“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King was right. Disappointments come. Accepting disappointment does not mean you like it and want everyone to have it. Accepting means admitting the truth or acknowledging reality. Disappointment happens. I was disappointed as a teenager when Dr. King was assassinated. I felt deep disappointment when violent reactions to his assassination happened. His stance on peaceful protest in those days seemed to have died with him.
Every day people weep in my office about disappointment: with their own choices, things that happened to them and others they care about, and, with God.
We can grow by reflecting upon our disappointing attitudes, behaviors, character defects, decisions, effort, or faithfulness.
We can grieve by facing losses of desired expectations.
We can gather support for others whose disappointment needs compassion.
We can grill the Lord prayerful when God disappoints us. In 1997, Philip Yancy dared to publish Disappointment with God, which may seem a naughty thought to even think about the Creator of the universe. Yancy dared to write down three questions most people have wondered about:
- Is God unfair?
- Is God silent?
- Is God hidden?
If you have not felt disappointment with yourself, others, and God, you have not been paying enough attention.
Even Jesus was disappointed (on the night of His arrest with his disciples failing to pray for him).
His friends, Mary and Martha, were disappointed Jesus was not present to prevent their brother, Lazarus, from dying. The shortest verse in the Bible describes His response, “Jesus wept.”
“Disappointment” is the sadness caused by expectations not met.
Jesus was disappointed His friends did not believe. God’s disappointment with His creation gets reported throughout the Bible.
So, how could we deal with disappointment effectively?
A few years ago, an employee stole from me. I was disappointed on many levels—who I chose, what the losses cost, when it started and if it had stopped, where were our checks and balances to prevent future embezzlement, why I was not a better businessman, and how I was betrayed in so many ways.
I was disappointed I did not prevent it. I was disappointed in the employee. I was even disappointed with God because my business is part of His mission to prevent and heal relationship problems.
Perhaps how I dealt with it could help you with your disappointments.
I faced the facts—trust was betrayed, and money was stolen.
I felt the feelings—sad, mad, scared, inadequate, deceived, and helpless.
I finished the fallout—called the police, insurance, and everyone involved.
I forgave the felony—I chose to let go of any desire for revenge and released the debt.
I finally finished—accepted the truth, emotions, impact, difficulty forgiving, and the process.
Some disappointments are extra sad due to desires for perfection and to the voices of the inner critics.
If we refuse to accept less than the best or the perfect, then disappointment worsens. Michael J. Fox said, “I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.” For example, every year a few high school seniors with straight A grades realize they will get a B in PE or some class outside their strengths and commit suicide. Their perfectionism fostered the disappointment which messed with their all-or-nothing thinking and life seemed intolerable.
Inner critics are the voices in our heads judging, demeaning, or criticizing which exaggerate disappointment from a mole hill to a mountain. In the cartoons with the demon on one shoulder and the angel on the other, the voice of the demon can be useful in raising awareness of whatever disappoints and motivating change, and the voice of the angel can comfort the sadness with compassion and encouragement to try again.
Change how you think to change how you feel. An old prayer can help you dispel disappointment.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference, living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; taking this world as it is and not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.” − Reinhold Niebuhr