The Gift of Disappointment

The Gift of Disappointment Hero Image The Gift of Disappointment Hero Image

The events of 2020 have caused a lot of disappointment for a lot of different people.

The source of all disappointment is unmet expectations, and life now certainly doesn’t look like how we expected it would just a few months ago.

Perhaps you find yourself in one of these disappointed groups:

  • Workers who have experienced job losses, pay cuts, or reductions in savings due to the economic impact of shutdowns.
  • High school seniors who missed out on the typical graduation rituals and end-of-year celebrations with friends.
  • University students not getting the full “college experience” of in-person, on-campus activities and classes.
  • Athletes facing shortened or canceled sports seasons, sometimes meaning they can’t play for the championship they’ve always dreamed of and worked toward.
  • Fans of sports, movies, concerts, the State Fair, and other live events constantly hearing about the cancellation of their favorite pastimes.
  • Family or friends who are not able to come together for regular fellowship or holiday gatherings.

Plus many others. And that’s all on top of the regular, non-COVID disappointments: single people who thought they would be married by now; spouses disillusioned with their marriages; couples experiencing infertility; and a million other ways in which we all fail to get what we want.

Disappointment is never fun. However, when handled well, this negative feeling can actually have a positive impact. It can help you understand yourself better, refocus your attention on what is really important, and cultivate gratitude for all that you do have.

You can “waste” your disappointment by sitting in sadness and not learning from the experience, or you can use it to move forward and make positive changes in your life. So, how can you deal with disappointment in a healthy way?

Know That It Is OK to Grieve

When you lose something important to you, it is normal and acceptable to grieve for what you’ve lost. For example, David—whom God called “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22)—wrote multiple psalms that express deep sadness over the events of his life. Or try reading the entire book of Lamentations. Or Job. Or Ecclesiastes.

Of course, with disappointment, you are “losing” something that you never had. You are losing the chance to experience something that you had only hoped for. But it is still OK to grieve that type of loss. As it says in Proverbs 13:12, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”

Although feeling disappointment is not wrong, you may need to consider what those feelings say about your priorities and where you have been placing your hope.

Destroy Your Idols

Disappointment can help us each identify our idols—that is, the things we have been trusting in or valuing above God.

Until they are taken away from us, we often don’t realize that these things are our idols. Disappointment has a way of digging them up, brushing away the dirt, and exposing them for the shiny idols that they are.

Are you disappointed because the pandemic has impacted your sense of financial security, and that counts more than your security in Christ? Or are you deeply disappointed about the cancellation of entertainment, leaving you unable to pursue your favorite distraction away from God? Is the thing you are disappointed about of any eternal consequence at all?

Use this time and the clarity provided by disappointment to focus back on what is truly important. Flee from idols (1 Corinthians 10:14) and run towards God.

Appreciate God’s Goodness

Just like disappointment unearths idols, it can also identify entitlement.

Entitlement means that you believe you deserve good things; that “the world,” or God Himself, owes you something.

It is true that all good things come from God, but we aren’t entitled to any of them. They are all undeserved gifts. Because of our own sin, we don’t even deserve life at all (Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23). And because every second of our lives and every one of our abilities are gifts from God, we can’t do anything to earn God’s goodness. It is impossible to place Him in our debt so that He owes us anything.

Perhaps that is a sobering realization that we don’t deserve anything good, but it is reality, and it frees us up to better appreciate all that God has given us. Instead of dwelling on the disappointment of what you haven’t received, focus on being thankful for all that you do have. Even in this season, there are probably a million things we should each be thankful for, compared to just a handful of things to be disappointed about.

Embrace the Season You Are In

This isn’t a “lost year”; it is just different than what you thought it would be. Make the best use of the time you have (Ephesians 5:16) and the situation you find yourself in.

Even though life right now may not be what you expected, that doesn’t mean it is automatically worse. Many of the earthly things we hope for don’t end up bringing us joy, especially not long-term. For example, that childhood toy that I wanted more than anything else in the world, and was so excited to unwrap on Christmas morning, was gathering dust by summer. And many things that I thought I wanted, but did not receive, I’ve long since forgotten about.

Like Paul, who obviously experienced his share of hardship, we can learn to be content whatever the circumstances (Philippians 4:11-12). This is actually the context for the popular “I can do all things” verse (Philippians 4:13). We can be content, have peace, and have hope “through him who strengthens” us.

Reset Your Expectations

Because all disappointment comes from unmet expectations, you can avoid disappointment by setting more realistic expectations.

We are guaranteed to have troubles in this life (John 16:33). We are not guaranteed proms, Final Fours, or a comfortable bank account. We can enjoy good things when they come, but we should be careful with what we expect.

James 4:13-15 speaks directly to this: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’”

Don’t place your hope in the things of this world. As Matthew 6:19 says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal”—or where pandemics disrupt your plans.

Trust That God Is in Control

When Jesus said that we will have trouble in this world (John 16:33), His message was actually one of hope. “But take heart;” He continued, “I have overcome the world.”

When troubles come, we have to remember that God is still in control, and we should trust that He knows what He is doing. Our temporary circumstances might not match up with what we thought we wanted, but in the long term God works all things out for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

2 Corinthians 4:17 describes our worldly troubles as nothing more than a “light momentary affliction” that “is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” These temporary problems are “not worth comparing” to the gift of eternal life (Romans 8:18). One day, there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:4).

Not everyone will experience everything they expect to in this life. But I don’t think you’ll be disappointed about that in heaven.