Monday, May 11, 2009


Reacting to disappointment gives it power over us, but responding to it activates grace.

DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS. I have disappointed. And I am sure I have at some time been described as "a disappointment." On the other hand, I have been disappointed. And I have at times critically and unfairly described others and institutions as a disappointment. Disappointment runs in all kinds of directions.

UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS? When expectations and capacities run high, we tend to think and talk in these terms. Even in regard to God. Read Philip Yancy's insightful book Disappointment With God. Sometimes disappointment is rooted in unrealistic expectations of ourselves, others, institutions, and/or God. Sometimes they are rooted in bad information and false assumptions. Comparisons are also breeding ground for disappointment. When capacities are recognizably well above average and things don't come together "as expected," disappointment and disillusionment can assert their immobilizing grip.

LIVING AGAINST DISAPPOINTMENT. But disappointment must not define who we are or what we do. It does no good--and may do unnecessary harm--to simply react to disappointment with blaming, shifting focus, escaping, etc. When we simply react to disappointment, we give it power over us. Our outlook and actions tend to reflect that we are living against it. And it defines us.

INSTEAD, RESPOND TO IT. On the other hand, it's useful to pay attention to disappointment. Instead of reacting to it, respond to it. We can monitor, critique, and respond to it without it defining us. Where is this disappointment coming from? Is it realistic? Are expectations realistic? Do they match capacities? How am I processing disappointment? Is there anything I can learn and grow from it? What adjustments or changes might it be pointing toward? What breakthroughs?

PROACTIVITY. There's a significant difference between reacting vs responding to disappointment--and myriad other challenges in life. The difference is proactivity--what M. Scott Peck described as a pause amid crisis for questions, reflection and decision. I would add: contemplative prayer.

EMERGENT GRACE. Disappointment, though it is present, need not define who we are or what we do. In choosing to respond to it, I also find other resources that orient me in a very different direction in the face of of it. Grace, gratitude, forgiveness, hope: these possibilities and realities emerge as responses to situations that otherwise could only be seen through a lens of disappointment.

WHERE I CHOOSE TO LIVE. I'm not sure I am ready to say that disappointment can be converted into gratitude, but at least I am saying that amid disappointment, if I choose not to react to it but gently, firmly respond to it, there is an emergent grace that can give birth to gratitude, forgiveness, and hope. That's where I choose to go and where I hope to live.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

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