One of the biggest differences between older folk and younger folk is hope.
Late 20-somethings don’t just live with vision, they tend to live with the belief that life will deliver.
For us soon-to-be-elderly mortals, we have a harder time living with the hope of our younger days. We’ve faced a mountain of disappointment, let-downs, betrayals, personal failures, etc. We’re like a kid who keeps getting socks for Christmas; we’ve come to expect nothing else
So we get boring. We settle.
Have pity. Some of us have had enough of “dreams.” Things didn’t work out. We got hurt, gave up, and can now be frequently found on the sofa in our bathrobes and black socks binge-watching someone else’s interesting life.
And for us Christians, it’s super hard to trust God when life isn’t going as we think it should.
But disappointment is part and parcel to a good life, especially a life that goes for the good stuff. The bigger the dream, the bigger the disappointments. It’s easy to get tired, discouraged, hopeless; to readjust life for minimum disappointment, and settle into “boring.”
In a culture of impossibly high expectations, disappointment is a bad thing. But I’m beginning to believe that our let-downs might be good.
When Things Go Wrong
I’ve always wanted to fly fighter jets – since I was a kid.
Not sure why. I’m just enamored by the whole thing. But when I hit my teen years, because I was so bad at school, I convinced myself that I was too dumb to fly planes.
Then, in the prime of my early adulthood, Top Gun came along and re-kindled the dream. My friends all said that I shouldn’t completely re-vector my life because of a stupid movie, but that wasn’t it. Maverick, Goose, Ice Man, Hollywood, Charlie, A-4’s and carrier decks all helped me realize that people who fly jets aren’t rocket scientists. They’re normal, like me.
I could do this.
A few years later, having gone back to school, gotten my private pilot’s license, and taken a mountain of military/physical tests, the eye doctor gave me the same news that the previous two eye doctors tried to convince of – my eyesight couldn’t cut the muster. I’d never fly for the military.
I sat in my jeep shortly after the last ill-fated military eye exam I’d ever take, and cried.
It felt like the end of everything.
It wasn’t. My life between then and this morning has been amazing – things have happened that I never could have dreamed. It hasn’t been a picnic, but, at the least, I can’t say that it’s been worse than it would have been in a tiny cockpit.
Something similar happened with my dreams of being a pastor. I went to seminary, moved my wife and I out of state for church planter training, raised a ton of money, and set out to start my own church.
A few years after we said the eulogy for that project, the church we now attend asked me to come on board as one of their pastors. I felt redeemed. This painful, dying dream was being resurrected.
A couple of years into this soon-to-be-another-failure, one of the lead pastors asked, “Do you love what you’re doing at our church?” I had never considered that question. “Um… well… Not really, to be honest.”
That felt like the end too.
How to Figure Out What You Want in Life
If someone handed me the keys to an F-4 Phantom, or asked me to preach in front of thousands of people, I’d have a ball.
But it turns out that flying and herding God’s holy felines have never had anything to do with what I hope to get out of life. My desires are much deeper.
Everything I’ve done in life has revolved around a desire to be seen, heard, admired, and respected. This runs so deep that I’m now realizing there’s no career that can fulfill it.
I’ve got some things to figure out, some stuff to work on, and chasing these dreams distracted me from one of the best, most significant spiritual/emotional journeys I’ve ever taken.
If it hadn’t been for disappointment, I wouldn’t be here.
In the Christian world, we talk about disappointment as something that makes us stronger. “It’s God’s way of helping us find contentment” we like to say. And I wouldn’t argue that. The more disappointment I experience, the less disappointment I feel – the less afraid I am of not getting what I want.
But I’ve come to believe that disappointment is God’s way of helping us find what we really want. We don’t run into these walls because God doesn’t like us, or because He’s mad at us, or because He thinks we’re wimps.
We should at least consider the idea that our disappointments are God’s re-directs.
Humanity can frequently be found scratching and clawing for things it doesn’t truly want. Our desires are powerful, and difficult to understand. But God, the author of desire (not the corruption of desire – we do that), has a better understanding of what we want.
Don’t be surprised when He puts a wall in your face. You’ll thank Him later.
How to Overcome Disappointment
You don’t have to believe in God to navigate your latest let-down.
But you do have to believe that your life isn’t ending. It’s probably beginning. Regardless of what you believe, your life is playing out like a story. There will be good chapters, bad chapters, boring parts, insane episodes, unless you play the victim, blame everyone else for why things haven’t come together, and check out of your story entirely.
None of us will get the life we want, but if we’ll stay in the game, we’ll get a good story full of fun, laughter, great friendships, a bit of adventure, some sexy romance maybe…
And in the cracks, holding all of this together, will be episodes of disappointment.
That’s why I’m not giving up on Christianity. Her rules force me to stay engaged. “Always forgive, no matter what.” “Do whatever you can do to be at peace with others.” “Give some of your money away, I dare you.” “Don’t end that relationship just because you’re mad.” “Don’t consider yourself higher than others.”
Justice, mercy, compassion, patience, faith, hope, love.
I can’t think of one of Jesus’ commandments that doesn’t invite me to stay in this story – even when things get tough. I can rest assured that I won’t get the life I want, thank God, but I’m convinced that I’ll get a good one.
If you’re facing something difficult, wondering how to overcome your disappointment, the best way forward is to stop seeing it as a bad thing. When the cosmos tells you “no,” it’s for a reason.
If you stay engaged, refusing the temptation to excuse yourself and don the black-socked, bath-robed garb of the boring caste, you’ll find something new. It may take awhile, and all kinds of things will happen to your character as you wait.
At the end of this disappointment you’ll find clarity, a deeper understanding of what you really want out of life, and a refined ability to attain it.