I hate disappointment. When plans get cancelled, expectations are not met, or I simply can’t have my own way, I tend toward brooding. Last year I experienced a couple of sharp disappointments—denials of things I prayed fervently for. Good things. Things I thought were for God’s kingdom. But though I prayed and pursued, in the end the answer was a resounding no. And so I was left with aching disappointment. If I’m honest, bitterness was knocking at my heart and I almost let it in. Almost.
Noah Webster defined disappointment as “defeat or failure of expectation, hope, wish, desire, or intention; miscarriage of design or plan.” It operates on a spectrum. I can be disappointed that my picnic got rained out or my flight was cancelled or Wegmans is out of my favorite pineapple salsa. But what about “defeats or failures of expectations, hopes, wishes, and desires” that bring devastation, like divorce, illness, or loss of a child? It may seem a gross understatement to call these calamities “disappointments,” but by definition, that’s what they are. They are not mere disappointments, however. They are profound, soul-crushing, life altering losses that change the trajectory of our hope.
When we’re denied what we so deeply desire or what we assumed we would receive, the sharp sting or crushing pain of disappointment can propagate a bitter root. What can we do to prevent the disillusionment of disappointment from proliferating that bitter root? What will lead us instead to the hard-won conclusion that God is, indeed, profoundly good?
Pray for belief.
I know at least four people who lost children in recent years, and in my anger and anguish over their loss, I was tempted to throw in the Christian towel. It’s easy to believe that life is too hard. The world is too bleak and dangerous. There is just so much to lose. Where is my Father who is supposed to love those he has chosen? In the face of such doubts, I cried out to God for help with my unbelief (Mark 9:23).
This prayer of faith helps me to remember what’s true. The reality is we have nowhere else to go (John 6:68). As hard as life can be, life without the Lord is unimaginably harder. If the world is this cold with him in my life, how much colder could it be without him? Without any mechanism for hope, loss and disappointment would be magnified.
Pray for trust.
When I receive God’s emphatic no, I can become too confused and discouraged to pray. I may even become disgruntled. But God gently leads me out of despair into the realization that I can’t see everything there is to see. I thought I wanted this good thing, but he knows better. And so I pray for trust. And God, always the kind Father, is faithful to use even this disappointment to teach me to trust in him.
Perhaps you’re walking the intense road of disappointment or profound loss. Maybe you wrestle through the hurt of abruptly severed plans and need to utter this same prayer in order to emerge from the anger and confusion into the bright dawn of trust.
As we cry out to the Lord, we can also appeal to raw knowledge, praying that our feelings will catch up to what we are sure of, including these truths:
…all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.
The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
Disappointment will never feel ok. But the knowledge of the truth about God trumps what we feel about the disappointment, so we know we can trust him.
Run to God for comfort.
Disappointment is the relinquishing of dreams. Lack of belief or trust would lead us to rail against the source of the disappointment. But believers don’t rail against God. We run to him for comfort in profound gratitude and worship—even through anguished tears.
A few years ago, my little granddaughter was unhappy about a decision her mother had made. She raged and she questioned, she cried and lamented. But ultimately, through her anger and confusion, she threw herself into her mother’s arms for comfort. The person who afflicted her was also her source of peace.
The mind of the Lord is vast, his will is sovereign, and—even in the midst of unspeakable tragedy—he is supremely good. Through the ages, God’s people have leaned into him in their affliction and grief. Followers of Christ know there is no better place to be than in the safe arms of God. We know that “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). We can cling to the “God of all comfort, who will comfort us in all our affliction” (2 Cor. 1:3-4). We trust that God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Ps. 147:3). We remember that Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matt. 5:4). We ”[do] not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13).
Noah Webster’s definition of disappointment includes a clarifying sentence: “We are apt to complain of the disappointment of our hopes and schemes, but disappointments often prove blessings and save us from calamity or ruin.” It can certainly seem like some of our most staggering disappointments are the very definition of calamity or ruin. But belief, trust, and casting ourselves on God for comfort grant us perspective. Though these disappointments inflict a degree of pain that would seem ludicrous to regard as blessing, the goodness of God infuses that pain with a balm of hope, easing it just enough to see clear to the good intentions of our loving Father. And through it all, we are more and more conformed to Christ, our only hope in a bleak, disappointing world.
This article was originally published here.