I hate disappointment. When plans get canceled, expectations are not met, or I simply can’t have my own way, I tend toward brooding. Last year I experienced a couple of sharp disappointments, denials of things I prayed fervently for. Good things. Things I thought were for the Kingdom. But though I prayed and pursued, in the end, the answer was a resounding no. And so, I was left with aching disappointment. If I’m honest, bitterness was knocking at my heart, and I almost let it in. Almost.
Noah Webster defined disappointment as “defeat or failure of expectation, hope, wish, desire, or intention; miscarriage of design or plan.”
Disappointment operates on a spectrum. I can be disappointed that my picnic got rained out or that my flight was canceled, or Wegmans is out of my favorite pineapple salsa. But what about “defeats or failures of expectations, hopes, wishes, and desires” that bring devastation, like divorce, illness, or loss of a child? It may seem a gross understatement to call these calamities ‘disappointments,’ but by definition, that is what they are. They are not mere disappointments. They are profound, soul-crushing, life-altering losses that change the trajectory of our hope.
When we are denied what we think we so deeply desire or what we tacitly assumed we
would receive, the sharp sting or crushing pain of disappointment can propagate a bitter root. What can be done to prevent the disillusionment of disappointment from proliferating that bitter root and instead lead us to the hard-won conclusion that God is, indeed, profoundly good?
Pray for belief.
I know at least three people who lost children in 2021. Each time I learned of a loss, I cried out to God for help with my unbelief (Mark 9:23). I was tempted to throw in the Christian towel in my anger and anguish over what happened to my friends. Life is too hard. The world is too bleak and dangerous. There is just so much to lose. Where is my Father who is supposed to love those he has chosen?
Then I remembered the alternative. The reality is we have nowhere else to go (John 6:68). Life without the Lord is unimaginably harder, as hard as life can be. If the world is this cold with him in my life, how much colder would it be without him? The grief would be magnified and without any mechanism for hope.
Pray for trust.
When I received God’s emphatic no, I was too confused and discouraged to pray. I would even say I was disgruntled. But God gently led me out of the despair into the realization that I have a very limited capacity to see everything there is to see. I thought I wanted this good thing, but he knows better. And so, I began to pray for trust. And God, always the kind Father, has been faithful to bolster what was lacking in me before I experienced the disappointment.
My friends who are traversing the infinitely more intense road of the disappointment of profound loss employ the same prayer. They wrestle through the hurt and abruptly severed plans to emerge from the anger and confusion into the bright dawn of trust. They appeal to raw knowledge, praying that their feelings will catch up to what they have been sure of. And what is it that they know?
- …all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
- And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:10
- The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. Psalm 28:7
- You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3
Disappointment will never feel ok. But the knowledge of the truth about God trumps what we feel about the disappointment, so we know we can trust him.
Run to God for comfort.
Disappointment is the relinquishing of dreams. Lack of belief or trust would lead us to rail against the source of the disappointment. But believers don’t rail against God. We run to him for comfort in profound gratitude and worship, even through anguished tears.
I wrote about this in a previous article:
A few years ago, my little granddaughter was unhappy about a decision her mother had made. She raged and she questioned, she cried and lamented. But ultimately, through her anger and confusion, she threw herself into her mother’s arms for comfort. The person who afflicted her was also her source of peace.
The mind of the Lord is vast, his will is sovereign, and, even in the midst of unspeakable tragedy, he is supremely good. Through the ages, God’s people have leaned into him in their affliction (profound disappointment) and grief. Followers of Christ know there is no better place to be than in the safe arms of God. We know that “the Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). We never doubt that God is the “God of all comfort, who will comfort us in all our affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). We trust that God “heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3). We remember that Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4). We are not “uninformed about those who are asleep, that we may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Noah Webster’s definition of disappointment includes a clarifying sentence: “We are apt to complain of the disappointment of our hopes and schemes, but disappointments often prove blessings and save us from calamity or ruin.” It can certainly seem like some of our most staggering disappointments are the very definition of calamity or ruin. But belief, trust, and casting ourselves on God for comfort help us to know that though these disappointments inflict a degree of pain that would seem ludicrous to regard as blessing, the goodness of God infuses that pain with a balm of hope, easing it just enough to see clear to the good intentions of our loving Father. And through it all, we are more and more conformed to Christ, our only hope in a bleak world replete with disappointment.
Leslie Schmucker retired from public school teaching to create a special education program at Dayspring Christian Academy in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She is the author of the upcoming book, Broken Children, Sovereign God: Rejoicing in God’s Goodness in the Midst of Childhood Mental Illness (Christian Focus, 2023). She belongs to Grace Baptist Church. She and her husband, Steve, have three grown children and eight grandchildren. She blogs at leslieschmucker.com, and you can follow her on Twitter.