Thursday, April 3, 2008

Dealing with Disappointment

Wrote on 14 January. Finally I'm posting it on 3 April. Hmm... I think I need to work on speeding up my blogging skills...
14 January 2008

A certain tradition I've created for myself while working at Coral Ridge is to forget to write my monthly article for the Communicator (the church newsletter in which each department is asked to furnish an article each month) until the day after it is due. Then Beth writes all of us delinquent people who have forgotten (which is normally about 90% of us) with a very funny threat and then we all slowly get around to writing something.
So it was that the other day I was again included in her delinquency e-mail for March's Communicator... and finally today I mailed it to her (my bad excuse is that it is just so hard to think about writing something for March when it is still only January).
Through writing this article I was encouraged with God's promises of His goodness and sovereignty. I thought I'd share it with you incase it might encourage you, too.

Communicator Article for March
Dealing with Disappointment

I often wonder why God allows the world to be a place where we face disappointments. I know that’s a silly wonder, because the answer to that is that the advent of sin brought in with it pain. But I still think about it. Why couldn’t God have still worked it out so that we wouldn’t get our hopes up about things and then have them dashed to pieces? It doesn’t matter if you are 5 years old and were disappointed that it rained last Saturday so that you couldn’t go kite flying with your dad, if you are 18 and you didn’t get into your top college choice, you are 32 and still unmarried, or you are 60 and your vocational hopes never took root in the way you had dreamed. Disappointment is something we all face.

At the root of disappointment is a hope that was not fulfilled. Maybe currently you are facing this. Possibly it is a particularly significant area of disappointment – an unfulfilled desire that continually remains empty, almost mocking you as you get up to face another day. Or, maybe a hope that had almost come to birth… brought so close to fruition that you could almost touch it… but then the door slammed in your face again. And you have since thought, wouldn’t it have been better to not have hoped at all, never dared dream a big dream, since it is so hard to face the pain? Or, you talk to the Lord and ask Him if you are doing something wrong because you are trying to do things right but things keep not working out. And you look around and it seems that things worked out for everyone else, even those who aren’t seeking to walk with God. It doesn’t seem fair.

When I am disappointed I am tempted to despair. To despair of God’s goodness, to despair of His good plans for me, to despair of why I can’t understand what God is doing and can’t see a clear path ahead. It can be easy to come to the conclusion that He has forgotten about me. He doesn’t care. He wasn’t strong enough to fight the problem for me. He tricked me.

When I choose to dwell on thoughts like that I am denying the promises in God’s Word. Ultimately I’m saying that God is a liar - that He let me down. Bitterness can creep into my soul, turning my heart’s joy and gratefulness to anger and cynicism. I forget that, actually, it isn’t so much that God is doing something “to me” as He is doing something “for me” through the pain.

It is vital that I run to God at these times. That I just dwell close to Him. Sitting there. Waiting there. Meditating on God’s true promises. Asking for His help in trusting Him with my heart’s disappointments and heartaches. Crying there. (This is good - my soul can and should grieve. Feeling that I must pretend everything is OK is not healthy. That’s denying the reality that God made humans with emotions.) As I wait upon the Lord, looking to Him to renew me with the joy of His strength and the power of increased faith, I find hope to move on because it causes me to better come to know the Author of Hope. I may not understand why God allowed a certain disappointment. But I can know that, as I hang my hope in Him, I will get through the storm. Even when I am in the midst of stormy crashing waves, the ground I stand on will not shift. And, because my hope is rooted ultimately in God, not in the dreams (how easy it can be to confuse these – even thinking that our hopes in ministry are the same as placing our hope ultimately in Him) I can keep on walking in triumphant hope.

My seminary professors taught me that there is a relationship between glory and suffering. God chooses to use suffering to prepare us to bring Him greater glory. Through times of hurting we can be etched more deeply into His character. I see this demonstrated in Scripture and in the lives of great saints of the past. People often faced a death of a life vision - a dream that kept being delayed. Yet in the suffering, and impossibility of it all, God was still at work. His end work was better than His people could have imagined.

Particularly I think of so many women who longing for children and were not given them. For Abraham who was promised an inheritance and still wasn’t seeing it as his life was nearing the end. For Esther who might have dreamed of being a wife of a godly man, instead being given a tyrant of a husband. For Joseph in Genesis who, as he sought the Lord, seemed to be punished for his righteousness. He faced countless disappointments – yet think of the faith He had and how he could confidently tell his brothers that God had been in charge through it all. That is amazing to me. For Joseph, Mary’s husband, who had dreamed of having a sweet beginning to his marriage and yet, instead, it seemed he was given a lot in life full of misunderstanding and hardship.

I read the ends of these stories and see how beautifully the Lord worked out their destinies, using the exact pains they faced as the trophies He would use through which to shine His glory. What makes me think He won’t do the same for you and me? We are heirs to His Kingdom. Precious, precious children to Him. He has a plan and it is good. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit… He set my feet on a rock… He put a new song in my mouth (Psalm 40:1-3). He has turned my mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11). No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11). Fear not… I have called you by name, you are mine…When you pass through the rivers they shall not overwhelm you… for I am the Lord your God… and I love you. (Isaiah 43:1-4). Fear not, for you will not be ashamed…though the mountains be shaken… my unfailing love for you will not be shaken. (Isaiah 54:4,10).

So next time you or I face disappointment, can we hurt? Yes we can hurt. Can we weep? Yes we can weep. It is good to take time to process our pain. But as we do this, constantly turning our eyes back to Jesus, remember He is working a good work. He will heal. He will restore our hope because He is our Hope. Let’s turn our eyes to the Lord and His promises and actively choose to trust them. Instead of living in bitterness and self-pity we’ll ask God to use this to increase our faith. We can trust that He is good, and He is sovereign, all the time.
Why so downcast, oh my soul? Put your hope in God! (Psalm 42:5).