The Real Issue of Surviving Disappointment
Bills creep into our homes on fiber optics, and bullies seem to have a tracking device for our children. The cells of our body make wrong turns leaving us drained and unwell. Likewise our children uncover rebellion like an old toy that hasn’t been enjoyed just long enough to feel new again. Our lovers say just the wrong thing, and we are certain they have done it with cold calculation. Coworkers hound us with hellos and tales of their lives that inflate the boredom of our accidental careers. Or they are skulking like ninjas waiting to catch us out, while our employers, hunched over keyboards sipping lukewarm coffee, plan our demise. This all comes with a cascade of car horns and emails like so many straws upon the camel’s back, while the clock, with the mercy of a customs agent, confiscates our moments and our vigor.
These are the things we all deal with. John Lennon warned us this would happen while we were making other plans. We can’t escape them, so pretending we have control we organize them under the general heading of "issues". They meet us every morning and tuck us in at night and the only comfort is the common misery they bring to us all, which should engender a kind of brotherhood and at least a spoonful of charity like the loyal nod exchanged between passing travelers laden with bed rolls and backpacks. Issues burden us all. They appear random and have no perceived intention but to clutter and obstruct our path.
Who can bear it?
If we were to rifle through our baggage and remove an issue that brings us more grief than any, it it would have to be disappointment. Disappointment. The word itself is heartbreaking. Even Solomon lamented over the unbearable weight of a wounded spirit (Proverbs 18:14). Among the many disappointments that find us none is more unwelcome than when it comes from those closest to you (Psalm 55:12-14). I believe the reason disappointment overshadows other issues is because it comes on the heels of hope. It is at the very moment that we are secure in our celebration that he knocks on our door.
Solomon asks, “Who can bear it?” Anyone who has suffered disappointment has asked that question. I believe there is an answer, but it refuses to be found in self-help or even in the consolation of a loved one. Emerson’s Self-Reliance is of no use when your bones are dry. The answer is found within the disappointment itself, or should I say above it. I believe there is more there, in the disappointment, than we know. Like a figure in a painting, or a lyric in a familiar song that we are sure we have never seen or heard before. And how how could we? One cannot and does not care to understand a wave of the ocean when it is wrestling you to the sand. But if we are able to come up for air we catch a glimpse of the ocean and the other waves hitting our fellow swimmers. We gain a different perspective.
When we examine the issues in the light of scripture we are able to gain that new perspective above the waves, for it is the Bible that works like a piece of driftwood allowing us to stay afloat affording us the broader view. Having said that, you will notice a distinct lack of quotations within my lines. This is not because my position lacks biblical support: quite the opposite. The evidence is the whole of sacred text. It is that story from beginning to end. It is like the unspoken God who is the very theme of Esther’s life.
Peace, be still.
When we stop long enough we see that our issues are quite real and their weight not imagined. But there is a truth that does more than keep us afloat, it raises us up and allows us to walk on water. Illuminated by God’s holy Word we see that these issues are actually not the real issue at all. At the moment of encounter we can see almost nothing else, like trying to answer a child’s question when you have just stubbed your little toe. Within the moment it is all you are able to process. But in the retreat we are able to see the truth that will shield us when disappointment finds us again.
Consider for a moment the very nature and ability of your Father in heaven. Try and imagine (like a mouse trying to imagine the internet) the ease with which He is able to make the waves go calm. In fact, we would be amazed almost to the point of offence if one were to suggest inability or difficulty on his part to address any issue whatever it may be. However trivial or traumatic the circumstance, we can hear with ears of tremendous confidence Him casually saying, “Go thy way; thy son liveth” or “Peace, be still.” That is not to say there will always be relief or provision or deliverance or healing, but what is constant is our knowledge that he is able. Now I am walking dangerously close to what sounds like mere platitudes, peddling, “God is able” when you have real problems to deal with. Never mind the big traumas, I doubt that even when you have simply stubbed your little toe my quoting, “God is able” will give you much comfort in that moment. But his ability offers us more than nice things to say in dark times. It reveals to us something much more useful.
If God is truly able to provide whatever is needed with a word, then the issues of life are, in fact, not the issue at all. We are dealing with them, but they are not what is actually at play. We realize at once that if he is able to stop the rush of waves then there must be a reason why he is not. We realize there is a reason the waves are there. They are not random. They are not an accident. It is like being surprised by what is served for dinner without ever considering that there is a host who has carefully prepared it. Children rush to the table with hope of their favorite food and dread at the possibility of broccoli. The meals to them are a random supply scattered across the table with the vegetables maniacally spoiling the dishes they delight. The child never considers his mother has planned his regimen to supply both joy and good nutrition. He never sees the plan, only things he desires and other things he simply has to force down. He never has the insight to ask, If my mother can cook any meal she desires then why has she settled on this one?
In the same way, the bill and the bully and, more hurtful still, the disappointment is never really the issue at all. Bad health and disloyal friends are real, but they are not random. So why then has he allowed it? Why has mum settled on this recipe? What is the real issue? Why has God allowed the waves?
Who are you going to trust, and who are you going to obey?
The answer is found like the undertow of scripture. The theme of Holy writ is of course the King himself. But there beneath every narrative, poem, prophecy and Bible lesson the real issue is always the same. It reads from garden to garden, from flood to flood. From the opening scene to the new beginning. Regardless of where you part those golden edged pages, wherever the glow of your Bible app finds you, our Father is always asking the subjects of those wonderful stories the same question: “Who are you going to trust, and who are you going to obey?” And as we rise from our pages to live what we learn, we find ourselves in a narrative of our own where the same question is whispered to us at every corner and crossroads. This is the truth that enables us to walk on the same water that threatens to suffocate us.
Like most lessons learned from our Father, the application begins by simply remembering. Remembering that the circumstance in front of your face is not the issue. Those granite problems are like paper to our Almighty God. The real issue, like the apple dangling in front of the glorified eyes of Eve and the mountain peaks of Joshua before the nation of Israel, is always the same — who are you going to trust, and who are you going to obey? The remembrance of this truth within the moment is (forgive the term) like magic, which immediately fills you with might and clarity to see, instead of a random mess, the divine arrangement of your perfect parent.
Now, you may be wondering why this process is necessary. Why does he leave us in this crucible? Why has he decided to surround us with difficult circumstances, which are really choices for us to make? What is the purpose? I suppose there are several answers to that. After all, it is its lack of easy ten-word answers that convinces us Christianity is true. It is just complex and messy enough to be real, unlike the clean and tidy system one might invent. Our Father wants us to grow up to be like Christ and this process requires choice and pain. He wants us to grow because in the end he wants to glorify his Son. And so this process is about us, but not ultimately. Our faith, our choices, our growth is ultimately about worship. This is an important point because it keeps us from mistaking what is meant to be a life of worship for mere self-improvement.
But I would leave you with just one thing that I think is quite helpful as it directly relates to your choice in the moment when disappointment breaks your heart. It is in that moment we must know why this is happening to us.
I trust you, and you are the one I will obey.
I remember my daughter, at the age of seven, asking me a question as I tucked her in. Because that is when children become most philosophical — at bedtime. She sat up and asked, “Dad, if God knows everything, then why does he make Abraham go through with the test of offering Isaac?” Trying to pull my thoughts together, I relaxed on the edge of her bunk and gave her my best attempt. Like any preacher, I answered her question with a question. I asked, “You like to plant flowers in the garden, don’t you? “Yes,” she replied. “You know if you plant a seed in the garden and water it then the probability is that a flower will spring up, correct?” “Umm. Yes,” she answered curiously. I continued, “Well, is it enough for you just to know it will happen? Would you be happy just to leave it at that?” She thought and her brow crinkled as she said, “No, of course not. I want to go and do it. I want to see the flower grow.” “Exactly,” I replied. She gave me a look as if to say, “You lost me.”
I went on to explain that in the same way, though God knew Abraham’s faith better than Abraham did, that was not enough for Him. He wanted to see Abraham’s faith. If mere knowledge of everything were enough, then by that logic God need not have created the world at all. God presents you with circumstances and choices for the same reason. He wants to see your faith. He doesn’t just want to ask the question, and he doesn’t want to simply know the answer. What does he want? He wants to see us standing before our choice, standing before our disappointment, when the feelings are gone, the odds are stacked against us and with all evidence to the contrary, to stand and say, “I trust you, and you are the one I will obey.” And exactly what God wants to see is what the Devil wants to steal — your faith. When disappointment comes, there is only one way to survive and that is to remember why it is there: that it is not a random accident that has spoiled your plans. It has come to test you, to squeeze you, to reveal you. But who will you trust? Who will you obey? This is always and forever the real issue.