How do you respond to disappointment?
Do you deny its existence? Withdraw from the world? Run the other way? Shake a fist at it?
I’ve had my share of disappointments over the most recent years of my life. From my career to relationships, family and health, I feel like there is no area disappointment hasn’t touched.
It’s revealed a thing or two about how I deal with disappointment and has helped me respond to each let down in a more productive way than the last.
We all deal with disappointment in different ways. We may wallow in self-pity, blame others, experience denial or even accuse God.
Two sisters, one disappointment
In John 11:1-44, we see two sisters (Martha and Mary) show completely different responses to the same disappointment – Jesus’ arrival after the death of their brother, Lazarus. They had called for Jesus whilst their brother was on his sickbed, hoping that Jesus would heal him. To their disappointment, by the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.
How did they respond?
Martha goes straight out to meet Jesus and speak with Him face to face, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died...” (John 11:21).
Do you identify with Martha? Perhaps God didn’t answer your prayer, so you take it up with Him directly. You boldly approach His throne, asking why He didn’t show up in the way or timing you wanted. You recall His promises in Scripture, like He needs a reminder to hold up His end of the covenant!
Mary’s response is quite the opposite. Mary stays at home, until Jesus asks for her and she immediately goes to Him, falling at His feet. Again, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32).
Maybe you identify with Mary. You’re so overcome by disappointment that you can do nothing but grieve. You become emotionally paralysed to the point where moving forward is just not an option yet. You wait for Jesus to meet you where you’re at. For Him to call your name. Maybe, just maybe, you can move forward if you have His voice to follow.
By the end of the story, we see that Jesus’ delay was not the denial of the miracle. In fact, He was creating even more reason for God’s name to be glorified. Jesus was creating space for a greater miracle than what Mary and Martha had expected.
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How can we deal with disappointment?
There isn’t one right way to deal with the disappointments we face but there are few things I’ve learned about how to process it in a way that doesn’t end with me going into hibernation for fear of facing the world again.
1. Allow yourself to experience all the emotions
Disappointment can lead to a range of emotions, including resentment, anger, sadness and grief. It’s a humanly response. It can be tempting to dismiss any negative emotion in an effort to convince yourself and others that you’ve moved on. The thing is, when you deny yourself from experiencing the emotions that make you uncomfortable, you deny yourself of the natural healing process.
As healthy as it is to acknowledge our emotions, if we’re not careful, this can easily lead to being driven by them. As Christians, we’re called to be led by the Word of God and the Spirit of God, not our feelings.
“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” Galatians 5:16-17
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” | Galatians 5:24-25
2. Don't remain in that place
Throwing a pity party? I get it. There’s nothing more satisfying after being let down by someone or something. But that satisfaction only lasts for a moment. Remaining in a state of self-pity can lead to the root of bitterness.
When you remain in the place of disappointment, you allow it to form part of your identity. Your disappointments should only be a part of your story, not define who you are. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be characterised by my dreams than by my disappointments!
Leave the shaping of your identity to God and you’ll be released from the stronghold of disappointment, giving you freedom to move forward in God’s plans and purposes for your life.
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart...” | Jeremiah 1:5
3. Ask God to give you fresh vision for the future
Every time I’ve sunk into the hole of disappointment, there has been one common factor that lifted me out – receiving God’s perspective. Going to God’s Word and specific words He has given me over the years has been a powerful way of being reminded of His promises for my life.
When you see your situation through the lens of heaven, you receive fresh vision for your future and that disappointment is replaced with hope.
“Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well.” | 1 Timothy 1:18
What strategies have helped you deal with your disappointments in the past? Let me know by leaving a comment!
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