springs are in you. Psalm 87:7, NKJV.

His are springs that will never run dry, and there’s nothing disappointing about that.

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