Have you ever been disappointed by someone?
Of course the answer for all of us is, “Yes.” It would take only a moment to make a list. Our disappointments lie close to the surface, along with other painful memories.
Do you tend to put people on pedestals or idealize institutions? Are you prone to hero-worship? Do you have a tendency to trust? Does “hope spring eternal” in your heart? If so, then you have really suffered.
Some of us quit expecting much out of our sorry race a long time ago. Since then people have consistently lived up to our low expectations. But even hard-core cynics get disappointed sometimes.
How we respond to our disappointments determines the course of our lives perhaps more than any other single factor. Take a few quiet moments to go through your list, and remember how you responded to each one. If you are like me, some of your worst decisions were unwise responses to disappointments.
Looking back the other day, I was distressed to see how much I have allowed the failures, weaknesses, blunders and sins of others to damage my life. “Allowed?” Yes! More than allowed. I chose.
I chose to allow disappointments to wreck my college experience. I was young and immature with high ideals and unrealistic expectations, ripe for a let down. And of course it came.
I wish a trusted mentor had come along with a simple question: “OK, they let you down. Are you going to choose to allow their failures to keep you from reaching your goals?”
In fact someone may have tried to tell me that. I don’t remember. If they did, I shut them out, preferring unconsciously to be a victim. Instead of renewing my own desires and purposes I became an expert in other people’s problems–as they seemed to me.
Costly? Beyond measure.
I wish I could say that was the only time. It was a big one, but I have chosen to respond similarly to scores of other disappointments, allowing the shortcomings of others to set the course of my life. My life!
The best way to minimize the chances of this happening is to have a clear and compelling goal, something we see so clearly and want so badly that we will allow nothing to stand in our way. Certainly not the weaknesses of someone else!
But there is a second key, just as important: accepting that in the face of disappointment I always have a choice. For some reason this truth is often very difficult to take.
There are always a number of possible responses, and we will choose one of them. Not choosing is not an option. And choosing to believe we don’t have a choice is the most destructive choice of all.
What about when we disappoint ourselves? I’m disappointed with myself for the way I responded to my earlier disappointments. Ugh! These things can layer up.
How will our past failures, blunders and sins shape our lives from now on? That is largely ours to decide.
Will we choose to wallow in regret, self-pity, anger or despair? It’s hard to imagine choosing any of those options, but many do.
Will we choose to look for someone else to analyze and blame? If we lack a compelling goal, probably so. Or if our deeper goal is to avoid responsibility at all costs–a very costly goal indeed.
In Christ we are invited to expect great things for ourselves and others. That is as it should be. But along the way we will disappoint each other. We will disappoint ourselves. We might even disappoint God, though He is pretty hard to surprise.
We will not live up to each other’s hopes and expectations, or our own. Sometimes we won’t live up to our explicit commitments. We will certainly not realize all our potential — for evil as well as good, thankfully.
How will we choose to respond to these failures? Do we have a compelling vision that will keep us pressing on, like St. Paul, no matter what? Or will we get side-tracked, de-railed, stuck?
Let’s decide to allow nothing — not others, not ourselves — to keep us from realizing Christ’s purposes for us in His Kingdom. When His purposes become our compelling vision and His Kingdom our ultimate reality we have something durable to carry us through failure.
Choose to seize every disappointment and make it sharpen your focus, strengthen your resolve, activate your creativity, and take you into deeper communion with Him.
Can we choose to support each other in this vision?
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.