The DNA of Disappointment

I read recently of a young man who was feverishly committed to a football team. He watched every game. His closet was full of team apparel. The boy had memorized the name and number of the entire roster, but his hero was the star wide receiver. You can imagine the unbridled exuberance he felt when he had the chance to attend a team practice and meet his favorite player. The moment arrived, and the boy held out a pen with a fluttering heartbeat and nervously stammered a request for an autograph. His hero’s response?

“Get the f— out of my face!”


THE UNIVERSAL ACHE

dis·ap·point·ment 

noun

the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations

You’ve lived through disappointment and so have I.

Young, old, rich, poor, male, female. Everyone has had to gaze across the vast valley between their unmet expectations and their difficult reality. The child processing news of his parents’ divorce while wiping the tears away from his 2nd grade report card. The grandparent who is forgotten by her grandkids. The college graduate receiving the umpteenth letter which regrets to inform that they’ve selected another candidate for the position. It’s a universally felt reality, perhaps even one of those foundational fibers that distinguishes the human experience.

YOUR HOPE AND DISAPPOINTMENT

Disappointment is powerfully depicted in a scene in Luke’s gospel a few days following the crucifixion of Jesus. Two of His followers are walking home from Jerusalem, despondent at what had occurred. When asked by a Stranger about their circumstances, they spoke of Jesus and said (among other things), “we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel…” Their grief manifested itself in the form of disappointment, because their dark tragedy started with such brilliant light.

If hope frequently leads to letdowns, then why are humans so stubbornly expectant of positive outcomes? Why not just take heed to a nihilistic pessimism?

A Hopeful Design

Intricately embroidered into our souls are tapestries of sunshine, the eager anticipation of all that could be. Human nature’s framework is designed to expect the best. The Lord has orchestrated the universe as a grand narrative with a perfectly fulfilling ending, and we were created in His image – we expect the best because of God’s fingerprint in our DNA.

Humanity was originally created and placed in a garden where expectations always matched reality. Our first parents’ work was fulfilling, their relationship with each other was unhindered, and their walk with the Lord was intimate. They dwelt in God’s presence and had no knowledge of disappointment.

A Hopeful Destiny

The ultimate destination of the world is a return, of sorts, to where it all began. The perfect and unfiltered presence of Almighty God will radiate through the New Creation. All people will live in harmony with Him and with one another. The lion will lay with the lamb. People will eat freely of the Tree of Life.

We have high hopes because those high hopes are founded in reality – hopes rooted in our design and destiny.

The Day of the Lord is when God will eliminate disappointment from the dictionary and when every hope will be realized without reservation. Consider the vibrant closing prophecy of Zephaniah:

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
    shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
    O daughter of Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
    he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
    you shall never again fear evil.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
    let not your hands grow weak.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,
    so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
Behold, at that time I will deal
    with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
    and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
    and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you in,
    at the time when I gather you together;
for I will make you renowned and praised
    among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
    before your eyes,” says the Lord.

Our design and our destiny cause us to have lofty expectations that aren’t always met, which inevitably leads to disappointment. But your high hopes are not the problem. Your optimism in marriage, occupation, adventure, and education reflects a divine spark and a holistic understanding of God’s long-awaited triumph in the world. Your hope is essential, but it is also crucial to hone your hope in a biblical and gospel-centered way.

YOUR DISAPPOINTMENTS AND GODLY HOPE

You and I should have high expectations for our lives, for our relationships, for our days. Indeed, it is quite unsettling to observe someone who has forsaken hope. We must rather lean into lofty and godly expectations, and learn how to respond to great disappointment with an even greater hope.

Every Earthly Circumstance Breeds Disappointment

Consider the diverse situations involving disappointment:

  • Achievement: People who have accomplished all of their goals frequently stumble into an aimless malaise. This unsettled and unsatisfactory experience of having “arrived” is so common that we have a label for it – the midlife crisis. On the other hand is the disillusionment of millions who were never able to land a job in their chosen field or who couldn’t make the varsity basketball team. Disappointment wreaks havoc on the accomplished and on the underachievers without discrimination. Solomon’s chilling assessment of the vanity of success says it all. I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” 
  • Relationship: There were 813,862 divorces in 2016, over 1.6 million people whose most intimate and significant relationship in life ended in bitter disappointment. Failed business partnerships, roommate arrangements, study groups, and friendships reach into nearly every individual’s life at one point or another. But we’ve also seen the profound loneliness experienced by the woman who has the ideal husband or the discouragement felt by the college junior with the greatest roommates in the world. People with and without strong social structures grapple with disappointment all the same.
  • Religion: Perhaps most frequently avoided or ignored in religious conversations about disappointment is disappointment with religion itself. Folks who believe in a higher power and who find a sense of meaning through faith are just as likely to suffer disappointment as those who do not. Faith in God, it turns out, doesn’t spare anyone from the sting of letdown – a fact of life captured with agonizing clarity in Lamentations.

The Cause and Cure of Disappointment

Right now, creation creaks and groans. An X-ray of the world and everything in it shows the massive fracture of sin – a break which mars the entirety of history between the time of our perfect design and our ultimate destiny. Humanity’s universal rebellion represented in Adam and Eve’s disobedience is the cause of the distance between your expectations and reality.

The solution for your disappointment is also the solution for your sin – the work of Jesus Christ to save the world from sin and to reunite heaven and earth in the New Creation. This is a work of God that is simultaneously finished and yet just getting started, a concept known as “inaugurated eschatology.” This is to say that Christ’s work on the cross in His death, burial, and resurrection totally paid for the penalty of sin and established His role as the exclusive One who will fully and finally abolish every effect of the Fall, including disappointment. 

Facing Disappointment in the Now and Not Yet

When you find yourself struggling to find the surface as you drown in a swell of disappointment, it is a good time for lament and hope as you weep to the Lord about your suffering while re-affirming your one sure hope that He will right every wrong and fulfill His every promise beyond your greatest expectations. 

Your marriage, your job, your church, your favorite team, your political leaders, your family… they’ll all let you down. And you’ll let them down. It is simply a part of life between the cross and the consummation. So test your disappointment against God’s word, tether your hope fully and finally to His guaranteed and ultimate reign over all things, and respond to your disappointment with faith in the One who will never disappoint.

Next time we’ll address what may have been the elephant in the room of this post – what if it seems that God Himself has let you down?

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