Dealing with Disappointment

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

-Proverbs 13:12

I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of disappointment. As human beings, God has made us with deep desires and longings. We are hardwired to hope for what is good. However, we also live in a fallen world where all is not as it should be. As a result, many of our dreams and ideals are never fully realized.

We all get disappointed.

In my personal life, I’ve noticed that disappointment is a word that has come up for me in many different seasons of my life. I’ve realized that disappointment is one of the main strategies the Enemy uses to hinder my relationship with God. I know from personal experience just how easy it is to get stuck there.

Therefore, instead of acting like a victim of my disappointment, I’ve been asking God to show me healthier ways to navigate the losses in my life. These are some tools He has taught me for dealing with disappointment:

Healthy grieving: I believe it’s important to grieve our losses. And it’s okay to feel sad. In fact, it’s absolutely necessary. We can’t truly get to the other side of disappointment without facing it head on and allowing ourselves to feel the pain.

In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazerro talks about the importance of embracing grieving and loss. His perspective has been so helpful to me. He writes:

“Our culture routinely interprets losses as alien invasions that interrupt our normal lives. We numb our pain through denial, blaming, rationalizations, addiction, and avoidance. We search for spiritual shortcuts around our wounds… Sadly the result of denying and minimizing our wounds over many years is that we become less and less human, empty Christian shells with painted smiley faces.”

As Scazerro points out, grieving is both necessary and Biblical. Two-thirds of the Psalms are laments of grief. The Bible even describes Jesus as a “man of sorrow”and “acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Part of being like Jesus is embracing grief and loss. I’m learning that grief isn’t just an annoying interruption to my life that I need to quickly pass through. Instead it’s an important process that has the potential to shape me, grow me, and deepen my intimacy with God. It is always safe to grieve in the presence of God. And there is something so intimate and comforting about letting God grieve my disappointments with me.

Refusing self-pity: There is such a difference between grieving and self-pity. In my experience, grieving draws me closer to God and His comforting love. In contrast, self-pity distances me from God and from others. When I dwell in self-pity, I start to doubt God’s goodness and guidance in my life. I compare my losses to the people around me and feel like no one can understand what I’m going through. Self-pity isolates me from the love of God and the very people who want to help me. Hannah Hurnard writes about self-pity in her book Kingdom of Love. She says:

“There is no prison house so cruel as the prison of resentment and self-pity, and the effect on those who languish long in that bondage is to suffer a progressively destructive influence on character, personality, and physical health.”

What a sobering truth. Self-pity has the potential to destroy me from the inside out. Therefore, I must actively refuse self-pity when I find myself dwelling there. 

Re-kindling desire : In seasons of disappointment, it’s tempting to shut down the heart. Chronic disappointment has the potential to harden us. It’s so tempting to kill our desires in an effort to avoid future pain. However, this is not the way to live. I love John Eldredge’s perspective in The Journey of desire. He says:

“The greatest human tragedy is to give up the search. Nothing is of greater importance than the life of our deep heart. To lose heart is to lose everything.”

It takes courage to keep hoping and desiring. But it’s so necessary. I never want my current disappointments to keep me from believing in what God can and will do in my future. Disappointment gets me in touch with my deep desire for God and for heaven. One day all will be restored and made right. And it’s good to desire that.

Thanking God for what is: When I get stuck in disappointment, I focus on what is missing. I obsess about the missing puzzle piece, while ignoring the rest of the picture. As I’ve mentioned before, gratitude and thankfulness are such powerful practices at times like this. When I shift my focus from what’s missing, I see all the gifts and blessings that surround my life. And even more importantly, I see the gifts and blessings that have entered my life through my disappointments. God loves to take even the worst situations that the Enemy intended for evil and transform them into something beautiful and redemptive. 

Looking for new appointments: Recently I was talking to an older and wiser woman about her experience with disappointment. She suggested that the “dis” words (like disbelief, discouragement, and disappointment) are all strategies of the Enemy. God’s invitation to each of us is the opposite of those words. For example, in our disbelief, God wants to give us deeper belief. When we feel discouraged, God wants to give us deeper courage. And when we feel disappointed, God invites us into new appointments.

I just love this perspective. Rather than seeing disappointment as a dead end, I can view it as a door to something new. When I feel disappointed, I’m learning to ask God, “What is my new appointment?” God won’t leave us stuck in disappointment. Whenever something ends, God invites us into something new.

Death means that resurrection is coming.

Endings mean that there are new beginnings.

And disappointment means that there is a new appointment.

We just need to have eyes to see it.

The Present Moment

“We need to be fully aware and awake in the moment. Too much time in the past leads to depression: regrets, bad memories, shame, guilt, bitterness, old wounds— all that lies in the past. Too much time in the future leads to anxiety: what if that happens? What if this falls through? Fear. Worry. Concern. It’s all in the future.”

-John Mark Comer, My Name Is Hope 

This book has been so central in my healing journey. In My Name is Hope (highly recommend!), author and pastor John Mark Comer writes about anxiety and depression. One of my biggest takeaways was the importance of living in the present moment.

Now I do believe that it’s sometimes helpful to reflect on the past in order to learn, grow, and even heal from painful experiences.

However, I know from personal experience, that dwelling too deeply on the past can lead to persistent sadness and regret. I can waste precious time rehashing painful memories, analyzing past conversations with people, and regretting wasted moments and opportunities. The truth is that there’s nothing I can do to change the past. It has already happened. Therefore, all I can do is invite God into the pain of my past and choose not to let it define me.

The same thing is true about the future. On the one hand, it is important to consider the future and set goals and plans.

However, I know from personal experience that it’s easy to spend way too much time lost in future possibilities. I can always find something to worry about. And the truth is that most of the things that I worry about never even materialize. Even more importantly, I miss the beauty of the present moment because my mind is caught up in future moments.

Recently I’ve discovered several strategies for being fully present in the moment. The following are some ideas that are helpful to me:

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 mindfulness: This is a fun exercise for getting into the present moment. I discovered it by reading many online articles about fighting anxiety. Basically, I go through each of my 5 senses and notice what my body is experiencing. I call it “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 mindfulness” because I notice 5 things I see, 4 things I feel, 3 things I hear, 2 things I smell, and 1 thing I taste.

For example, right now I am sitting in my bedroom.

I see tiny rays of light coming through the partially closed window blinds, the soft glow of lamplight, my blue beta fish swimming in its tank, my waterfall photograph on the wall, and my tall, white bookshelf full of my favorite books.

feel the soft pillow behind my head, the cool comforter that I’m sitting on, the scratchy carpet beneath my feet, and the smooth keys on my laptop keyboard.

I hear the soft buzz of my box fan, the tumble of the clothes dryer, and the clicking of my laptop keyboard.

I smell the calming scent of lavender room spray and the subtle odor of sunscreen that I wore earlier today.

I taste cool, refreshing raspberry sorbet that I am eating as I write this blog post.

I love this exercise because it helps me to notice all of the things that are happening right around me and to thank God for them.

Exercise: Exercise always helps me get into the present moment. Although I’m not the most athletic person, I love running. When I run, I find myself focusing on my breathing and my running pace. This helps me to stay focused on the moment. I also am a major hiker. I love getting out in nature and experiencing the beauty of God’s creation. I find that I most readily embrace the present moment when I’m out exploring all of the sights and sounds of a new hiking trail.

Worship: I love listening to worship music. Especially when I’m feeling anxious and afraid, music always brings me into the present moment. Especially when I’m driving, I like to sing along to worship songs and really focus on what the words are saying. These are such peaceful times with the Lord, spending time in His presence.

Written or verbal prayer: As someone who struggles with anxiety, I find that my mind often wanders when I try to pray. Therefore writing prayers to God in my journal helps me to stay focused on my conversation with Him. Sometimes I find it even more helpful to actually speak my prayers out loud to God. When I’m driving in the car, sometimes I’ll simply talk to God out loud and process life with Him. It’s amazing how this helps me to stay focused and present with the Lord.

Silence and solitude: I’ve mentioned this before, but silence and solitude are such important practices in my life. In many ways, silence and solitude discipline my mind to stay present. When I remove all of the distraction and noise, I’m left with just myself and God. It’s then that I can most clearly hear His voice and experience His presence.

Intentional time with others: Although I’m an introvert, I love spending time with people, especially in one-on-one settings. I find that I most readily embrace the present moment when I’m face-to-face and communicating with someone I care about. Something I try to practice is intentional listening— seeking to hear what the other person is truly saying and feeling without just waiting to jump in with my own thoughts. It’s amazing how fully present I feel when I get outside of my own mental orbit and seek to truly understand what’s going on inside another person.

I’d love to hear from you! What are some strategies that you utilize to more fully engage in the present moment and experience God there?