Dealing with Disappointment

Written by Rusty Wright

Looking out the windowWhat kinds of things disappoint you?” I once asked a friend out of curiosity. “Yuck! Don’t ask me that!” she exclaimed. “I’d rather focus on the positive!”

Disappointments can be quite painful, regardless of their magnitude. My friend Nancy1 terminated a long-term relationship in which she’d struggled for decades. Harsh words, bitter memories, and daily friction had taken their toll. “I’ve never felt the emotional closeness I hear other couples describe,” she explained.  Hopes of deep satisfaction became a tarnished nightmare, and broken dreams prompted her to end the relationship.

Another friend, Bob, lost a job he loved. His friends and coworkers appreciated his accomplishments, but his supervisor seemed strangely distant, offering naïve criticism and little praise. Feeling throttled and under-appreciated at an otherwise satisfying job frustrated Bob immensely. Losing his livelihood was even worse.

Then there’s Susan. She knew something was wrong before the doctor even spoke. “Your biopsy shows a malignancy,” he explained. “A lumpectomy or mastectomy might remove this cancer.” The next few moments were a swirl of confusion as Susan struggled to grasp what was happening. This 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 this tragedy?

When I survey my own life, I realize I’m no different than my friends. We all experience disappointment: troubled relationships, poor job evaluations or test scores, death of a loved one, health challenges, social snubs, athletic loss.

Disappointment can compound into depression or despair, which may lead to serious consequences. UCLA psychologist James C. Coleman lists several examples. “Shipwreck victims who lose hope may die after a few days,” he says, “even though physiologically they could have survived many days longer.” He notes that despair can contribute to suicide, while hopelessness bred by poverty might manifest as apathy. “Values, meaning, and hope appear to act as catalysts” for mobilizing energy and finding satisfaction. Without them, Coleman reports, life can seem futile.2

How to keep hope alive

1. Adjust your expectations. Not every team wins the Super Bowl or Olympic gold. Not every applicant gets the job. Illness happens. Not every marriage soars. It might make sense not to set your goals so high. But who wants to settle for mediocrity?

On the one hand, hope can be misplaced. If your highest hope is in achievement, you will eventually be disappointed—success is transient. King Solomon wrote, “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.

2. Learn from your defeats. Disappointment and failure build character and patience, when allowed to do so. 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, the kind resulting from sincere faith in God, helps cultivate that attitude.

Teenage Hawaiian surfer Bethany Hamilton lost her left arm to a 1,500-pound shark. Her upbeat response startles observers. “This was God’s plan for my life,” says Hamilton, “and I’m going to go with it.” Three months after the mishap, she was back surfing competitively—she regards her tragedy as an opportunity to inspire others with God’s care.

3. Build friendships. 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. During a particularly lonely time in my life, I was very glad to have close friends. My wife was divorcing me, some coworkers had betrayed my trust, and I had a cancer scare. Two days before the divorce was final, a longtime friend called to see how I was doing. I wept into the phone as I described how my world was crashing in. Knowing that my friend was there—and that he cared—gave me strength and hope to endure.

4. Go deeper with God. Friends are essential, but humans can let us down and err in judgment. I had earlier discovered that God would never desert me. He said, “I will never fail you. I will never forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). His friendship had sustained me over the years amidst criticism from friends and adversaries, financial challenges, educational disappointment, and broken relationships. God had a good track record; it made sense to trust Him.

Paul found strength and hope through his friendship with God. He 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) Paul was convinced nothing could separate him from Christ’s love: “Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away” (v. 38). The more we stake our security in God’s enduring love, the less power disappointments will have to undermine our hope.

5. Focus on ultimate hope. During that dark time in my life, my mentor reminded me of what Paul said in this same letter: “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God” (v. 28). That “hasn’t been repealed yet,” my friend said. He was right.

While we sometimes get stuck focusing on the here and now, 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 and hold on to their supreme hope in God. 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.

Do you know what it is like to have a relationship with God? The strength and peace that he offers is available to you today.  You are not in this life alone. If you are looking for someone you can place your trust in, a foundation to build upon, you can find that safe place no matter what you are facing today.  God offers us hope for tomorrow and for all the tomorrow to come.  Place your trust in God and his promises.  Anchor your life to the hope that he brings.

He is the well deep enough to draw from when you need peace, hope and wisdom, insight and love, endurance and faith. He gave His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for all our sins.  Everyone feels unworthy sometimes, but God thinks you’re worth it—even worth the death of His Son.

You can receive Christ right now by faith through prayer. Praying is simply talking to God. God knows your heart and is not so concerned with your words as He is with the attitude of your heart. Here’s a suggested prayer:

Lord Jesus, I want to know you personally. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life to you and ask you to come in as my Savior and Lord. Take control of my life. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Make me the kind of person you want me to be.

Does this prayer express the desires of your heart? You can pray it right now, and Jesus will come into your life, and forgive you of your sins forever, just as he promised.

1. Names and some details have been altered to protect privacy.
2. Abnormal Psychology and Modern Life.

23 Responses to “Dealing with Disappointment”

  • Doris Beck Doris Beck says:

    Sorry you feel that way. However, the advice is good and Rusty is just sharing his personal experience so you can’t argue with that.

  • Thought there were a few nuggets of real, worthwhile advice here until it drifted into mewling about religion. Pity.

  • Elkay says:

    Laura, sorry; what I meant to say was that it was through my pains (one of which I cannot outlive) to believe there is significance in this life.

  • Elkay says:

    Laura, I am sorry you received my response the way you did because I in no way wanted to add to your burden. You are certainly right that unless I have walked in your own very shoes that I cannot “really understand your life or your pain”. Just as you cannot understand the pain(s) I have experienced but have come through them to believe there is significance in this life. Are you interested in a confidential and one-on-one email exchange with one of our mentors who will reply if you hit the “Talk to a Mentor” button on this page?

  • Laura says:

    Glib responses like yours, false assumptions about the spiritual life of the person you are addressing, and didactic references to a passage of scripture that suffering person may have recited thousands of times in their own life, increases the distance, aggravates the pain, and reinforces the understanding that no one else can really understand your life or your pain, and they would really rather not try. It is much easier to push you away with words to comfort themselves. The distance between people cannot be bridged. Despite our absolute cosmic connection, here on earth, we are isolated paramecia swimming for dear life with no direction, and no perception except our only true connection which is to God. Everything else — like a search for meaning and significance in this life — is imaginary confusion.

  • Elkay says:

    Laura, what you have said is right to the point for those who have not lived where you are. One of the keys to walking through dark valleys—those times when life seems to be crumbling and the future’s looking grim—is to embrace the reality of the Lord’s presence with us. At the moment of salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to live permanently within the new Christian and seals him or her as belonging to God forever. Because of the indwelling Spirit, we’re never apart from God. No circumstance, suffering, or loss can separate us from Him or His love (Rom. 8:35, 38-39). We may not have friends in this earthly life, but we can embrace a Father who loves us in ways we will not understand until the day we “will see everything with perfect clarity” and He will reward our faith.

    Quoting 1 Cor 13:12, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” (NLT) Laura, I pray that you can embrace this future moment today for today and tomorrow for tomorrow.

  • Laura says:

    I wonder if you are just really young, or if you have not truly experienced real suffering. All the platitudes and prayers and admonitions to go find friends are not helpful when you are faced with a physical disability that cannot be corrected or healed. When it prevents you from living any kind of life in connection with the world. Eventually you lose site of everything that you ever cared about, and can longer see how life is possible, and no one in the world ever wants to talk to you except perhaps your daughter, but she doesn’t have time, and reading the Psalms again only points up the fact that God has not been there for you in that way, and that when it really counts in this world, your prayers have fallen on deaf ears. You come to a point where you just don’t matter to anybody, and your every need is an annoyance to somebody else. There are no easy answers. No pill will fix this. This is the dark place where everyone will eventually find themselves. And there is no light here, except at moments that end so quickly, leaving behind only more darkness. And you have no idea whether you have any hope that this darkness will eventually end in death or perhaps in some magical return to life, which isn’t really possible, or if you will be forced to continue like this for years and decades in this emptiness and loneliness and despair.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    That is great news Darcie, and a great encouragement for others. Sometimes I wish God would just take away the problems but it is so good to know that even in the difficult things He is with me and guides each step I take.

  • darcie says:

    hello jamie, things are getting better, i prayed about my situation and i asked God to give me the strength to overcome. my issue is still there but i am confident that God has given me victory, i feel more peaceful and i believe it shall be well. by this i would like to invite everyone who might come across this message, to always hold on to God,no matter what may come our ways.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hi Darcie, how are things going? Have you seen God working in your life and circumstances? Has He brought comfort and peace in your disappointment?

  • darcie says:

    I am experiencing great disappointment to me, so painful that I can handle it anymore, I am crying everyday and I still don’t understand why I am going through this horrible pain that doesn’t go away.
    But this article gives me hope, because although I am in pain, other people are experiencing even worse pain than mine and still hold on to God. I want to hold on to and I believe that I am not in this alone and that one day although I don’t see any light; God will take me though it and I will see his light and grace in my life. I am blessed by this articles and I am glad that God has reminded me that I am no alone.

  • Claire Colvin Claire Colvin says:

    Tom, I can see that this is a real area of concern for you, have you started to put any plans in place to see how you can be a force to bring the hope of the Gospel to a world that desperately needs it? It can be hard to know where to start. Often the best place is with what it right in front of you and what you have in your own hands. It can overwhelming to look at the state of the whole world. Is there someone in your neighbourhood, someone in your family that you could bring hope to today?

    I don’t know if you’re already in the habit of sharing your faith, but if you’re not, or if you’re looking for a new and creative ways to do it, I’d invite you to take a look at . This community of believers is focussed on learning how to share their faith in practical, approachable ways. The world needs hope. You have an opportunity to have a hand in changing that.

  • Tom Youngblood says:

    I just read your article after suffering yet another disappointment. It seem, particularly in the last ten years, that greed and evil are taking over the world. Business is not happy with a fair profit, they want obsence profits. Business leaders no longer care about right or wrong but only what they can get away with. Our goverments allow greed to go unchecked because they benefit from it. We have no real leaders anymore who stand up for the people who need protecting. No one is willing to take to task those who do evil. We pray, we attend church, we give, we try to help others and we suffer at the hands of those who are evil. Yes, I know all of the sermons about having faith, things happen in God’s time, in the life hereafter you’ll be rewarded. You know what, I’m tired of hearing it. The people, poor, alone, abused, taken advantaged of, lost, forgotten, push aside and not prayed for need help. They need hope, God’s hope that good will win out, that evil and greed will be defeated, that with prayer, hard work and helping those who need help life will get better. I don’t see that Hope in the world any longer. It breaks my hearts that so many suffer, so many are forgotten, that so many live day to day with no hope……..

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Dear Lord, I thank You for the way that you have helped Kurenai through this article. Lord I ask that You would help Kurenai to draw closer to You in the pursuit of an Engineering degree. Use this time in Kurenai’s life to develop patterns of living that revolve around intentionally seeking You. Amen.

  • Kurenai says:

    I just realize how disappointing my status right now as a college student. My batch-mates will soon walk in the aisle as they will receive their one of the most awaited achievement in life – to graduate. As for me, still 3rd year in college, with an Engineering study,struggling. I am reckless and lazy. Thanks for this. It made me realize that there is something I needed to do. Make things right this time and be more closer to GOD. With this I know I will succeed. Help me guys, a little time of your prayer is appreciated. Thanks once again. Godbless

  • Kurenai says:

    I just realize how disappointing my status right now as a college student. My batch-mates will soon walk in the aisle as they will receive their one of the most awaited achievement in life – to graduate. As for me, still 3rd year in college, with an Engineering study,struggling. I am reckless and lazy. Thanks for this. It made me realize that there is something I needed to do. Make things right this time and be more closer to GOD. With this I know I will succeed. Help me guys, a little time of your prayer is appreciated. Thanks once again. Godbless.

  • Doris Beck Doris says:

    Mariam, if someone doesn’t cherish you and instead belittles you then you definitely made the right choice even though that doesn’t make it any easier. I’m glad to hear that you are now much closer to God and also that you took it as a challenge to enroll for your degree. You Go Girl!

  • mariam says:

    thanks for this piece. i just broke up with someone i so much cherish cos i felt he belittle me cos i am not a graduate though i took it as a challenge to enroll for my degree prog since i have my nce. i stil think abt him but finally made up my mind cos he doesnt worth me. now, i am much closer to GOD.

  • Zamile Tiklili says:

    Dear sarvents F God, I need prayer I am having a serious prombleM , I was having woman of my dreams by the name of Bongeka Ngxulela. I was planning to merry her since she means every thing to me. But she disapponts me from nowhere this early month. We get seppareted for no reason , since Ihave asked her why she rertun my calls. Now I need prayerthat if we were created together she must come back but if this was the plan of the devel she must live my life forever ,I mustn’t even thinnk about her. plese help me to overcome.

  • Kathy says:

    I needed this today–you will never know!! I have had a lifetime of disappointments–so much so that there have been times that I have felt as if life itself has been a disappointment. We all need to be reminded of God’s love, patience, kIndness and mercy towards us!! THANK YOU!!

  • Esthy says:

    Thanks so much, i am encouraged and believing to be strong because am facing disappointment after 2 years courtship.

  • CLEMENT says:

    Thanks for this piece. Can you permit me to send it to people who do not subscribe to this website?

  • Bunmi Okwechime says:

    Thank you very much for this piece you sent at this particular time in my life. May your well never dry.
    I like to seek your permission to use this piece (Dealing with Disappointment by Rusty Wright) in our monthly magazine of my local church (RCCG Paradise City). There are many of our workers facing dissapointment at this period of economy melt down in every area of their life. My belief is this piece might encourage some to still hold on to God.
    Thank you once again and i will await your reply.

    Lagos, Nigeria.

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