I used to think disappointment was a word for minor bummers.
I’m disappointed she had to cancel our coffee date.
He’s disappointed because he missed his flight.
We were disappointed in the food at our favorite restaurant on date night.
But I’m discovering that disappointment goes deeper. Disappointment can feel like an unwelcome inconvenience, but it can also feel like utter destruction. Gut-wrenching pain. My-tears-won’t-dry-up heartache. Will-it-ever-be-okay confusion. I-don’t-know-how-to-get-through-this despair.
Disappointment comes in all shapes and sizes. It might begin small and gain strength over time. Or it might crush you suddenly as if it were an anvil falling from the sky.
However disappointment comes, whatever package it’s wrapped in, it’s always an unwelcome visitor.
We’re just not interested in having frequent chats over coffee with disappointment. We don’t want it to call or text or drop by or settle in for an extended stay.
Because the pain of disappointment aches with a distinct grief at the loss of what could’ve been. It’s where we face the death of an expectation, a hope, a dream.
When Disappointment Goes Ditch Digging
If our expectations—our picture of how our lives should look—are like a lush garden where flowers of the most gorgeous variety grow, then disappointment is like the crude shovel that uproots all the beauty of the foliage and leaves muddy ditches in its wake.
We look at the ditches, stunned and disgusted, and ache for the loss of lovely greenery and petals. We groan as each dig of the shovel feels like it’s actually piercing our own hearts.
Why would we want life to look like this? Desolate and messy and dark?
We tended those gardens. We cherished each delicate petal, holding them close, careful to ensure growth—the fruition of our hopes, the someday that we’ve dreamed about.
And now every root is dug from its home in the soil and left lifeless? Our plans, our excitement, our efforts, they’re laid waste, and we’re staring at destruction? The ditches of what could have been.
The Wreckage Disappointment Leaves
Disappointment really can hurt that much. In fact, disappointment has the potential to wreck us. If we treasured that garden of expectation so intensely, the ditches disappointment digs can overwhelm, crush, and destroy us if we don’t search for God’s perspective in it all.
If we only see the lifeless mess, if we only feel the pain of what’s been lost, if we keep believing that we deserve better than those ditches, we’re prime targets for bitterness, for temptation, and for believing that God really isn’t good.
None of us are immune to disappointment’s shovel; we’ll all experience the grief of unmet longings in our sin-filled world. The difficult truth is that the pain will come for us. But no matter what form that pain takes, God is always the Source of healing and hope (Ps. 25:5, 32:7, 73:23, 147:3; Isa. 12:2; 2 Cor. 1:3–7).
Though it rarely feels that simple. When our normal is stolen from us, and emotions cloud our minds, our hearts are left reeling, looking for answers, questioning everything, grasping for something stable—for something to fill the gap of broken expectations. The ditches.
We want to find a cheap and easy replacement to numb the pain and kind-of, sort-of meet the longing. That search often leads us to bite the bait of the enemy’s temptation. We want fulfillment, but we get a short-lived counterfeit.
We want to question all of God’s ways and accuse Him of not showing up to stop the ditch digging. We conclude He’d rather doom us to a life of anguish rather than help us thrive.
When Ditches Become Sacred Ground
It’s in these moments, as we stand in the ditches of disappointment, that we desperately need God’s perspective.
And praying for God’s perspective doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll get answers to our specific circumstances or that we’ll see a long-awaited outcome arrive. Praying for God’s perspective is about believing and clinging tight to the truth about God and His promises.
So that we rest in Him for comfort when it all hurts.
So that we see His faithfulness at work in the midst of unwelcome situations.
So that we praise Him for every little gift of grace in each day.
So that we are filled with hope, no matter the outcome.
So that we can prep the muddy soil in those ditches and ask Him to grow something new there. Something that’s best for us. His best for us.
Sometimes it’s in the ditches where we discover God has been with us all along. It’s in the ditches where we experience the ways He is better than any expectation or dream we had. It’s in the ditches were we ourselves become workable soil, ready to plant roots deep in Jesus. It’s in the ditches where we find hope in Him alone.
I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD. Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!
You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told (Ps. 40:1–5; read the rest of the Psalm here.)
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If you are aching from the sting of disappointment, we’d love to walk alongside you and encourage you.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll continue to look at this topic more in-depth. And to help you even further, we’d recommend picking up a copy of this just-released Bible study, Elizabeth: Dealing with Disappointment.
This six-week study offers hope in the face of disappointment and heartache by exploring the triumphs and trials of Elizabeth found in Luke 1. Get your copy here. We hope it will be a lifeline to you in the midst of messes and hurts. God is our True Hope!
PS: I also highly recommend Lysa Terkeurst’s new book, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered. Lysa’s story and words have been a needed encouragement to my own heart.