To be human in this imperfect world is to experience disappointment — the sadness and pain caused when one’s hopes are unfulfilled.
But what do we do as Christians when we experience disappointment with the Lord?
We all experience seasons of profound disappointment in life, and clichés from well-meaning people about praying more or reading more Scripture aren’t really that helpful.
In fact, it seems that this over-simplified advice can create a kind of denial of the pain that stuffs it deeper and leads to disappointment, chronic discouragement and ultimately depression and despair.
There’s a good chance you know exactly what I’m talking about.
As I’ve been navigating my own season of disappointment, I’ve been exploring how to deal with disappointment with the Lord in a healthy way.
It seems that the Bible is full of people who faced disappointment. So what can we observe? I am struck by the stark honesty and raw emotions of people like Elijah, who was being hunted by Jezebel and cried out to the Lord, asking God to take his life (1 Kings 19:4); like Hagar, who went away by herself to weep in the desert because she could not watch her son die of thirst (Gen 21:16); and like Hannah, who wept bitterly and prayed in deep anguish because of torment from her husband’s other wife due to her childlessness (1 Samuel 1:10) — not to mention heroes like Moses, David, Job and Paul, who wrestled with disappointment too.
Perhaps one of the most striking examples of this unfiltered emotional honesty is Naomi, who said this in Ruth 1:20-21 (New International Version):
“Don’t call me Naomi. ... Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
Honestly, I have always subconsciously assumed that these cries of despair were simply the sinfulness of these biblical characters in weak moments, when they didn’t trust God enough in their circumstances. I’ve assumed that they should have had more faith in those moments, and then they wouldn’t have struggled with such deep anguish.
But in each of these cases, God showed up after these characters shared their honest, unfiltered disappointment with the Lord. Maybe this emotional honesty is the key to dealing with disappointment with God. Maybe it is this unfiltered anguish that opens a door to deeper faith and experiencing God’s comforting presence in the midst of disappointment.
Earlier this month, we watched one of our friends walk her own path of disappointment. We met Ali when she was a theme park intern in August 2013. She jumped in as a natural leader. She was very involved with Cru ministry and attended church with our family.
After her internship ended, she felt called by the Lord to stay in Florida and pursue a full-time career at the theme park. But after a confusing time of policy changes, Ali’s dream ended, and she had to choose how she would respond to this massive disappointment.
Here is her response:
I was jobless and clueless for the first time in my adult life. I can’t put into words what I was feeling. I sobbed when I had the chance to be alone and unseen. I yelled at God in my head and in the car, and in the midst of my confusion, I felt shaken to my core at the idea that He had abandoned me. How could He let this happen without any preparation? How could He tear my happiness from my soul so quickly and unexpectedly?
I wanted to be alone for the rest of the night, but I also knew that was a bad idea. I forced myself to attend the Cru Epic Easter event. When I went back home that night, I fell to my knees in prayer and bawled my eyes out and had no idea what to pray about except for peace in my mental frenzy.
As I shared my story with more friends throughout the weekend, I soon found that “job loss” was losing its power over me with each telling. It was 48 hours after losing the thing I thought I loved most, and yet I was shedding no tears. Satan was losing his foothold on the wall that was so close to shutting me out from my own life. God was rolling away the stone that I used to convince myself that my job was enough to get me by when it should’ve been Him and only Him.
If you asked me on my birthday how I thought the next month would play out, never in a billion parallels would I say it played this way. But God is greater than my mind, my heart, my dream, because they are my own, and I don’t know what’s best for me, nor do I know what the future will look like. I haven’t the slightest idea what’s in store for me, but with what I know now behind me, I can say with absolute certainty that my life is full of love, community and promise. I could not have gotten past these last few days without God.
Ali chose to courageously face the heartbreak of losing her dream by speaking to God honestly and staying in community with others who listened well. And she experienced God’s comforting presence and provision as He graciously provided her with a new perspective — and also a new job with a partner company.
I hope that we can also learn to courageously navigate disappointment by being desperately honest with the Lord, and that is my prayer for you as well.
How are you facing disappointment today? Do you find it difficult to take it to God?
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