Thursday, March 10, 2016

Dealing With Disappointment

Tommyboy is told to go home and put on something more appropriate.
God Alert! This article contains references to God and spirituality. Read at your own risk!
While life is certainly a gift to be cherished, sometimes things might not go your way and you end up having to deal with disappointment. Maybe somebody let you down. Maybe your favorite team lost a match. Or maybe, it's something even more serious.

In any case, true disappointments can be painful, regardless of their magnitude. My friend recently terminated a long-term relationship in which she'd struggled for a long time. The harsh words, hurt feelings, bitter memories, and daily friction had taken their toll.

My neighbor, Little Joe, lost a job he loved. His supervisor seemed distant and hostile. Feeling under-appreciated at an otherwise satisfying job frustrated Joe but losing his livelihood was even worse.

My last editor knew something was wrong even before the doctor told her a mastectomy might remove the cancer. Cancer wasn't supposed to be part of her charmed life: always class president, cheerleader, socialite, proud wife and parent. Cancer happened to other people. How was she supposed to handle it? Not to mention her husband and child.

When I survey my own life, I realize I'm no different. We all experience disappointment from troubled relationships, poor job evaluations or test scores, death of a loved one, health challenges, social snubs and on and on.

Unsurprisingly, sometimes disappointment develops into depression or despair. Did you know shipwreck victims who lose hope may die after a few days even though physiologically they could have survived many days longer? While despair can contribute to suicide, hopelessness bred by poverty may manifest as apathy. Values, meaning, and hope appear to act as catalysts for mobilizing energy and finding satisfaction. Without hope, life can justifiably seem futile.

So how can we keep hope alive when we become so disappointed we actually feel paralyzed? Well, first, adjust your expectations. Understand that much of what happens is out of your hands. Everybody doesn't get to win the Super Bowl or Olympic gold. Not every applicant gets the job. Illness happens. Not every marriage succeeds.

A word of caution. Hope can be misplaced. If your highest hope is in achievement, you will eventually be disappointed — success is transient. Solomon said, "As I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless... like chasing the wind" (Ecclesiastes 2:11). On the other hand, if we're so afraid of disappointment that we lower our hopes, we can close ourselves off from what God may have in mind. The proper balance can be elusive.

Learn from your struggles and your losses. When allowed to do so, disappointment and failure build character and patience. They can teach you to win and lose with grace, an increasingly lost art these days. Romans 5:3-4 says it like this: "We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character..." Inner spiritual strength helps develop that attitude.

As a teenager, surfer Bethany Hamilton lost her left arm to a 1,500-pound shark, yet she says, "This was God's plan for my life and I'm going to go with it." Hamilton now regards her tragedy as an opportunity to inspire others.

God often ministers to our hurts through other people. It can be tempting to put up walls when you're feeling especially vulnerable, but if you shut out friends, you could be sealing off healing and hope.

Friends are essential, but people can also let us down and make errors in their judgments. Remember that God is an unending source of hope, inspiration, and energy. "I will never fail you. I will never forsake you" ( Hebrews 13:5). Cultivate your spirit and in times of despair, you will be protected.

Paul wrote, "If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since God did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won't God, who gave us Christ, also give us everything else?" (Romans 8:31-32) The more we trust in God, the less power disappointments will have to undermine our hope.

Paul also said, "God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God" (v. 28). In my experience, that's how it's supposed to work.

We sometimes get stuck focusing on the here and now, but our present situation isn't the end of the story. Paul knew how disappointing life could seem — we only have to read his letters to know that. Yet he never quit encouraging his fellow believers to see the big picture in the midst of their trials. He wrote, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" ( 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). God's plans are nearly always bigger than we think. The sting of our relatively short-term disappointments in no way compares to the ultimate hope we have in Him.

First Peter 1:13 counsels, "Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed." In other words, wonderful things will come our way once Jesus returns to this troubled planet. But even now, God offers compassion, forgiveness, and strength to those who trust in Him. Relationship with Him gives us the great hope that empowers us to face any disappointment.

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