Disappointment happens to all of us at one point of another in our lives – whether it be with a parent who did not live up to expectations, a job lost which had been much sought after, a missed opportunity at church, the loss of a loved one – and so the list goes on. When it comes, disappointment can bring the potential for hurt, discouragement, bitterness, anger, doubt and fear. If we don’t deal with these emotions the effects will linger about our spirits and eventually start festering, causing nasty wounds that will infect our spiritual and emotional health.
I have learnt the hard way to deal with disappointment and wanted to share something of my story in the hope that it might give you some hope and encourage you that there is a healthy way out of what can sometimes feel like an overwhelming burden of pain and disappointment.
I can remember being aware of some of my childhood disappointments, like not feeling as cool as the other kids, being an only child, not being allowed to do some of the stuff my friends could do etc. but I think typically for me at that age I never talked about them, I just internalised it and got on with my somewhat lonely life. The big issues starting hitting when I was 11 and my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. During the next four years she had various periods of ill-health and died when I was 15. My parents had chosen not to tell me of the severity of her illness and so it was only three or four days before she died I knew she was terminally ill. I struggled immensely with having been excluded from what was such a big deal and fought with my dad about for sometime after her death. I was obviously angry, hurt and disappointed. Disappointed with my mum, my dad and God. However, I was in no place to deal very well with any of my grief and although dad and I would talk regularly about mum and he was very supportive, I withdrew to cope by myself and pride, self-reliance and independence began to get in the way of me ever really expressing anything. Six months after mum died, my dad starting seeing another women. This became a very difficult for me, as dad was suddenly absent nearly every night and I was left at home by myself, unable to go anywhere, to manage for myself. I felt abandoned by my dad, let down, disappointed. I couldn’t or wouldn’t articulate and acknowledge this so just got on with it, driven deeper into despair, loneliness and hurt. Once they were married life did not improve much with frequent rows and upsets between me and my step mum, my dad was a pacifist and would never intervene openly to protect me so when I left home to go to college at 18 I think it was a relief for all. Saying that, my dad and I were very close, and it was really just his weakness and mine that prevented us all from living in a healthier emotional state. He was diagnosed with lymphoma when I was 23 and died the year after. I couldn’t bring myself to pray for him at all during the time of his illness as I was so racked with disappointment and pain still from the previous years that I was not prepared to put my heart on the line again.
And so it has been since, until very recently. I was in denial about the effects of my past on me, unwilling to open up any emotions, distant from God and in my relationships all round as I was a guarded heart, proud, self-reliant, independent and hurt. I had let disappointment get the better of me and was not in a placed to step out my comfort zone in any way through fear of it happening again. So what changed? One of my best friends gently started pointing out to me that things could be different if I was prepared to allow God to do some healing. I had been bold enough to share my frustrations that I did not feel as if I had the intimacy with God and others that I craved and then started to see why when I looked at this junk. I began a journey of discovering Gods healing and bit by bit I have been allowing him to some of my most painful places, opening up my emotions, expressing my disappointments, repenting of all the ungodly beliefs I have lived under and walking out in freedom. It has taken a few years and I am still going, but knowing more freedom little bit by little bit is keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus.
I had an opportunity recently to practise my new found openness with God and others. I found out that there was an inherited gene in my family which predisposes you to breast and ovarian cancer and was given the opportunity to be tested to see if I had inherited it. I felt in light of my family responsibilities it would be appropriate to do this as if I did have I would be eligible for screening which is very important. I had spent so much time praying that God would cut off generational sin and sickness and known emotional freedom that I was confident he had dealt with this too. I felt able to be honest with him about my fears and laid my heart on the line in terms of the freedom and health I was asking him for. I wanted an end to all this pain and heartache for the whole family and knew this could be it. It was a major step for me to be real instead of rational about the whole issue.
When I went for the test result I was told it was positive. I was devastated, angry, hurt and disappointed. I felt I had put my heart into earnestly seeking God for something I really wanted - a new thing for me given my past - and it seemed as if I got a slap in the face for my troubles.
I had a choice right here; I could either go my old way, pretend it didn’t matter, say I expected it, rationalise my way out and stew quietly, harbouring unexpressed anger and disappointment towards God. Alternatively I could acknowledge, admit and express how I felt. Thankfully, God had done enough in my heart to help me chose the second way. So I cried a lot with Matt, my husband, spilling out my disappointment that more than anything this whole horrible saga was not yet over. Even though God the creator of the universe only had to switch one tiny that would make all the difference he had chosen not to and I didn’t know why. I went and picked up my kids from a friend – held them tight – and cried about how much I loved them and did not want to be taken away from them. When I got to school to pick my son I cried a bit more and met with some friends on the playground who prayed for me. Suddenly, standing in the school playground, I had the realisation that this was not my identity! God did not make me to be constrained or controlled by this diagnosis and that there was more to me. I got some perspective through revelation, because I was open to it. When I was driving home God spoke to me that he was bigger than any test, and I realised – next bit of revelation – that God is not constrained by this either and a test result does not determine my future or healing for me and my family. It’s all in Gods hands. I starting laughing and my son wanted to know what was so funny – I told him God is very good!
In the space of a few hours my willingness to be real, admit my disappointment, express it to God and others allowed for him to move and I gained a kingdom perspective on my situation. I still had some processing to do and now and then still have to give it back to God, but I have learnt a valuable lesson in how to deal with disappointment.
Summary points to take away:
Dealing with Disappointment:
• Be honest, start a dialogue with God, acknowledge how you feel
• Tell others how you are feeling – share your disappointment
• Pray – realise your identity in God
• Give it to him
• Walk out in trust about who God and what he says about your situation
Other principles when dealing with disappointment:
• Ask Lord what are you teaching me? What attitude should I have? What should my response be?
• Do I need forgive anyone in this disappointment?
• Do I need to seek the godly counsel of a wise friend?
• Are there some practical lessons to learn as well as spiritual?
• Who should I now be serving rather than worrying about myself?
• Am I cultivating humility? (pride will hinder any response to disappointment)