the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.
I hate disappointment.
You may think, sure, everyone hates disappointment, but I hate it-hate it. I think “nonfulfillment of one’s hopes” might just be one of the worst realities of the human condition.
I’ve struggled with disappointment my whole life. When I was in my twenties, I remember a poignant conversation with my parents. It was a beautiful day–we had flatbread pizza on the back patio of a chic restaurant overlooking a lake: deep blue sky above, a soft breeze around, and my deep well of nonfulfillment swallowing up the beauty of the moment. I lamented all the places I was disappointed–my expectations for that stage of life, my frustrations in my writing, my flat-out disbelief that I could ever really make it at anything I cared about. I remember asking my father if this was my lot in life–that I would always aim higher and higher, which meant, theoretically, that I should always expect rejection and disappointment as my final stop in any journey. How depressing.
That’s the problem with hope–it’s uncertain. Hope is based on a preferred future that we cannot see or guarantee. Hope is based on assumptions that there will always be a next step, that our loved ones will live forever, that the finances will work out and the kids really will be ok.
But then there’s no next step.
Or we lose that loved one, and we are never, ever prepared.
The finances really don’t add up.
And the kids aren’t OK.
Then what? What do we do with the nonfulfillment, be it in the small frustrations of everyday living or the big show-stopping changes in life?
This is where I lose my bearings. I’d like to say I know more than I did at the pizza lunch many years ago, and maybe I do–but that doesn’t mean I feel any different. Knowledge can change but feelings, oh, those feelings love to stay exactly the same. Sometimes, feelings don’t believe in growing up. Feelings are the Peter Pan of the soul, stubbornly living in never-never land for all time.
But here’s the thing–now I know one crucial truth.
Disappointment has something to teach me.
In the bible, there’s a story about a family facing tragic disappointment. After an illness that the family was sure could have been healed, the brother dies. The sisters are distraught–and all the more so because they are friends with Jesus. I mean, we all love to say we are friends of Jesus but these gals were in-the-flesh friends. They knew Jesus personally and they knew what he could do. And when these two sisters sent word that their brother was sick, really sick–Jesus just didn’t come. And so their brother dies, and with him dies their plans–and at that time, most likely their provision and protection. It wasn’t easy to be a woman in 1st century Judea.
So here comes Jesus, four days too late to make a difference (or so they thought). And big sister Martha comes out to meet him and stops him in his tracks with a one-sentence declaration of all that’s wrong with the moment:
“If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
If–Jesus. If you knew. If you really cared. If you loved us. If we were important to you. If you could. But you didn’t.
And this is what I’ve learned about disappointment, all caught up in Jesus’ next words to Martha. Because despite how urgent this conversation feels to Martha, Jesus doesn’t want to talk about that. Jesus wants to talk about Martha and her heart, and what she’s learning in this disappointment. In the midst of death, Jesus asks her about life. I am the life says Jesus. Do you believe this?
We all want Jesus to take the wheel, but what if he wants to take the wheel and lead you somewhere else?Because disappointments are little deaths. The death of a dream, the murder of a hope, a tragic loss of a preferred future. These little deaths comes in the form of the shattering of an ideal life or of the image we’ve had of a person. It’s the loss of harmony, it’s the regret of a choice.
You know it’s a death when you feel it suffocating, slowly gasping and losing life.
And so back to our friend Martha, who has every reason to be disappointed, and angry. She’s got the death of her brother and the death of her understanding of Jesus and the death of her future. Peace exits stage right and Fear barrels in stage left and now here she is standing in front of Jesus, hurt and angry and sad and broke and he has the gall to say this is about something more.
Because, friends, I’ve learned the hard way that disappointment is always about something more. It’s about the people, places and things where I think I can find life. It’s about placing all my hope in one of these as if they can give me life themselves. And here comes Jesus, taking the wheel and gently reminding–I am the life.
Here’s what I know Jesus offers to me, and to you, and to all who’ve found themselves brought low by the nonfulfillment of a dream:
Bring your hurts, and your sadness. Bring your nonfulfillment to me. Bring your picture of a preferred future and place it in my hands. Let me hold together all the sadness and the loss and then look to me and know that I am the life–I bring peace, and healing. I replace earthly hope with eternal hope. And I give you lasting peace.