Everyone here has been disappointed by someone. Everyone here has disappointed someone. Everyone here will be disappointed again, and everyone here will disappoint someone again.
Some people here will do all they can do, go the extra mile, be intentional, work hard, prepare for whatever the task might call for, and even your best effort will cause someone else to be disappointed. We know Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life, and in doing so, He still disappointed a lot of people. Jesus got everything right and people were still disappointed in Him. Mary and Martha expressed disappointment in Jesus because He didn’t get to their house before Lazarus died. Many followers of Jesus were disappointed that He never pulled the trigger on setting up an earthly kingdom, something they were just sure He had come to do. Maybe they even read into His words, twisting them to mean what they wanted them to mean, so that when He didn’t deliver, they found themselves disappointed in Him. When Jesus didn’t perform the way the religious leaders expected He should, they were disappointed. They were disappointed in His methods and in the way He lived out His theology. He didn’t do life by their rules. They couldn’t control Him. For One who showed such promise early on, for One who knew so much about the Scriptures, He just turned out to be a big disappointment to them.
Some people here are nursing the wound of disappointment. It’s super fresh. You didn’t make the team. You weren’t selected for the group. How about the disappointment that we feel when the person who made plans with you canceled at the last minute, giving you no explanation, and then you see on Instagram they were hanging with someone else. How about the sting of disappointment when the boy or girl you like doesn’t like you back? Or maybe it’s the test score that just wasn’t high enough despite your best efforts. Maybe a long-time friend lied about you, and the disappointment cuts deep into your heart. Maybe you have invested a lot of time and money into a relationship that you thought would take you to the altar, but it ended abruptly after the wedding invitations had already gone out. Maybe it’s next-level disappointment. Maybe you are struggling with infertility and after spending thousands and thousands of dollars and so much time and emotional energy, your arms are still empty. Perhaps someone else, who hasn’t worked at the company as long as you have, got the promotion ahead of you. How do we go on when we are so disappointed, so hurt?
Some of us are dealing right now with feeling disappointed in ourselves. We are where we never thought we would be, and it isn’t a good place. We know we have contributed to the problems we are facing. We know we have turned away from where God has called us to be. We know we have started sliding, started slipping. We know we haven’t lived up to our potential. We know we have compromised. We know we have sinned and gotten caught up in a life we swore we would never fall prey to. How do we get free from the grip of our own disappointment? How do we stop beating ourselves up so that we can get back up and move on?
Do a study on the words of Jesus in the Gospels. The encouragement was always forward motion. Jesus never told anyone to sit in their shame and rehearse everything they had done wrong. He never said, “Now sit down and feel as bad as you can for as long as you can.” No, He said things like, “Go and sin no more.” He spoke words of life over broken people, people who had been a disappointment to themselves and others. On the heels of Peter’s epic failure, Jesus said, “Get back in the game. Get up and get moving.” He wasn’t going to let Peter disqualify himself by allowing him to live in a state of disappointment. Forward motion is key.
The book of Ecclesiastes has something to say about living disappointed. In chapter two we read about the self-disappointment the author faced. Everything he tried, everything he pursued, everything he valued and lived for, caused him to feel empty, meaningless and worthless.
Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 1 I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. 2 “Laughter,” I said, “is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?” 3 I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly–my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives. 4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. 8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well–the delights of the heart of man. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. 10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. 11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
We read here that the writer was living a disappointed life despite all he tried to accomplish. He looked to earthly, sensual pleasures to bring him satisfaction and contentment. He was disappointed. Why? Because pleasure seekers ultimately are focused only on themselves. They become selfish consumers who are just looking for a quick fix, a quick escape, a cheap thrill. We can’t win at life without other people. Pleasure for pleasure’s sake is a trap because it causes people to use others just so that we can pursue whatever pleasure is calling our name.
It is also a trap because pleasure seekers are never satisfied. You have to add more and more pleasure to achieve the same “high” you had in the beginning of your pursuit. It is a never-ending game that leads to a disappointing end. People who pursue pleasure as their main goal will ruin relationships as they do whatever it takes to feed their sensual appetite. For example, often the more people drink alcohol, the less enjoyment they get out of it, so they have to drink more drinks and stronger drinks in order to have the same amount of pleasure they had in the beginning.
When chasing pleasure didn’t work, the writer of Ecclesiastes sought to find significance in being a workaholic. He would prove his worth by working night and day. He became large and in charge. He climbed the corporate ladder. He was wealthy, but when he added it all up, his heart was empty. He was disappointed. Sure, we can find enjoyment in our work and have a sense of accomplishment as we work, but what happens when the project we are working on is over? If all we were living for was a personal accomplishment, what happens to us when we achieve that success we had set our sights on?
He said he was wealthier and greater than anyone else that was living, and yet, “winning” the game of life, having what others would envy, didn’t satisfy his longings. He was disappointed.
Here is what I can tell you after reading these eleven verses: The surest way to live disappointed is to live for the wrong things. Ecclesiastes 2 tells us you can be ultra successful and still live disappointed because worth, significance and contentment come only from being rightly connected to God and living to please Him.
If you are living for pleasure, for some kind of personal performance record, or for the approval or applause of other people, you will live disappointed with yourself. Young people, get a hold of this today. We can spare you 12-15 years of heartache and regret if you will allow this to sink into your spirit right now. To live to be rich or to live to be famous or to live to have a hot girlfriend or the perfect body—to make those the priority of your life will one day lead you to realize you have wasted time, energy, and effort on the wrong things.
In order to avoid the disappointment that is self-imposed, I encourage you to: Downsize your goals into one overarching goal. Make your goal to please God in all things! If your goal is to please God, and you make that your life’s aim, you won’t be exhausted and hurt from chasing so many rabbit trails along the way. If you place your energy and effort into pleasing God while you pursue health, while you go after your education, while you pursue your business, while you raise your children, while you nurture your relationships, while you pursue a new job or the acquisition of a home or whatever, if God is at the center, I’m not saying you won’t deal with disappointment, but I do believe you will live fulfilled, satisfied, content, and you will have a sense that your life is meaningful, rich, and full.
When Jesus sent the disciples out to do His work, He made sure they knew they would face disappointments. He said in Matthew 5:11-12, 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. The disciples were not going to experience worldly success. Many would reject them like they rejected Jesus. For believers, there is always an eternal perspective, a singular focus to maintain. It is to live to please God and not to pursue the world’s definition of success.
When we face disappointment because we are following Christ or are doing His work, we know it isn’t a waste of time and energy. We know there is a crown that awaits. Keeping our eyes on that heavenly prize will keep us from allowing disappointment to redirect our steps towards the things of this world. I remember now many years ago, someone who was close to me, was getting ready to propose to his girlfriend, and he said to me, “If she doesn’t say ‘yes,’ I am just going to become a money-hungry man and live to work. What? That is messed up. That isn’t healthy. He had already decided to pursue the things of the world in the face of disappointment. That cannot be the way Christians deal with it. We must stay focused on what God wants in our lives when every letdown comes our way. Our “go to” needs to be the Lord and not the things of the world.
Now, what about the disappointments we face that aren’t the result of us being focused on the wrong things? How do we deal with those? We have got to learn how to accept that disappointment is part of life, and we need to teach that to our kids. We have got to develop the resilience to move on from disappointment. Are y’all ready for a big, run-on sentence? Here goes: In this time where everyone gets a trophy, and we don’t want to keep score in kids’ sports, and there are no winners and losers, and we wouldn’t want to name a Valedictorian because that might make others feel bad that they weren’t first in their class, and in this culture when sensitivity training has become so pervasive that we are walking on egg shells because while hurting someone’s feelings wouldn’t be our intention, it is bound to happen but will mean stiff penalties if we say something that something takes offense to, my fear is that we are raising a generation of young people who don’t have the coping skills they need to recover when they grow up and move into the real world where they cannot be sheltered from life’s disappointments. And despite everyone’s best efforts to wrap their kids in bubble wrap, disappointment still happens, and it happens early.
So, how do we structure our lives so that we can avoid some disappointment and deal with the disappointments that are part of the human experience in a godly way? I would suggest to you that we need to:
Develop realistic expectations. Not everyone can make the team. There cannot be 50 people on a basketball team. You might be in the number who doesn’t make the cut. You need to embrace that going in. Not everyone who makes the team will get to play a significant amount of time. You might be the one who spends the majority of the game on the bench. That needs to be something you recognize up front. If there is only one promotion at your company and ten people are applying for it, nine of those ten aren’t going to get it. There are winners and there are losers, and you will win some and you will lose some.
When you go out for the team, prepare for the tryout. When you prepare for the interview, do your homework about the company. Study what you need to know. Don’t just think your connection to the coach or the boss will make you a “shoe-in.” Don’t assume your natural talent will take you where you want to go. Realize going in that you may not make it. Your happiness in high school, your contentment in life cannot be based on having a spot in a particular group or achieving a certain position in the company. You might need to find another outlet for your passion. There are plenty of ways to play sports or to sing or dance that don’t involve a spot on a school team. You might need to pursue another avenue for employment down the road if you have hit the ceiling of advancement where you are.
Have you ever thought that in some instances God might be protecting you from something by not allowing you to step into a space that you really desired to be in? Maybe He is helping you avoid some drama or a certain influence that wouldn’t be good for you? Maybe the disappointment you are feeling isn’t as bad as the way you would feel if you actually got what you wanted. Here’s the thing: Not everything we want for ourselves is good for us to have or to experience. But everything God has planned for us will bring blessing, a hope, and a future to us. (Jeremiah 29:11-13) Go in planning to do your best, but realize that others may be better prepared, have a better day than you on the day of try-outs, may be naturally better at “IT” whatever “IT” is, than you are, or that God doesn’t think your pursuit is what is best at the time. Decide going in that is OK and decide that you will be OK no matter what.
Sometimes, we expect things of people that we never clearly communicate and then when they don’t perform the way we think they should, we allow ourselves to become unnecessarily disappointed. A pile of folded laundry at the bottom of our steps, on the right side of the steps, for me, was clear communication in our early marriage that my husband should carry the clothes up the steps. However, because he would never even see the pile of folded laundry at the bottom of the steps, it wasn’t getting carried up. I had to adjust my expectations and not hold him to an expectation without communicating my desire for him to help me in that way.
If you long for someone in your life to behave toward you in a certain way and year after year they have proven they aren’t going to, to continue to expect them to will lead you not only to disappointment but insanity. For example, if you wish and hope and pray every year that a certain person will call you on your birthday to wish you a happy birthday, and they never do, but you expect them to every year, why continue to set yourself up to be repeatedly disappointed? Just adjust your expectations for that relationship. While everyone CAN change, some people won’t. That is just reality. The sooner you adjust your expectations for some people the less anxiety and disappointment you will live with.
Some people are living disappointed because they are expecting one person to meet all of their needs or to be something that would be impossible or to be something that God doesn’t intend or couldn’t bless. We need to make sure we are always evaluating our expectations of others to make sure they are realistic.
Decide to learn something from it.
Ahead of the disappointment, decide that you will allow disappointment to become a teacher. Perhaps you will learn that you are better suited for a different career or a different sport which would be a blessing in disguise. When disappointment comes in the form of an ended relationship, maybe it is an opportunity to step back and think about what you might do differently the next time. Maybe it could foster a time of self-reflection where you recognize that you need to work on being trustworthy or on having balance in your life so that you don’t neglect the people in your life who are precious to you. Maybe it is an opportunity to get some added training, to acquire a new work skill, or to work on letting go of your anger.
When someone lets you down by not doing what they say they will do or by purposely excluding you or attempting to malign your character through gossip and innuendo or when people bully you by making fun of something they perceive is a weakness, resolve in those moments to NEVER become that person. You can learn something in every situation, no matter how painful it is.
Don’t add a label to your feelings. A feeling is just a feeling. It isn’t a definition of your character, worth or potential.
I’m not the best singer to ever sing a note, and I certainly can’t do all of the vocal gymnastics the people on American Idol and the Voice can do, but in my day, I was pretty decent. I tried out four times for the Anderson University Chorale before I made the group, and I was a MUSIC MAJOR, so I was one of the people who were supposed to have been given priority in the audition process. However, I was placed in what was considered a “lower” choral group, a group where a lot of non-music majors sang, while several who weren’t music majors were singing in the higher group, the Chorale.
Now, I could have allowed that experience to cause me to doubt my talent, my educational pursuit, and even my life’s calling to be involved in church music. I could have concluded that I just wasn’t “good enough” to do what was on my heart to do, but I didn’t allow my feelings of disappointment to define the direction for my life. Do you understand how important this concept is? Don’t be defined by anything or anyone but Jesus.
Dig deeper. Become resilient. “No” doesn’t always mean, “Not ever.” It might just mean, “No, not now.” Work harder. If you are still passionate about whatever it was you had gone after, go after it again the next time. Get scrappy. Put in more time. You won’t know what you are capable of until you have persevered. Trying once and not succeeding won’t reveal what you are capable of. Trying and trying and trying and trying again will really show what you are made of. Things that come too easy can make people arrogant, spoiled and actually ruin them. Perseverance and hard work are Christian values. They are biblical. They can assist us in becoming Christ-like which is always the goal and can produce great reward in our lives.
Dream new dreams. Disappointment can actually become God’s appointment to point us in a new direction. It is easy to become obsessed with something to the point where we have tunnel vision and all we do is eat, sleep and dream about one thing. We might be missing some other things God wants us to enjoy. God may want you to have many passions and pursuits. Dreaming new dreams will help you to continue to challenge yourself and will add joy to your life as you allow yourself to experience something new.
What will you do with the wound of disappointment you are nursing now? How can you re-frame the disappointments you have already dealt with to see them as stepping stones to something better? What can you learn from the disappointments you have dealt with? How can you reduce your goals to the one main goal of pleasing God in all things? In the face of disappointment, look up. Get up. Go forward. Hand your disappointment to God and let Him give you a new outlook and fresh dream for your life. Allow disappointment to lead you to trust God deeper and to persevere no matter what.