Disappointment is a force that moves in all of our lives. Left unprocessed, it can cause a lot of damage. It can also be a powerful experience that strengthens our identity and our self-confidence. It can point us back to a loving God and build our faith for bigger things to come. It can even prove to you that you are worth fighting for — you are worth processing the pain to find real healing.
If we can get through this process, we can get through anything.
I’m convinced of this, because my husband and I have been in the trenches with it for awhile. We’re not out yet, but I can see good things growing. I’m more confident than ever in my marriage and faith. I have confidence that as long as I have Jesus and my husband, we can get through anything. We are growing things in a barren season that will withstand anything else that comes at us.
By trial and error, we’ve found ways to stay engaged with our process and not come away empty-handed. It’s possible to experience loss and survive it — without cutting off parts of ourselves or losing faith in God. It’s possible to come out on the other side stronger than before, with greater confidence and passion for our lives and purpose.
Hold on to your heart.
I spent years learning how to shut down my heart. Painful things would happen and I would shove it down. I wouldn’t let myself feel it. After years of doing this, everything just spilled out as depression. It colored everything I did in gray. It put a bell jar over my life — it felt like I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t connect with anyone outside. Trying to ignore disappointment and avoiding future pain dictated a lot of my decisions.
Disappointment hurts. And when it comes, we will often do whatever we can to ignore the pain. Escaping with drinking and partying, numbing out with Netflix, bingeing on food — anything that will fill the aching emptiness. Or we cover it up with platitudes; sling bible verses like bandaids over what hurts, creating a new level of shame when we can’t feel grateful to the “good God” we know exists. Rushing our hearts from “hurt” to “okay” is as damaging as shoving down feelings.
“Time heals all wounds” not because ignoring something long enough makes it go away -- but because the processing takes time.
Taking care of our hearts is not quick and easy business. It is uncomfortable. It requires us to remember and experience, all over again, things we’d rather not. But it is worth it — because you are worth it.
I’ve learned to let my heart feel what it needs to feel — because it is telling me important things about myself. I’ve learned to love myself by listening, journaling, and verbally processing. I pray often and tell God how I am feeling without tying a pretty bow on it. I release my pain instead of shoving it down. Hide it, and it goes rancid inside you. Let it out, and you receive the gift of perspective and freedom.
Hold on to yourself.
Before any solutions or relief came, I found peace and empowerment amidst a season of loss and frustration. A great lie my disappointment told me was that I wouldn’t be okay again until those circumstances changed. For awhile, it convinced me that I wasn’t powerful and couldn’t live how I wanted.
Until I saw my circumstances for what they were: temporary. Real, yes. Difficult, very. But I was still me — still strong, brave, and free. No matter what happened in my life, my destiny and what makes me who I am wasn’t going anywhere. If I were to take the bait and believe that my life was irreparable, that I was weak or stupid or incapable — I would begin to act like that person. I would grow passive and apathetic. I would grow angry and bitter — I would seek to blame someone for the situation I was in.
Nothing quiets lying voices quite like the defiance of someone convinced of their identity.
One of the most powerful experiences I’ve known is hearing the sound of my own voice rising up to defend me. Through these difficult seasons, the Lord has allowed me to cultivate love, compassion, and respect for myself. I’ve learned to fight for myself in the face of lack, hope deferred, and delayed dreams. When circumstances have yelled loudly of my failures, I’ve learned to strengthen my own small voice counting out the ways that God has still been faithful to me.
Rising up in anger and bitterness is the hallmark of a victim. Rising up in power and joy is the hallmark of a child of God.
We can’t wait for anyone else to step in and say we are important enough to fight for — God has already done that. He sent Jesus to the cross. We matter. We have to act like we matter — and when we do, disappointment loses power over us.
Look for what is growing.
When disappointment comes, we may switch into a two-dimensional paradigm: success or failure, good or bad. But nothing in life is really one or the other. When there is a God who works all things together for good, whose mysteries are beyond our understanding — anything and everything can have a place in our destiny. Anything and everything can be useful.
We don’t see it this way because it’s easier to shut the door on something as a failure than to fight to keep hoping. It’s easier to compartmentalize, but that’s just shame. “I didn’t do good enough. I messed it up. I just have to deal with the consequences.” It sounds reasonable. But it means I’m too embarrassed by my perceived failure to spend time letting God or anyone else give me a better narrative.
In the midst of seasons that feel barren of everything we hoped for, there are things that can still grow.
We’ll miss it if we are consumed by what is lacking. Trying to focus on the good without processing pain first is damaging — we can’t rush ourselves to arrive here. But when we’re ready, when we’ve made some peace with what’s happened and have decided to not leave our hearts behind, suddenly we will see things growing we never knew were there.
When almost every other area in my life was failing, somehow my marriage was getting stronger. Our life felt barren, but our love was growing. In the midst of lack, I discovered an abundance within myself: the ability to love and to make choices, regardless of circumstances. I discovered I was strong enough to deal with the pain, and that God was kind enough to go through it with me. Despite frustration and anger, my husband and I chose to worship and connect with God. All of this is a triumph.
We continue to choose to build the abundant things in seasons of lack and pain because things that can grow in the desert — those things can withstand anything.
But we have to look to find them. We have to believe it’s possible for them to exist. And when we do see them, even if they’re small, it proves that there is life in the middle of what feels like death.
This pain, this season — it will come to end. But what we take from it is entirely up to us. Bitterness, regret, isolation, loss of faith -- or hope, confidence, and unshakeable joy. Disappointment will do everything it can to convince you this choice isn’t yours — but our greatest weapon against it is simply believing that it is.