Finding Your Way Through Disappointment

By: Brian Harris

We all have to deal with disappointment.

While our expectations are sometimes exceeded, often it works in the opposite direction. You were sure you’d get the great job you applied for, but then didn’t even get an interview. You thought a new relationship was going to go to a new level, but then the other person ended it. You thought you had aced an exam, but the examiner failed you.

Disappointment comes in many different forms. It’s easiest when it is linked to a specific event – because then you have something tangible you must come to terms with (I didn’t make it into the team; I didn’t get the promotion; our relationship didn’t work out the way I thought it would). When it’s a single event, you can analyse it, learn from it, and adopt a different approach next time. Some disappointments turn out to be a gift, as they invite us to try different approaches and to grow.

When Disappointment Becomes Despair

Much more difficult is when disappointment becomes a way of life. It’s when disappointment is your repeated life experience. It’s when nothing is as good as you thought it would be. It’s when even though you succeed, you still feel empty. It’s the nagging sense of feeling let down. It’s being perpetually dissatisfied.

At some point disappointment can morph into despair. Perhaps you’ve heard yourself say: “nothing ever happens the way I hope, nothing ever will, I don’t know why I bother to try.” The risk is that we quietly surrender to what we feel is inevitable. Instead of putting our heart and soul into the things we long for we become self protective. Our efforts are half hearted, and so of course we under achieve. It becomes self fulfilling, but provides us with the perfect excuse (well I didn’t really try, did I).

At what point does disappointment become self indulgent and destructive, and, dare I say it, perhaps even sinful. And I mean sinful in the biblical sense of the word – that which makes us miss the mark we are meant to hit. That which makes us less than we have been created to be – beings who reflect the image of the God who made us.

I think it’s the point when we stop really turning up. We go through the motions of trying, but we aren’t expecting anything and our effort is at best, paltry.

Dig Deep and Reframe

Sometimes we need to dig deeply into our attitudes and values. Did we expect life to be easy? Why? Did Jesus have to deal with disappointment? You bet. It was pretty disappointing that the religious leaders wanted to kill him for performing miracles on the Sabbath day. It was pretty disappointing that Judas betrayed him. It was pretty disappointing that Peter pretended he didn’t know him.

If Jesus faced disappointment, why would those of us who try to follow in his steps assume that we wouldn’t?

Disappointment isn’t the issue. It’s our response to it. I can’t remember who wrote the words: “Take my hand and get up quickly. It’s not falling that’s the worst, but staying in the mud.” Disappointment is an invitation to resilience. Disappointment asks us to be willing to review. Disappointment is an opportunity to ask questions. Disappointment tests the seriousness of our resolve. Disappointment often comes before our greatest achievements.

We are most likely to overcome disappointment when we face it. I’ve met many who instinctively deny it – and have often done so myself. But it’s much better when we stare it in the face, name it for what it is, and determine to carry on. We also need to ask very direct questions. What am I disappointed about? What did I expect? What can I take from this?

Life has so many varied emotions and disappointment is one of them. It can be an enemy that sees you pull out of the race, or it can be a friend, gently nudging you to creativity, tenacity and courage.

Why not trust God enough to view each disappointment as a friend?

Article supplied with thanks to Brian Harris.

About the Author: Brian is a speaker, teacher, leader, writer, author and respected theologian who is founding director of the AVENIR Leadership Institute, fostering leaders who will make a positive impact on the world.

Feature image: Photo by Dev Asangbam on Unsplash