All of us have tasted disappointment. You didn’t get the gift you hoped for. Again. You watch as others pull off brightly colored paper as smiles spread across their faces. And you awkwardly try to adjust your slipping smile. Or maybe you’re like my brother, George, one Christmas when he was a little boy. The moment finally came. He handed our uncle and our dad the gifts he had purchased. George imagined them smiling as they took off the wrapping and saw the new black rubber galoshes he bought. What he didn’t count on was their laughter. Holding them up, our uncle said, “What in the world am I gonna do with these?” Laughter filled the room. His face got hot with humiliation. Disappointment. We’ve all experienced it in our lives. And sometimes disappointment comes and decides to stay. The question is: What do you do when you’re crushed with disappointment?
1. We Need to Face Our Disappointments
Sometimes disappointment slips in unaware. We manage to silence the nagging feeling that warned us not to hope. But isn’t hope like a helium-filled balloon, made to rise to great heights? Didn’t we hold the string tightly, making sure it didn’t get away from us? Why did we dare to believe this time would be different? When we refuse to face our disappointments, it leads to discouragement. Instead of admitting how we feel, we sweep every bit of it under our rugs. And we hide for fear we’ll look foolish for hoping. Unless we face our disappointments, we cannot deal with them. You can only work on what you’re willing to acknowledge.
Like the time I couldn’t accept that the bracelet I slipped on my ten-year-old wrist was not the watch I was hoping for. When no one was looking, I’d put my ear to the little heart-shaped face, certain I could hear ticking. There had to be a watch behind that heart if I could just get it open. And now, decades later, I just wish I could find that bracelet and place it on my granddaughter’s wrist, and tell her about that timeless moment. I once bought a postcard as a new bride to send to my husband overseas. The card stated: Disappointments His appointments. Those three words gave me such peace. Maybe there’s a reason for those times we are disappointed.
2. On This Earth, We Will Have disappointments
When I think of disappointment, I think of the time Jesus went to pray in the garden, taking a few of his disciples with him. Jesus asked them to wait with him while he prayed, but found them sleeping when he returned (Matthew 26:40). After Jesus prayed a while, he returned a second time to find them asleep again (Matthew 26:42-43). Jesus didn’t shame them but understood they were tired. The third time Jesus found the same thing. (Matthew 26:45-46). Jesus had emotions like we have (Hebrews 4:15). Sometimes when people let us down, we put our guard up. A quote by Rachel Simmons says: Hurt me once, shame on you. Hurt me twice, shame on me.
People tend to protect themselves from being hurt, and sometimes they hold it against their offender. I’m not talking about abusive cases, I’m referring to when people hurt us. Do we forgive them? God’s view differs from the world’s view. When Peter asked Jesus how many times Peter should forgive his brother or sister, Peter thought seven times would be generous. Jesus told him seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22). Paul tells us not to be conformed to this world’s patterns ( Romans 12:2). But that is only possible if we learn and apply God’s Word.
3. Disappointments Can Help Us Grow
While disappointments are common in this fallen world, some disappointments shake us to our very soul. When we learned our daughter-in-law would be having our fourth grandchild, we were ecstatic. But when we learned the baby had Trisomy 18, a terminal, genetic disorder, our joy quickly turned to sorrow. Olivia might not even make it to her birth. It’s so difficult to anticipate a birth that will not be long-lived. It was more than difficult. Had it not been for the Lord, I don’t know what would have happened. I say that because when I was 12, we learned our cousin Julie had been killed by a garbage truck. And when our grandmother heard the news, she died the next day.
When Livie was born, I leaned hard into the Lord. I had to. And God graciously gave us 14 months with her before she slipped into heaven. I thank God for Olivia and all I learned. God showed me he is near the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18). Nathan and Heather gave their baby daughter a life filled with love. It’s all Livie knew. I loved watching Jude, Charlie and Ruthie interact with Livie. Whenever she was in the room, they would stop and gently touch her head with theirs.
One day my grandson, Jude, told me, “Livie is like rain in the spring. She’s gentle and would never hurt anyone.” They keep her memory alive, honoring her on her birthday and her death-day. Her Christmas stocking will hang next to theirs, like every year. And though Ben never met Livie, if you ask him who is in her pictures on the wall, he smiles and says, “It’s Livie.”
4. Disappointments Show Us Where Our Hope Lies
I prayed God would let Livie live. But God’s thoughts and ways are not ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). We cannot understand his infinite ways with our finite minds. I am learning to trust God’s character when I don’t know what he’s doing. I knew God would help me, just as he’s helped me with my other losses. Losing my mom when I was 16, my dad when I was 24, and my sister to domestic violence when I was 30, God was there for each and every loss. God helped me with my two miscarriages and the loss of my two brothers. God showed me that he was with me. He was always there.
God tells us not to put our hope in princes or human beings who cannot save, but we’re to put our hope in the Lord (Psalm 146:3-6). God tells us to trust in the Lord and not to lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). Sometimes we lean on our own understanding and trust that God will fulfill our expectations. We try to limit God, instead of just walking with our loving Father, holding his hand.
5. Disappointments Can Teach Us
When we experience disappointments, we choose what we will do. Will we harbor those disappointments, letting them turn to anger, and have to learn how to heal from a bitter and resentful heart? Will we decide God is not worth trusting?
Years ago, I shared my poetry at a workshop at a church retreat. Early that morning God asked me a question he’s only asked me a few times in my life,
“Do you trust me?”
“Yes, Lord, I trust you,” I answered. “I don’t care how much money we make.”
At the retreat’s end, we packed our framed poetry art, carefully placing the pieces inside Rubbermaid containers. I made a quick bathroom stop and then got in the van. “Should we stop to eat?” I asked Mike, smiling. We had made $1250.00 over the last couple of days. So I added, “We can eat wherever we’d like.” “No, I’m tired, Mike said. “Let’s just go home.”
I reached in my purse, looking for the zipper pouch which held our earnings. My heart rate quickened. After a few moments I said, “Mike, I can’t find the money.” “Please tell me you’re joking,” he said quietly. “I’m not joking.”
When we arrived home, an hour later, I called the Lincolnshire Hotel, and then called my church, asking for prayer. Our money was never found. I felt a pain in the pit of my stomach. We had borrowed money for the frames and mats. Our son, Nathan, who was a teenager at the time, called us from church. “Mom, what’s going on, I was told to call home.” I relayed the story and our disappointment. He responded, “Mom, it was only money. God had another purpose.”
I remembered God’s question to me that morning, asking me if I trusted him. I just sat there for a while. I realized I wasn’t trusting God, I had been trusting in my efforts. And though I told God it didn’t matter how much money we made, this disappointment revealed what was in my heart. It did matter. It mattered too much. And that is when God gave me this poem.
Lord, I’m so discouraged,
the plans I had fell through.
I sit with disappointment
and don’t know what to do.
I had my day all figured out,
most everything was planned,
but nothing went the way I thought,
and I don’t understand.
He answered with compassion,
I know you are in pain.
Just trust in me completely;
your loss will turn to gain.
Anne Peterson ©1996
Our disappointments can be teachers. We decide if we’ll be good students. I have to tell you, for years, I didn’t understand the Lord’s response at the end of my poem, “Your loss will turn to gain.” And as I sit here finishing up this article, the Holy Spirit is reminding me of Paul’s words, when he said he considered whatever was gain to be loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8). God has just shown me the truth of that verse. God’s Word is alive and active, it penetrates even to the dividing of our soul and spirit, it even judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). The gain we get from our losses is knowing Christ more intimately. Nothing else really matters. I am humbled to share all of this with you. I hope these words will somehow help those of you who have had disappointments.
A Prayer When We’re Disappointed:
Father, we recognize you alone are God, we are not. You allow things in our lives that we struggle to accept. Especially our losses. We know from sending us Jesus, how much you love us. Everything you allow in our lives may not make sense to us, at the time. You sometimes say no to things we want. Father, help us realize what really matters is knowing you. Help us so we can lean wholly on you when circumstances get difficult. God, help us learn how to hope in you alone. You’ve told us you will not withhold any good thing from us (Psalm 84:11). Help us believe your Word. Help us when we’re disappointed. Thank you for Jesus, for it is in His name we pray, Amen.
Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images Plus/fizkes
Anne Peterson is a regular contributor to Crosswalk. Anne is a poet, speaker, published author of 16 books, including her latest book, Always There: Finding God's Comfort Through Loss. Anne has also written and published a book entitled He Whispers: Poetic talks with God. Sign up for Anne’s newsletter at www.annepeterson.com and receive a free eBook by clicking the tab. Or connect with her on Facebook.