As he looks out his kitchen window, the newly sworn police officer watches the winter clouds while finishing his early morning coffee. The California sky is free to do what he cannot; it weeps rivers of tears down the glass pane and convulses with atmospheric concussions that match the unspoken grief in his own heart. Lightning cracks nearby. Thunder counters, shaking the windowpane with a rumble that leaves his soul rattled.
“I can’t do this,” he says as he dumps his coffee in the sink, grabs a card to mail, and searches for his car keys. The new rookie officer quietly heads off in the pre-dawn light for his very first day on patrol.
On his way to work, he swings by the post office to mail the card to his wife. It’s their first wedding anniversary tomorrow, but with no explanation she left him on the third day of their honeymoon. He stops these 12 months later to remember. He grieves. He prays alone in his car and silently honors his love for his absent wife.
Rejection. The sting of not being wanted, chosen, or loved has filled millions of psychologist’s chairs, young girls’ diaries, poetry books, theater seats, and scores of music charts with testimonies of trauma left behind by rejection’s residue. Rejection sears the heart, forever altering its ability to freely love again.
There is no pain like it.
Jesus knew rejection. He personally experienced cold the rejection of his own people and his own disciples. Jesus promised his disciples in John 15:20 that they would be treated just as he was. “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” (NASB) If Jesus was rejected, those who believe in him will be as well. It’s a sure thing.
It is also a comforting thing, however, to know that we are not alone. When we experience the crushing blow of rejection, we can be sure that Jesus understands our pain. He understands what it is like to be rejected by those closest to him, by those who know him best. He was even betrayed with a kiss by one who indicated he loved him. What kind of pain is betrayal? I hope I never know. Because of his own experience with rejection, Jesus can draw near to us in our moments of unrelenting sorrow. He can speak into the places of pain that are so deep we have no words to describe them.
Jesus knows. He cares. He shares our heart scars.
Failure, too, changes the heart but presents itself differently than does rejection. Failure often runs in tandem with its kindred spirit, expectation. We may expect excellence from ourselves and work hard to ensure our own success, but each of us has had to face an inevitable moment when our “all” wasn’t good enough. We can relate to personal failure; it births its own disappointment, but it also may contain the very seeds of our eventual success. Personal failure can have value to it even when we don’t see it, but that’s a blog post for another day.
What about the failure of others? Perhaps we have absorbed the moral implosion of a trusted teacher, mentor, professor, coach, pastor, parent, or other leader who has disappointed us. Maybe they have failed to live up to our expectations. Maybe we realized one day that they have weaknesses and shortcomings and we’re not happy about it. Maybe they don’t care that we are disappointed. Maybe they don’t know we are disappointed in them…
So, how do we keep our expectations from running amok? How do we keep our personal disappointments from becoming toxic to our own spirits and to those around us? How do we restore our hearts when they are disfigured by the rejection or failure of others?
We can’t restore our hearts, but God can. And he will, if we let him. Restoration will require a change in focus on our part, however. Disappointment is conquered by hope – not hope for a change in our circumstances, but hope in the person of Jesus Christ. True restoration comes when we fix our hope on the only one capable of transcending all the disappointments we’ll ever face.
The subtle trap we can fall into when dealing with disappointment, is to recalibrate our hearts to the day when our expectations are finally fulfilled. We do subconscious things. In an effort to dull our pain, we rehearse the conversation we’ll have with our loved one when he finally comes to his senses and chooses us after all. We rationalize our mentor’s failure arguing that it was unintended. These unconscious salves do nothing to heal the wounds of our disappointment; they only delay dealing with the profound pain that hovers just beneath the injury.
Self-medicating with false hope might seem to provide a safe anesthesia for emotional pain, but it doesn’t. Self-medicating will cripple us in the long run as it opens the door to denial, and denial is not healthy. When we are disappointed but won’t permit sorrow to penetrate our heart’s defense system, we end up coddling and shielding our hearts from reality. All that protection only delays the opportunity we have to receive the comfort of the Holy Spirit for the excruciating pain we now feel.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” Jesus said in Matthew 5:4. (NASB)
By redefining or denying your pain, you actually delay God’s precious healing for you. Be honest with God. He can handle your honesty. Tell him you are disappointed. Tell him you’re hurt, angry, annoyed, or fed up (or all of the above!). He’s big enough to deal with your pain, and he’s gentle enough to soothe it. Let him hold your heart while he provides comfort and healing to your brokenness.
The key to dealing with disappointment, then, is to acknowledge its traumatic concussion in the first place. We must give ourselves permission to grieve our sorrows, or healing will never come. Then, we focus our hope for the future on the promises Jesus offers. He will bring them to pass. If we simply recalibrate our hearts to a future date when everything magically turns out as we had originally hoped, we will live frustrated lives mired in continual, unrelenting disappointment.
This is the hope-filled promise I hold to when I deal with disappointment or the personal failure of someone I love:
1 Peter 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
I’m kind of hung up on the phrase “Living Hope.” I love it! Knowing that my Comforter is a living person who walks with me in this difficult season adds so much space and grace to my pain. Because of him, I’ve been able to let the disappointment dissolve on its own while I have focused my thoughts on the One who has drawn near to me. My hope is not set on a change in my circumstances, a change in others who have dismissed me, or in the rehabilitation of my relationships. My hope is set on the person of Jesus Christ who is my Living Hope through all the seasons of my life – the seasons of triumph, as well as, the seasons of disappointment.
Romans 5:5 tells me that “hope does not disappoint.” It doesn’t disappoint! So, even though an emotional storm may thunder through my life and rattle my soul anxious; I will be all right. I’ll be hanging onto my Living Hope who has never, and will never, disappoint me!
What gives you hope when times of disappointment threaten you?
© Copyright, 2012 by Donna Tallman.