Dealing with Disappointment
The lower lip of the little boy puckers outward as he's told there will be no dessert after supper. He was expecting dessert.
The heart sinks and the mind scrambles when a letter from the employer is opened and the man is notified that there will be no pay increase this year. He was expecting a pay raise.
The woman's sobs come from the bottom of her feet; the child resting in her womb has no heart beat. She was expecting a normal birth like her other children.
Across town another young woman is trying to hide her pain. He's just told her that everything is off. His recent talk of a deepening relationship with her in the future, perhaps even marriage, had caused her to expect otherwise.
A couple senses a vague confusion & discouragement creeping into their relationship. Through good Christian books and their discussions they had mapped out a course for their marriage & family. But things were getting confused; it wasn't working like the books. They had expected an easier way in their marriage & family.
Mature parents have raised their children according to deep convictions, their understanding of Scripture, and the counsel of others. But now their children were not walking according to their expectations. They struggle with confusion, anger, disappointment.
A couple has invested in ministry, pouring heart & dollars & energy in the work. But appreciation & cooperation on the receiving end is replaced in some quarters by selfish demands & stubbornness. This causes confusion & disappointment.
These are just some of the many situations of disappointment that have come to my attention over the past months. And as you know we here at Bradford Hall have had our own set of disappointments...ministry-related, family-related, construction-related, and now cancer-related.
In this article, I would like to make an attempt to bring clarification to the issue of dealing with disappointments. Disappointments are tied to Expectations. Without expectations, there can be no disappointments. The core point in dealing with disappointments is to examine our expectations.
We all have a multitude of expectations, related to every aspect of Life. To have no expectations, no hope, no anticipations....is to have no life. The Scriptures say "Where there is no hope, the people perish." Expectations come to us by default according to our personalities and according to our culture. The expectations enshrined in the American Dream are instilled in us from our youth, subtly thru our observations of our parents (their spending patterns, their values, the use of their time, their associations) and less subtly thru the advertising that leaps off the pages of magazines or blares from the HDVD screen. This is our culture: "seek the good life; every American can have the good life...in fact, it is your right as an American to own your home, to have a secure income, to have a good car, to be educated, to have good clothes, to have the entertainment you desire, to have good medical care...." (the list goes on)
Other expectations are self-induced through our personality. Some of us are phlegmatic; we just flow with anything, and have low expectations. Others of us are choleric; we have goals a mile long & are very enthusiastic about our ability to attain those goals. Other are melancholy; we're almost afraid to have expectations, because we are certain that we will fail in attaining them. And some of us are sanguine; we freely & enthusiastically embrace any idea that is presented to us, and it doesn't trouble us in the least if that idea never comes to fruition.
(You can see that I've used the 4 groups outlined in ancient literature and popularized by Tim & Beverly LeHaye. Of course, no person is strictly one type, but this arrangement helps us to see ourselves a bit more clearly.)
My point is this: Without Expectations, there would be no Disappointment. And without Expectations, there would be no Life.
So as humans, we are "stuck" with a life of disappointments. "That's Life," we say. Suck it up, keep going, develop a thick skin, guard your heart. So many in our society have coped in this way...but if it has not prevented further disappointment, it has also prevented much happiness. Bitterness, cynicism, anger & suspicion have replaced hope.
As the knowledge that a rare & aggressive cancer was growing rapidly in my body joined my informational database a year ago, the counsel of the medical community and many in the lay community was this: Don't give up hope. What they meant was this: Don't stop expecting the medical treatments to cure this cancer.
A similar message came from many of my Christian brothers & sisters: Don't give up hope. And what they meant was this: Don't stop expecting God to heal you.
I have chosen a different path. When we place our expectations on ANYTHING other than the character of God, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Does that sound unrealistic? Does that sound harsh? Does that sound overly-restrictive? Does that sound like a level of super-spirituality that is both unpleasant & unattainable?
Let me say it again: When we place our expectations on ANYTHING other than the character of God, we set ourselves up for disappointment. This is reality, and it is the teaching of Scripture.
It is reality because Sin exists...since the Fall, it has permeated all of this world, from its politics, to its nature, to its social structure, to its families, to its economies...and to every individual walking on its soil. Sin means failure. I do not think we fully realize the cost to Mankind from Adam & Eve's choice to rebel against God's command. We are all severely handicapped; nature is handicapped; national politics and economies are handicapped. The sin in our midst goes far, far beyond the crimes reported in the newspaper! Those crimes are only the very top tip of the iceberg! The newspaper could not possibly report each unloving word spoken amongst family members, each person with a haughty & selfish attitude, each small act of thievery, each abuse or covetous thought of that which belongs to another person, each tyrannical & unconstitutional act of our governments.
Notice that I did not say we will "always" suffer disappointment. I said we "set ourselves up" for disappointment. The effects of sin are real, but so is the grace & mercy of a loving God. He feels our pain; He knows our plight under sin...much more than we ourselves do. And He delights to give good things, to give comfort, to strengthen. He does this good for us not only because it is His nature & brings Him pleasure, but also because He wants to encourage us in our live under sin.
There is Hope, He says. The Hope is in Me. Only Hope placed in Me will not run the (high) risk of disappointment. Because only I am utterly, completely faithful, thru the passage of Time, thru changing circumstances, thru passing governments, thru bull & bear markets. In this whole universe, only I do not change. And the person who chooses to place their expectation completely upon me...in every area of life...is the person who will not be disappointed.
When we place our expectations on ANYTHING other than the character of God, we set ourselves up for disappointment. It is just a matter of time before disappointment knocks the breath out of us. Only the breath of God in our being can sustain the knocks of life.
King David knew this. From a childhood of being the youngest, the neglected, the abandoned....to a young adult of being hunted, exploited, misunderstood....to a king of being manipulated, tricked, burdened....to a father of being betrayed, exploited, tricked. In every area of his life, he suffered disappointment & pain. Yet he knew the reality of God's faithfulness to His own character. And in that certainty was safety for human beings. Over & over as we read the psalms of David, we get a look into his heart. Amidst the disappointments & pain, comes the call to his own soul to put his hope in the Lord. And in that shift from earthly expectations to the Hope of His faithful character comes the peace, the comfort, the joy, the anchor, the strength to cope with Life's changes. Check out Psalms 146 & 71.
Paul also knew this. And he taught it to the early believers. Check out Romans 5:1-10....notice the absolute foundation of security that we can have because of the faithfulness of God to the work of Jesus Christ. And that work is not applicable only to our salvation; it is applicable to the living of life under the blood & the ownership of the Savior. The chapter before (Romans 4) describes the working of faith (living according to the character of God) in the life of Abraham.
Look at verses 20-21. "No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised" (ESV).
Notice, he "grew strong in his faith". There are plenty of examples in his life where he failed to trust the character of God, and took matters into his own hands. But as he matured in his confidence in God, he came to the place where he did not waiver. Abram's main struggle was the promise of God to give him a son, set against his childless circumstance. Long ago the neighbors of Abram has stopped telling him to "don't give up hope" (in natural reproduction), long ago he had realized that Sarah's plan (which was culture-dictated) was wrong, and as the calendar turned over year after year, he struggled with disappointment....except when he remembered the character of God to keep His promises.
What promises has the Father given to you & me? We can walk in the same path, according to the example of Abraham, when we choose by an act of our will, to believe that God cannot forsake His character.
Paul repeats this teaching of the complete trustworthiness of God and that truth as being the ONLY foundation of our hope; he repeats it many times. This hope is what separates the men from the boys in living the Christian life. And in I Corinthians 13, Paul puts things in the perspective of eternity. Faith & Hope will cease when we reach Heaven; they will no longer be needed when we see the Author & the Finisher of our Hope face to face.
But until then, when we place our expectations on ANYTHING other than the character of God, we set ourselves up for disappointment.
August 26, 2010