How to Deal with Disappointment
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” So says Solomon in Proverbs 13:12. If one thing is certain in this season of uncertainty, it’s that many of us are experiencing deep disappointment because what we looked forward to has been abruptly lost because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Weddings are being postponed. Senior years are being cut short. Athletic careers are ending prematurely. Graduation ceremonies are being canceled. Job offers are being rescinded. Trips are being upended. For many of us, things we’ve been hoping for are suddenly gone or put on hold indefinitely. How should we handle this?
Identify What You’ve Lost
A good place to start in understanding your disappointment is to ask yourself, What is it that I have lost? What hope is going unfulfilled? You might need to dig below the surface a bit. For example, to the high school senior whose school year has ended and commencement has been canceled, what are you most disappointed by? Do you miss being with your friend group where you feel known and loved? Are you discouraged by losing the opportunity to prove to your doubters that you could finish? The missed chance to pull of that senior prank that would make you famous? Not being able to thank that teacher one last time who invested so much in you? Give yourself some time to pinpoint how your losses are revealing what your heart loves and longs for.
Be Honest with God
Some of us struggle to be honest when we’re disappointed. We minimize or even deny that we feel anything in the face of unmet expectations. We might reason that “it could be worse” or that in the grand scheme of things “it’s not that big of a deal”. In religious circles, sometimes we paste on biblical truths too quickly in a way that skips over the reality of what we’re facing and how we’re feeling. These are often ways of avoiding the pain or appearing strong before others. It might be because we believe that Christians should always be content with the way things are. “If God is sovereign,” we reason, “then I should accept the way things are without complaint, right?” We may even go so far as to stop hoping because it seems like a good way to prevent further disappointment.
While they might seem spiritual, those responses actually deny our God-given capacity to feel and express what’s really valuable to us. And if what we’re valuing aligns with what God values, then to express this is to reflect God himself to our world—which is what we were created to do (Gen. 1:26-28).
In the same vein, if our values don’t align with God’s, our disappointment, grief, and anger give us an opportunity to recognize this. Only then are we able to turn from our disordered loves, and to turn toward Jesus to help us love what he loves. When the real you draws near to the real God, then real change will happen. So be honest with God. There is no point in hiding from him. He already knows.
Move Toward Other People
Emotions are meant to move us. So after we’ve moved toward God in our disappointment, grief, or anger, next we should move toward other people in honest transparency. My prayer is that we would be a community of people who listen patiently to one another in our disappointment and pain—people who rejoice with one another and who weep with one another (Rom. 12:15). Have you shared your disappointments with a brother or sister in Christ? If not, who do you trust to listen, care for, and pray with you? These are opportunities for deepened friendships and the kind of relational intimacy that reflects our triune God—Father, Son, and Spirit—in perfect love and unity.
Move to Action
Again, our disappointments are meant to move us—first closer to God, then toward other people, and lastly, into God-honoring actions. There is a whole host of unhelpful ways that we allow our emotions to move us. We numb it with alcohol or drugs or food. We try to forget it by staying busy. We escape into hours of TV or video games. These actions are appealing because they seem to work, at least in the short-term. But in the end, they will shrink our souls.
Instead of seeking an escape, be creative in dreaming of fruitful ways to pursue your good desires. Brainstorm with others who are experiencing the same disappointment you are. Sometimes there are alternate ways to experience what you are hoping for. Sometimes there are not, or you may have to wait a bit longer. But there are always life-giving ways to respond to your disappointment.