Sunday, May 9, 2010


Reacting to disappointment gives it undue power over us, but responding to it proactively exercises 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 Yancey's insightful book Disappointment With God.  Sometimes disappointment is rooted in unrealistic expectations of ourselves, others, institutions, and/or God.  Sometimes it is 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 an immobilizing grip.

LIVING AGAINST DISAPPOINTMENT.  But disappointment need 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, or escaping.  When we simply react to disappointment, we give it power undue 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 careful attention to disappointment.  But, 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 and 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 it.  Grace, understanding, dis-illusionment, 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 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 and 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.


  1. Thanks for this, John. I've been struggling with disappointment for the past couple weeks in regards to a job I interviewed for but didn't get. I truly wanted the job, and truly thought that I was better qualified than the one who got it (who is now a former coworker of mine). But God has a plan of His own, and He doesn't have to ask for my permission in how He does things. That doesn't mean it's not difficult to accept at times.

  2. Thanks, Matt. Sounds like you get it. As a pastor, I've prayed and talked lots of folks through disappointments, but whenever I've had them myself, it puts the challenge in gut-wrenching perspective. Truly spiritual formation.


Your tasteful comments and/or questions are welcome. Posts are moderated only to reduce a few instances of incivility.