We’re 6 days into our 28 day long cross-country road trip, and the theme of the weekend was a familiar one: disappointment. When there are 6 of you, chances are most of the time one of you is going to be disappointed. We all had our share this weekend.
Mine included a disappointing dinner choice in a great food city. My wife’s included making our way to a stunning view of Lake Michigan only to find it so covered in fog you could only see 10ft in front of you. My son’s included being mad we had to leave the house because they have a pool table, and literally all he wants to do is play pool the whole time. That last one feels like a CS Lewis illustration.
This got me thinking about disappointment. It’s one of the most consistent themes of life that we seem to talk about the least, much less handle well. Most of us either get stuck and bitter in our disappointment, or we brush past it so quickly we almost pretend life is supposed to be easy.
But disappointment can be a good thing, especially if we handle it with grace. Because there are four things disappointment can teach us:
1. Life isn’t about us
Donald Miller once wrote, “The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: Life is a story about me.” It’s so easy for us to believe this. Life is supposed to go exactly the way I want it to all the time. When it doesn’t, even I’m handling it pretty well on the outside, on the inside I’m a toddler melting down. I’ve forgotten that life isn’t a story about me. It’s a story about Jesus in which I get to play a small, humble part. That reshapes not just my desires, but my expectations too.
2. Life has seasons
We’re in Michigan as I write this, and summers here are absolutely beautiful. I mentioned this to a friend who lives here yesterday and he quickly reminded me that as beautiful as the summers are, the winters are brutal. Life can be that way. In his book, Spirituality of the Psalms, Walter Brueggeman says there are basically three kinds of psalms. Psalms of orientation, where everything is happy and we’re thankful. Psalms of disorientation, where everything is upside down and we’re devastated. And psalms of reorientation, where things are made new, most of all us, and we’re delighted. This was the pattern for Jesus, life, death, and resurrection. And it’s the pattern for everyone who belongs to him, God’s plan for their life. Disappointment is part of the pattern, but not all of the pattern.
3. No one is born patient
No one is born patient. It takes a lifetime to learn it. Patience is one of the most bitter fruits of the Spirit (the honey dew if you will) and disappointment is the soil in which it grows best. Trusting Jesus when life is going exactly the way we want it to go is easy. Trusting him with our disappointments is a different story. Is he trustworthy? The good news is he is patient toward us even when we’re not so sure we can trust him. And he’s teaching us his patience. That the Christian life is less like a factory and more like farming. Slow work that often feels pointless. We’ll need lots of patience.
4. The Lord loves us enough to disappoint us
Like any good parent, the Lord loves us enough to both surprise us, and disappoint us. He not only sings his delight over us (Zephaniah 3:17), but he also isn’t afraid to tell us, “No.” Not because he’s some kind of cosmic jerk, but because he knows far more than we do about what would (and wouldn’t) be good for us. He not only has the best dream for our lives, he knows US, our addictions, our idols, our tendencies. Disappointment is a reminder that God is a Father who loves his children well.