I sat across from a husband who expressed disillusionment about his spouse and his marriage. I'll spare you the details, but essentially he said: "I need this. She's not giving it to me. I'm unhappy. Why won't she give it to me?" What you are missing, that I can't give you in my writing, is the dejection in his voice.
You've been there, haven't you? Something doesn't go as expected. You're frustrated. Your family, job, friendships, marriage, church—they're not what you hoped for. How do you as a Christian deal with disappointment?
Start with the Heart
Disappointment often reveals what your heart is really worshiping (Matt. 6:21; Luke 6:43–47). It exposes you. If your son made a bad decision, are you sad because of his foolish decision, or because it shows he's not living up to your expectations? If you desire more intimacy with your spouse, but he or she doesn't reciprocate, are you dissatisfied because of your spouse's "no," or because you feel entitled to more intimacy? If your boss doesn't give you the promotion, are you frustrated because you worked hard for the pay raise, or because you fear failure?
When you deal with disappointment, it's too easy to focus on the circumstances around you and cast blame on others rather than looking at the battle in your own heart. Think for a moment about the last time you were disappointed (Prov. 13:12). Was the bulk of your thinking and energy focused on the wrong done, the unhelpful circumstances, or your own heart? The natural tendency of sin is to blame others and not to deal honestly with our own hearts (Matt. 7:3–5). Ask God to help you know the selfish tendencies of your own heart.
Things Won’t Go As You Expect
Why do things not go as we expect? In one word—sin. Sin corrupts everything in our world and leaves us sad, confused, regretful, and disenchanted. Hollywood, best-selling books, television commercials, and Disney all work against us to feed our desires and give us unrealistic, idealistic expectations. If you naively expect things to go well and downplay the power of the sinful flesh, you're not being realistic about sin. You are likely to be disappointed. But if you demonstrate "sober judgment" (Rom. 12:3)—a humble perspective on yourself, a realistic view of your sin—you're less prone to be disappointed.
Our lives run into the real world, with real problems, real frustrations, and real heartache, and we acknowledge what we knew all along—sin ruins everything (3:23). The Spirit is working powerfully within you, but your flesh is doing everything it can to undermine your life (Gal. 5:16–18).
Turn to Christ
What do you do when you are disappointed? Hold a pity party? Mope about it? Complain? Get angry? Muddle through confusion? Turn in on yourself? Manipulate? Withdraw? Fix the problem? Make the problem go away? None of these are Christian responses.
The smartest thing a Christian can do is turn to Christ and start with a few simple words: "Help." "Jesus, I can't deal with this on my own." "I need You." Where you turn with your disappointment is key. Do you turn to Christ, or do you sort through this on your own? Do you turn to Christ, or do you cast the blame on your circumstances? Do you turn to Christ or do you blame Him? Do you think that since He's sovereign, everything that doesn't work out for you is His fault? Dear Christian, don't you see that your disappointment and brokenness could be clearing away the clutter of your life that's keeping you from seeing Christ? Turn to Christ and give your disappointment to Him.
I said to the husband who was disappointed in his wife and his marriage, "At the point where you are most disappointed, where you are most hurting, where you are most confused, you need to let Christ meet you right there." Are you struggling because your hopes, dreams, and expectations have not worked out? Run to the cross (2 Cor. 5:15–21). Let Christ comfort you and offer a kind of satisfaction that can only be found in Him. In the shadow of the cross, your disappointment can be honestly dealt with.
Look to Heaven
A father's son confessed he is gay, and all of the father's dreams for his son have now vanished. A young couple has another knock-down, drag-out fight. Their conflict is akin to nuclear war, and in the aftermath, they are riddled with pain and confusion. A single woman is thirty-six. She longs for marriage and hates that she's still single. In each of these cases, disappointment is daily knocking at the door.
As long as we live on this side of glory, sin will make a mess of things. Unfortunately, when things go wrong, our vantage point can be narrowed to the tiny kingdom of ourselves, and we can't see beyond our disappointment. We get fixated on the horizontal (anger, pain, confusion, disappointment) and lose sight of the vertical—our relationship with God.
But God says: "Dear child, look up and see, it's not always going to be this way. One day, sin and pain will be no more." When you're disappointed, you need to look up, beyond the confines of your circumstances, and remember heaven (Ps. 73:24–26). Don't lose sight of eternity. In heaven, there will be no more disappointment because you'll get to be with God. What a glorious place that will be.