Dealing with Disappointment
Randy Carlson, President of Family Life Radio and host of the “Intentional Living” radio program states the following life equation: “Expectations minus reality equals disappointment.” His point is that when my expectations are unrealistic, I set myself up for disappointment. If I expect someone to be kind to me and they are rude, I am disappointed. If I expect a promotion and get passed over, I am disappointed. If I expect a nice birthday present and get something less, I am disappointed.
Therefore the key to avoiding disappointment is to be realistic in my expectations. I don’t think I need go as far as an old college friend who said, “Always expect the worst, and you’ll never be disappointed!” But there is a spark of wisdom in that philosophy. I need to keep my expectations less than what I am likely to receive.
I know this goes against most of the “self-help”, and “assertiveness” training offered today. In those courses, we are encouraged to set our expectations of life high, and to communicate those expectations to others around us, so they will be sure to meet those expectations. Don’t try this at home! In fact, a pastor counseled my wife and I, before we got married, to minimize expectations of each other. He told us that that would leave each of us free to bless the other with gifts of love rather than just meeting expectations. Walking the “second mile” always involves exceeding expectations.
His example was, what if I expected Mary to have dinner on the table when I walked in the door every night. If she did have dinner on the table every night, so what! She had only met my expectations of her. To show me love, she would have to go beyond this. On the other hand, if I had no such expectation of her, she could bless me every night she did have dinner ready when I walked in the door, or even every night she made dinner for me instead of letting me fend for myself.
I propose that much, if not most of the disappointment we face in life is due to a faulty world-view, a world-view that encourages unrealistic expectations. If, according to my world-view, God should answer every prayer according to my request, and on my schedule, I will be disappointed. If, according to my world-view, everyone should treat me fairly, I will be disappointed. If, according to my world-view, I should never suffer a serious illness, or other loss, I will be disappointed. The Bible clearly teaches that we live in a broken world, where there is sin and disease. And God never says he will give me everything I ask for, or protect me from all suffering. In fact He says I will suffer trials, and through those, I will have the opportunity to draw closer to Him. I will face storms in life, storms that threaten to take me under. He doesn’t promise to calm every storm, but He does promise that He will be with me through every storm!
I need to be realistic in my expectations. This world will never satisfy, and even those who seem to “have it all” often live lives of desperation, because they learn that having it all doesn’t satisfy either. Just follow the lives of the “rich and famous” very long, and you will see that most of them are not happy people. Life has not been “fair” to them any more than it has to the orphan on the streets of Mexico City. The fact is, there is only one path to joy; that is through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Anything else will ultimately disappoint.
In order to have realistic expectations, I need to have an intentionally-biblical worldview. Unless my world-view is informed by God’s Word, it will have inaccuracies, and inconsistencies, and be incomplete. To remain centered on God’s Word, I must be intentional in building and maintaining it. Otherwise other influences will worm their way in and pollute it. The result is that I will have expectations based upon incomplete truths or even lies.
But disappointments can also become teachable moments. They can teach me who or what is dependable and reliable in my life, and they can draw me closer to God in dependence upon him. Disappointments can help me tune, or truth-test, my world-view. Whenever I suffer disappointment, I should realize that something in my world-view led me to expect a different outcome. When I identify the faulty belief, I can go to God’s Word and replace the faulty belief with the truth. If I learn to use my disappointments in this way, I will grow in my faith and my understanding, and be less susceptible to disappointments in the future.
Disappointment – His appointment,
Change one letter, then I see
That the thwarting of my purpose
Is God’s better choice for me.
His appointment must be blessing
Though it may come in disguise.
For the end, from the beginning,
Open to His wisdom lies.
(“Disappointment”, by Phil Keaggy)
One final thought: If we accept the cause of disappointment as being the difference between expectations and reality, it is impossible for God to be disappointed. There are no surprises to God. He knows what I am going to do before I do it. He even knew it before He sent His son to die for my sin. Therefore His expectations never exceed reality. He loves me where I am, but gives me the grace to draw a little closer to Him each and every day.