Carrying Disappointment into the New Year
The start of a new year can fill us with excitement and inspiration. Goals are written down, hope brims over, and the fresh start feels bursting with possibilities. Sometimes the start of a new season brings fresh perspective, but other times a new season reminds us of our own disappointments.
Everything around us seems to be growing, moving, and changing, and yet we feel stuck. We expected the circumstances of our lives to be different. Our marriages are heavy with the conflict of two sinners living in close proximity. Our jobs are frustrating. Our wombs remain empty. Our bodies are afflicted with illness and pain that follows us everywhere we go.
For many of us, the fresh start of a new year doesn’t feel like a welcome invitation as much as it serves as a painful reminder of the disappointments we are carrying within our hearts.
One way we carry our disappointment is with dismissiveness. We catch ourselves reciting “at least” statements and trying to force gratitude - at least that difficult diagnosis is not terminal, at least we have some extra money in the savings account to cover this loss, at least the person we love deeply is no longer suffering. The words feel hollow even as we say them to ourselves, and instead of the comfort we need we are left only with our flimsy attempts at optimism.
The problem with our dismissiveness is that it blinds us to the redeeming work of Jesus in and through our disappointments. We are loved by a good and wise and loving and powerful God who has promised to use even our disappointments for his glory and our good (Romans 8:28).
When I consider the times in my life where I sensed God most acutely, they are often moments that were preceded by some disappointment, struggle, or pain. I become more aware of God in my suffering, and I imagine if you looked back through your life, you would be able to see a similar pattern. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34) and his nearness is our good (Psalm 73).
He is at work in our dashed hopes and unmet expectations, but we often fail to see the gifts He is offering us even in our disappointment: comfort, insight, correction. Rather than engaging our emotions, we slough them off and try to force a smile, a positive attitude, a silver lining. But this way of carrying disappointment leaves us tired, doesn’t it? It leaves us with unsorted and unchecked emotions, and robs us of the ways God could be working in our own hearts.
Stripped of our self-sufficiency and standing face-to-face with unmet desires, shattered expectations, and painful circumstances, we can clearly see what we believe to be true about God’s character and begin to recalibrate our hearts toward the truth of scripture.
When we carry our disappointment with dismissiveness, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to be comforted by God, gain valuable insights about ourselves, and learn the things we believe about God’s character.
Another way we carry our disappointment is with self-pity. One of the loudest lies Satan shouts when we experience disappointment is that we are the only ones who are not getting what we want. When our own lives are more difficult, painful, and messy than we hoped they would be, it can become easy to believe that every person around us is living an easier life.
We feel the pull of self-pity when there are mothers around us holding new babies while our wombs remain empty, when our friends receive job offers while we are still searching, when the family next door moves into a new home while we feel the weight of strained finances. We build walls of self-protection around ourselves, curling inward as every blessing from the Lord to those around us becomes tainted with cynicism.
This is one of the oldest lies - that God is withholding something from us, that he is blessing others and forgetting us. The truth is that everyone is carrying their own disappointment. Perhaps it is something too difficult for them to speak openly about or perhaps they are skilled at masking it with cliches and optimism, but the weight of a broken world presses into each of us and no one is living the life they once imagined.
When we carry our disappointment with self-pity, we rob ourselves of the comfort and encouragement that can be found in the body of Christ. Our hearts become hardened toward those around us and toward the God we believe has forgotten us, and instead of entering into the joys of others, we see only our lack.
Shaped and Molded
As we experience disappointment in our lives, may we engage our emotions and not dismiss or minimize the pain of unmet expectations and fractured hope. May our eyes be open to the ways God is at work in our hearts and lives as we lean into him for comfort. May we be sustained in our disappointment, pushing back against our own tendency to withdraw into self-pity. And may we allow ourselves to be shaped and molded by the God who redeems all situations for his glory and our good.