Facing Disappointment and Loss

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Proverbs 13:12

I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of disappointment. As human beings, God has made us with deep desires and longings. We are hardwired to hope for what is good. However, we also live in a fallen world where all is not as it should be. As a result, we all get disappointed.

The other day I realized that basically everyone in the world right now is facing some kind of disappointment or loss— loved ones, health, jobs, sports seasons, in-person connection, favorite hang out spots, anticipated trips or events— the list could go on and on. Our culture is collectively dealing with inordinate amounts of loss.

Therefore, I wanted to share a few strategies that help me navigate disappointment when it surfaces in my own life.

Acknowledging loss: In our culture we are often tempted to minimize our losses. Especially when other people are facing intense tragedy, it can feel insensitive to acknowledge our own disappointments. When people are losing loved ones or their jobs, a missed Spring Break trip can seem insignificant. While some losses do impact us more than others, I believe that God sees and cares about the full spectrum of our disappointments.

Therefore, I think that facing our disappointments, from the the big ones to the seemingly insignificant ones, is healthy. And since loss is such a universal human experience, facing our own losses actually helps us to empathize with the losses of others.

Healthy grieving: Once we’ve named our disappointment we need to grieve it. And it’s okay to feel sad and even angry. In fact, I think it’s necessary.

In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazerro talks about the importance of embracing grieving and loss. His perspective has been so helpful to me. He writes:

“Our culture routinely interprets losses as alien invasions that interrupt our normal lives. We numb our pain through denial, blaming, rationalizations, addiction, and avoidance. We search for spiritual shortcuts around our wounds… Sadly the result of denying and minimizing our wounds over many years is that we become less and less human, empty Christian shells with painted smiley faces.”

Peter Scazerro, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

As Scazerro points out, grieving is both necessary and Biblical. Have you ever noticed that two-thirds of the Psalms are laments of grief? The Bible even describes Jesus as a “man of sorrow” and “acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). In my opinion, part of following Jesus is accepting grief and loss. Grief isn’t just an annoying interruption to our lives that we need to quickly pass through. Instead it’s an important process that has the potential to shape us, grow us, and deepen our intimacy with God. It is always safe to grieve in the presence of God.

Refusing self-pity: There is such a difference between grieving and self-pity. In my experience, grieving draws me closer to God and His comforting love. In contrast, self-pity distances me from God and from others. When we dwell in self-pity, we start to doubt God’s goodness and guidance in our lives. We compare our losses to other people and feel like no one can understand what we’re going through. Hannah Hurnard writes about self-pity in her book Kingdom of Love. She says:

“There is no prison house so cruel as the prison of resentment and self-pity, and the effect on those who languish long in that bondage is to suffer a progressively destructive influence on character, personality, and physical health.”

-Hannah Hurnard, Kingdom of Love

What a sobering truth. While grieving is important and Biblical, self-pity is a dangerous trap to be avoided.

Gratitude: When I get stuck in disappointment, I tend to focus on what is missing. I obsess about the missing puzzle pieces, while ignoring the rest of the picture. Therefore in seasons of disappointment, I believe that gratitude is especially essential. Gratitude retrains our minds to focus on all that is present instead of dwelling on what is lacking. And it reteaches our hearts to trust the goodness and kindness of God.

As someone with a tendency towards pessimism, I’ve found it helpful to write down several things I’m thankful for each day. This has done wonders for my thought life.

Looking for new appointments: Recently I was talking to another woman about her experience with disappointment. She suggested that the “dis” words (like disbelief, discouragement, and disappointment) are all strategies of the enemy. God’s invitation to each of us is the opposite of those words. For example, in our disbelief, God wants to give us deeper belief. When we feel discouraged, God wants to give us deeper courage. And when we feel disappointed, God invites us into new appointments.

I just love this perspective. Rather than seeing disappointment as a dead end, we can view it as a door to something new. When we feel disappointed, we can ask God, “What is my new appointment?” or “How do you want me to use this time instead?” Although God allows disappointments in our lives, He doesn’t want us to stay stuck there.

As a Christian, I believe that death means that resurrection is coming.

Endings mean that there are new beginnings.

And disappointment means that there is a new appointment.

We just need to have eyes to see it.