I don’t even know where to begin. You would think six and a half years of on and off illness would prepare one to write about disappointment, but you’d be wrong.
Each new disappointment is unique and heavy. Each one sharp, cutting deeply.
I think this is because right before the fall of disappointment, we were light with anticipation, looking toward our futures in hope. We were hoping for something and our eyes were on its fulfillment, even if it was a subliminal hope and not an active hope. And now, poof, it’s gone:
- The trip
- The health
- The security
- The job opportunity
- The relationship
We were soaring high and now we’ve dropped to the earth, bruised and shocked at the turn of events. I feel like we’re all battling a bit of disappointment nowadays.
I’ve learned a lot over the years about disappointment and figured I’d share here. The three steps below stand out and help me the most. I hope they help you as you navigate whatever circumstances you’ve found yourself in during this time.
First, I’ve learned to stop comparing my loss with anyone else’s. If we compare our losses to those of others, a couple of things can happen. We will either not acknowledge our true feelings about the situation because we diminish them, or we will not be able to bear anything else on our plates because they consumes us. Let’s say you only had to give up a ski trip, but your neighbor lost a parent. You feel like you should be grateful all you had to give up was a long weekend while they will suffer much longer. You’re disappointed but you know it could be worse.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Yes, your neighbor’s loss is profound. Things can always be worse. But if you minimize what you’re feeling, you will never get around to the second step, which is grieving (and necessary). Allow yourself to feel what you’ve deemed a “trivial” disappointment as deeply as you need to feel it without apology. You can be disappointed AND grateful at the same time.
Alternatively, sometimes we feel our loss is so much greater than anyone else’s. And you may be right. Other people have to home-school their kids, while you might not have food to put on the table next month. And yes, this is awful. I feel it for you. You’re in a really hard spot. But if we focus on this comparison, you know what else this can turn into? Bitterness. And this is absolutely normal and healthy to feel for a short time. But like in minimization of loss, it can keep you from healing through grief. Be as angry and sad as you need to be for a while. Rant about how it’s not fair, because it probably isn’t. Then get back up and move to the next step.
Grieve it Fully
We need to grieve our losses, even the small ones, fully. The ONLY way to the other side of disappointment is to get knee-deep in it (sometimes neck-deep) and trudge through it. If you go around it or minimize it or maximize it, bitterness, envy, anger, and depression have an opportunity to settle in your heart. When this happens, the next disappointment (there will be a next) will etch these feelings even deeper into your heart, making an even deeper hole for you to climb out of later.
If we don’t go through our grief and heal from it properly, it adds up over time. Upon the next disappointment, we remember the previous one and the one before that and before that. Soon, we aren’t able to focus on hope for our future but always look to the disappointments of the past.
Almost exactly a year ago, I relapsed hard. I was forced to cancel a trip to the Grand Canyon and everything else on the schedule for the next three months. Then the three months turned into several more months. During the previous two years, I gained strength and healing. I felt like I was finally making progress. In one day, poof, all of that work evaporated like mist. I was devastated. I thought the worst part of the disease had passed. I was wrong.
Five and a half years of this type of disappointment taught me the importance of grieving. So, I grieved. I allowed myself to cry for an hour, full of snot and anger and pain and bitterness and frustration about the unfairness of it all. Fists flying into my pillow, sobs consuming my lungs.
Then I made a choice to move on. I cancelled all of our plans. Over the next several months, I grieved deeply on an off. Oh no, it didn’t last only an hour, but I decided to start moving forward after an hour, grieving as additional disappointments arose over the next several months.
Hold Onto Hope
This step is as important as the last. And also the hardest. By far. How do you keep disappointment from turning into depression? Or resentment? Or rage? Is it even possible?
Once we’ve started the grieving process, then we hold onto hope. How?
Like I said, this is the hardest part. We all do it differently.
I remember goodness, I remember strength and I remember beauty. Last year, I remembered conquering disappointment other times in the past. I got out my grit list (a list of all the times I kicked back and got back up when life knocked me down). I remembered not only surviving worse but thriving afterward.
I also knew I would need to walk before I could fly again. I would need to go through the whole healing process again, even though I had done it over and over in the past. No, it wasn’t fair. But I desperately clung to this hope of healing by baby steps so that wouldn’t lose heart.
The verses in Isaiah 40:28-31 say:
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Everyone grows tired and weary. But our strength will be renewed. It’s ok to not be ok. If all we can do is walk, God will keep us from fainting. If we finally gain strength to run, he will keep us going even when we get tired. And when we soar, it will be with the grace, strength, and elegance of an eagle. We cannot assume we will always soar, always run, or always walk. We will go up and down on this scale of energy. If we crash from soaring to walking, he will sustain us while we are there.
I personally feel like there should be a phrase in this verse about crawling, cuz I’ve been there. These verses describe the hope we need to cultivate wherever we are.
There is always hope. Just like there is always light. There is always beauty. Sometimes we just need to shift our perspectives and start looking for the smaller beauties when the big ones fail us. It’s hard work, but worthy work. And remember, we are not alone.
How are you handling your disappointments in this season? Where can you shift your perspective when everything seems to fall apart? How can I help?