Sunday, May 04, 2008

Dealing with Disappointment

Last week I experienced disappointment. This always knocks me for a day, I feel low, morose, lacking in faith, start getting into negative thought patterns then I nearly always rebound quickly - but only by using some specific tools or strategies. But I have to make a conscious decision to deal with disappointment. Sometimes I consider choosing NOT to deal with it, but that would utterly ridiculous.

So I offer some personal reflections and thoughts about disappointment. They're not out of a book; perhaps such a book has been written; they're just from my experiences and as such are anecdotal, personal, perhaps not for universal application.

Isaiah 49:23 promises that those who hope in God will not be disappointed. But what if you are? You've asked for something that hasn't happened or you have lost something you dearly wanted to keep? Some years ago, I went for my early pregnancy scan only to be told that either I had my dates wrong or the pregnancy was not progressing as it should. The consultant explained the possibilities and I was sent home to return in a week to see if there was any change in the size of the developing baby.

I KNEW God could work in awesome power and make this baby grow. In those intervening 7 days I prayed and prayed and wept and prayed. A few close friends did the same with us; I was hoping and praying for something miraculous....

On the re-scan, there was no change, and the pregnancy did not continue; I can't feel the pain of it now, but I can remember that disappointment threatened to crush me. I felt let down. I had to go into hospital for a small op, and all I can remember was that I cried my heart out when I came round from the anaesthetic. But as the brief sobbing finished (maybe 5 mins after I woke up) I was filled with an indescribable peace and I KNEW that God was in control and that it really was going to be OK. There was hope.

(A few months later my son was growing away healthily inside me, making me throw up as a happy side-effect!)

Martin Luther King (Jr) said: We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

This is the truth; that those in Christ have access to the God of hope;
That we're not responsible for every other person's decisions and life choices
That we are not responsible for constructing theologies to explain suffering, pain or death;
That we're not to work up hope out of our own feeble attempt to use sociological disciplines and optimism alone

for hope comes from God alone
from the Spirit who wants to hover over us, burn within us and impart hope.


  1. The trouble with 'stories of hope' is that they are more often than not, stories in which all has turned out OK. These are great for the people involved, but can leave the troubled person no better off, in fact they can make the troubled, dissapointed person feel isolated in their despair, not understood.

    God is weaving a narrative in which so often loose and ragged ends seem left untied. Stories of hope in the 'now' can be usefully taken as signs of the hope still in the 'not yet' though.

    Nicholas Wolterstorff in his book "Lament for a Son" talks about his grief like this:

    "But please: Don't say it's not really so bad. Because it is. Death is awful, Demonic. If you think your task as a comfortor is to tell me that really, all things considered, its not so bad, you do not sit with me in my grief but place youself off in a distance from me. Over there you are of no help. I need to hear you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench."

    So maybe I don't have a story of hope for you. But dissapointment, like all griefs, is best faced together with others who have felt its sting.

  2. Morning THM

    thank you so much for your response.

    I love your words: "God is weaving a narrative in which so often loose and ragged ends seem untied". You post a reminder to all who may choose well-meaning words such as "it's not so bad". In the midst of disappointment and despair, no matter how big or small in the world's eyes, it's tragic. It theatens life and breath. It's dark. It's solitary. You're right, we're not always promised an easy solution nor even that it will be alright; we're promised that in the fullness of time, the kingdom will come in fullness.

    Some of the African women and children with whom I am now close have experienced the bleakest and darkest moments, with repercussions for some of them physically and emotionally extending into the now...and demonstrate such godly hope that it puts me to shame. They have not been taught about eschatology by Moltmann - I have talked with some of them in depth about how inspiring their lives are to us here in the UK. They have lost so many family members that a simple shrug and some Christian platitudes would be an offense. Their words: but who else have I but you Lord? And in you we put our hope.

  3. Susan Tittmar3:25 PM

    Lynn, have you tried reading Moltmann's 'Theology of Hope'. It is Hope in a different guise, adn well worth a look, no matter how busy you are!


  4. Susan3:30 PM

    Also, heard a fabulous comment on my 'New Monasticism' weekend just gone!

    Someone said that evangelicals, and especially charismatics, have defined !Cor10:13 "You will not be tempted beyond what you can bear" as meaning "you can bear anything alone". When we don't look to community in order to deal not just with disappointment, but with hurt and pain and the unbearable, then we are not able to bear things. God has given us the community of the church in order to help us to bear that which we cant bear alone.

    It is a shame that so many of us are not able to ask for the help and support we need, or that we find that if we do ask the church either does not provide it, or provides something totally inappropriate!

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  6. Thanks for taking time to visit again!

    Some labels and generalisations here Susan! I'm trying to avoid making generalisations - or quoting others on them - on this topic especially as what you and I do to support and pastor others is all that matters.

    Yes, I have read some of Moltmann's Theology of Hope book (you and I discussed a chapter of it briefly last year for DC. If I remember correctly you explained some of it to me!)

    Individuals can get precious about "their" pain. Not everyone with pain wants to ask for nor receive help. The word community which you mentioned is key. As you and I know, we are part of a faith community that has bravely stepped out to share lives and only understand a fraction of the pain with many folks in our society - very practically, and in a financially costly way at times, but out of a heart of love, expecting nothing back but wishing to embrace the outcast. No way of behaving, worshipping or praying is expected back, simply the fact "we're so glad you're here".

    I so love that phrase "the loose and ragged ends often seem left untied". Yes, they may be, but I am glad that even if no-one else can sort out the ragged ends, at least someone can bear the weight of them on their arms.

  7. In the orginal post I didn't claim to have universal wisdom on dealing with disappointment. On a personal blog, I posted a personal journey.

    Hope this clarifies any confusion!

  8. I loved this post. I too need to make a conscious decision to deal with disappointment when it arises. Those words at the end express it all so beautifully.

    Hope is not something that clears up all the mess but something that makes the mess bearable. And we can only say what we know. When disappointment is at its most fierce, I can only turn my eyes toward beautiful God. He allows my thumping fists and wailing grief, and then gathers me up as I lie exhausted in his arms. It is a journey I make myself, no one else makes it for me. It is not something I tell others to do, it is something I tell myself!

    I led and preached at a service last year (before I was on the dreaded 'programme'!!) and the theme was 'God in the dark'. It was a very...honest...service. There are many times in life when I can't see a thing, but have to remind myself continually that God sees in the dark (even the darkness is not dark to him - Ps 139). Although God does not always change my circumstance however desperately I want him to, my circumstances cannot change God. I don't say that glibly. There are times I have had to cling to it like a tiny thread, lest I am blown away. There have been times I felt I was blowing away, but (thank God), he came with me.

    Much love

  9. Lucy, thanks for your comments. Really interested to hear about your service topic - not one I could do, I'm sure.


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