Five ways to respond to disappointment
Each of us is going to experience significant disappointment during the course of our lives. Funding for a ministry project doesn’t materialize; a position you thought yourself well qualified for goes to another; attendance drops despite your fervent prayers and well-prepared sermons; the congregation chooses an option that you disagree with.
Failure and disappointment is often an inevitable by-product of the attempt to actually get off your rear and try to do something. As Teddy Roosevelt put it,
Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.
Knowing this, however, doesn’t take the sting out of disappointment. At best, it can help to redeem it. The question is: how are we to respond to disappointment? Is there a way to make something out of the nothing of rejection or failure?
My friend Kathy Tuan-Mclean has written about disappointment in the context of helping her children move through it. You can read her post here. Kathy identifies the five responses we typically move through in the face of disappointment or failure:
- Blame someone or something.
- Blame (or shame) the victim.
- Stop caring.
- Just quit.
- Work harder and try again.
Then she adds, “But perhaps the best thing to do, at least initially, is to mourn. To just be sad.” And to be sad is specific way: to grieve cleanly. Grieving cleanly means, according to Kathy, experiencing the pain without inflicting pain on others.
The promise when we grieve cleanly, as Jesus said, is that those who mourn will be comforted. When we mourn with God, we remember that God, not our loss…defines our hope and future.
God reminds the exiled covenant community through Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you…plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” So when disappointment knocks on your door, remember to:
- Give yourself permission to mourn and feel the loss
- Entertain and reject poor responses
- Admit your weakness and lean on God’s grace
- Remind yourself that God’s purposes are greater than your circumstances
Doing this won’t eradicate disappointment from your life, but it will be the yeast that leavens the loaf of failure and redeems it to become something God uses to make you both holier and humbler.