Your girlfriend drops you. Your family is at war. Your spouse commits adultery. Your best friend betrays you. Your fiancé breaks your engagement. The coach cuts you. A faction in the congregation wants your ministry to end. You suffer agonizing injustice. The church rejected you. Your wife left you and won’t let you see your children. Your womb is still empty.
Many different emotions are provoked by these painful experiences. But disappointment is the common denominator in all of them. Our hopes are dashed. Our dreams are shattered. Our expectations are unfulfilled. External events and the decisions of others produce the agony of disappointment. It is the opposite of hope and the forward-looking joy it brings. Instead, it looks backward with anger, bitterness, resentment, depression, and despair.
You simply cannot escape disappointment in this broken world (see the book of Ecclesiastes). No matter how many overly optimistic commencement addresses raise the hopes of wide-eyed students every spring, sooner or later all of them will end up disappointed. Friends will let them down. Family will let them down. Employers will let them down. Their nations will let them down. At times they will feel God has let them down.
If disappointment is so inevitable, how do we recover from it?
First, prepare for it without becoming a nihilistic Eeyore. If we adopt a realistic attitude towards this world, then we will expect a measure of disappointment and not be shaken or swept away when it happens. That’s not defeatism or pessimism; it’s realism. It involves expecting and rejoicing in the goodness and kindness of God and others. But we don’t get carried away into over-confidence and complacency. In this way, we brace ourselves for the body blow that is sure to come without losing the benefit of delighting in God when things are going well (see Psalm 104 and Psalm 136).
Share your disappointment. Tell the Lord about what you are experiencing. Be completely honest and transparent. Describe how you are feeling. Or if you can’t find words, bring him your tears and groans (Psalm 56:8) and ask him to interpret and treasure them.
Alternatively, use the words provided in the Psalms of Lament (for example Psalms 44, 60, 74, 77, 79, 88). These songs contain a lot of God-centered therapy for the disappointed. Note that the psalmist doesn’t attempt to hide his disappointment from God. He knows that covering and denying is never going to lead to healing.
But don’t just share it with the Lord; share it with his people as well. We need all the help we can get when we are down. Therefore, while we cast our burdens on the Lord, knowing that he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7), we also ask our fellow believers to share the weight of our disappointment with us (Galatians 6:2).
Remember that the Lord Jesus knew deep disappointment from his days on this earth. His disciples let him down continually. All forsook him, one denied him, and one even betrayed him. He knows the pain and frustration you are experiencing. He can sympathize with you and support you as you reel from the blows (Hebrews 4:15). He is the friend who sticks closer than any brother (Proverbs 18:24). He will not leave you nor forsake you.
Humble submission and acceptance rather than arrogant fighting is the way through this dark valley and into the light. Nothing can be gained by taking vengeance on our disappointers, or by angrily shaking our fist in God’s face. No, we must confess, “Lord, I don’t understand how they could do this or you could allow this. But I’m going to bow before your sovereignty and believe you know best and that this is for my best.” This is not to say that justice must never be pursued when we are wronged; but it is to hand over the administration of justice to God and those he has appointed to this task.
Use disappointment to grow in sanctification and service. In terms of sanctification, use the pain you feel to make you resolve never to inflict this on other people if you can help it. Or maybe look back on your life and think of times you disappointed people and see if you can put it right in a godly way. You can also use disappointment to serve others by ministering to the disappointed all around you with the comfort with which you have been comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Finally, rekindle eternal hope. While earthly hopes may have been dashed, at least for a time, the Christian still has a heavenly hope that no amount of earthly disappointment can take away. Indeed, earthly disappointment can help us to redirect our hopes towards that which is spiritual and eternal. There is a day, an eternal day in the not-to-distant future, when all disappointment will be taken away and when all things will not only be new but will remain new.
Every possible source of disappointment will be removed, and all our hopes will be fulfilled (Revelation 21:1–8).