I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what we, as Christians, do with feelings of disappointment and how we work through these feelings with God. Recently I’ve gone through (another) season of disappointment and did a talk on this for the ladies at our church so, in the event that it might help someone else work through their disappointment together with God I thought I’d post it here too 🙂
First, I should explain what I mean by the term disappointment because I am using the word in a very broad sense. I’m using disappointment to mean anything ranging from finding something lightly upsetting to being deeply grieved or heartbroken over something. Here are some examples of things that I have found disappointing in my life in the past:
- Parents/upbringing – I found it incredibly painful that I didn’t have parents who were sober and therefore, could care for me properly
- Relationships with guys – That these relationships ended and how they ended were often totally heart breaking
- Relationship with my husband and marriage – Turns out marriage isn’t like the movies and doesn’t fulfill the ideals I had in my head and heart going into it
- Friendships with women – These haven’t always fulfilled what I’ve hoped for in friendships
- Getting sick – I was diagnosed with two autoimmune diseases in the span of two years that would totally affect my everyday life
- Ministry – It hasn’t always gone the way I expected
- Losing our first baby – So heart breaking
- Going through two years of trying for a baby and not getting pregnant – Month after month of deferred hope was incredibly disappointing
- Losing my breastfeeding relationship with Olivia – This is the recent one
It’s clear from my experience there are varying degrees of disappointment. The other thing is disappointment isn’t limited to being upset over what has happened but also includes what hasn’t happened. For example it may be, “I thought I’d be married by now”, “I thought I’d have kids by now”, “I thought I’d be in that job” or “I thought I wouldn’t still be struggling with this by now”. It can be over anything and everything. I think the heart of disappointment for me is feelings of upset when things don’t go the way I would have hoped. It’s important to note that the underlying desire can be totally right and good (its right to not want to lose a baby or it’s even a good desire to want to be married or have parents that are sober). Disappointments often come off the back of “good” desires. Other times disappointments can be a bit more “self-willed” like when things don’t go our way. Like if we didn’t get the job we wanted or a relationship didn’t progress the way we wanted, etc. Either way I’m using the term disappointment to cover both cases because our hopes and desires get shattered and it’s heart breaking. Feelings of disappointment are not inherently wrong and there is nothing sinful about disappointment, it’s what we do with it that matters.
So, first off I’d like to look at how our disappointment affects our relationship with God and then suggest some steps to begin working through feelings of disappointment together with other people and with God. It’s important to work through this with God, because I think if we are being honest, we often attribute the responsibility of these disappointing events to God (which in part, we should and I’ll write more about that later). But I believe if we take things a step further, at the heart, our disappointment is truly with God Himself. So, if on the surface I’m disappointed with my marriage, at one step deeper I might think, “God, well actually why have you given me this man for a husband? Why have you put me in an unhappy marriage? Why don’t you change our circumstances so things get better? Why don’t you change him?” Ultimately finding fault with God. Often we can hold our disappointment against God saying, “Why haven’t you worked things out the way I wanted them to work out?” The result of this is we can begin to resent God and distance ourselves from Him because we don’t find Him trustworthy to do what we think is good for us or in our lives. This is the danger with disappointment and it’s what I’ve done. It’s so important to understand what’s taking place in our relationship with God when we are faced with various disappointments.
I know for me disappointments have either driven me toward God or away from Him and we want to be careful about the latter. An example of when disappointment has driven me away from God is when I was 22 I very suddenly got sick and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It was a frightening experience to feel my health totally deteriorate and to know it was going to affect me for life. I remember sitting in the hospital feeling so lost. I felt like God had left me. I wondered how He could let this happen to me and from that moment I pulled back from God a wee bit. I didn’t feel like He could be trusted with my whole heart or my whole life. Now understand, on the surface, I kept walking with God (I was still totally involved at church, still reading my Bible and praying, still trusting God and being used by Him in loads of other areas), but a deep part of my heart was guarded. Then a year and a half later, I was diagnosed with another disease and that same guardedness in my heart was reinforced. God couldn’t be trusted. Again I continued serving God on the outside but underneath there was this growing fear. I was afraid that He was going to let something worse happen to me and that He couldn’t be trusted, that He wasn’t safe.
Fast forward two and half years later the worse came! We found out we were pregnant, but that our baby wasn’t progressing normally and then we ultimately lost our baby. Finally I was confronted with the frailty of my relationship with God. Only this time I couldn’t avoid it. I had to face the fact that God was in control of this (especially because He told me He was before we lost our baby). And over the course of a few days as I was grieving the loss, getting procedures done and enduring intense pains, my head was spinning. I was asking, “How do I trust you, God?” For me this was a make or break situation in my relationship with God. But He was gracious to remind me (through several songs and scriptures that He sent me during that time) what my only real alternative was. It was like being in a marriage when divorce is not an option but you are overcome with issues on every side, you say “I’m staying in this. I don’t know how we’re going to work this out and have trust again, but I’m not leaving and I’m not just going to coast. I’m staying and I’m in this.” In that same way I realised I couldn’t leave relationship with God, I was in this forever. So I told God, “I have to trust you. I have no other option!” And in an instant, after I prayed that, God changed my heart. He strengthened my faith and enabled me to trust Him in a totally supernatural way during those circumstances. That was an example of God using disappointing circumstances to bring me closer to Him.
The current disappointment I have been walking through with God is losing my breastfeeding relationship with Olivia. It has been lesser in comparison to other things I’ve experienced but nonetheless I have found it incredibly disappointing and at times even heart breaking when it was freshly happening. On the surface it seems a rather silly thing to be so upset over. But as I’ve been processing through it God has been showing me that at the heart, I have been deeply saddened by the fact that I couldn’t be Olivia’s everything. I wanted to be her comforter, her provider, her nourisher, her protector, her sustainer. And a lot of those things come through breastfeeding. So on the surface it was about breastfeeding, but in my heart I was disappointed that I couldn’t provide for, comfort or nourish my baby. I didn’t even know these desires were in my heart until our breastfeeding relationship broke down. But that’s what happens with disappointing circumstances, they reveal what is in our hearts. So I’m writing about this because I’m processing through the disappointment with God again, and because I don’t want to settle for walking with Him on the surface but hold back my deepest trust in Him.
So now, how do we walk through this? I’ve put together some steps below which are basically a process of how I’ve worked through disappointment together with God. I’m hoping these will result in healing of disappointment and having a deeper trust in God for you too:
- Meet Jesus – We can’t walk through any of this and receive healing from disappointment without having God’s Spirit in us to help us know God, hear from Him and trust Him (we need His power to do that all!). So if you’ve not yet seen and believed that Jesus dying on that cross for sins and raising again was a benefit for you, do that today! That’s the most important bit to all of this.
- Receiving God’s grace and pouring our heart out to God – If you have met Jesus, you need to know that God’s response to your disappointment (whether self-willed or just off the back of heart breaking circumstances) is grace upon grace. God doesn’t look down and think “you shouldn’t be disappointed by this, you should just trust and have no other feelings but joy and peace”. No! God gave us feelings for a reason, God cares about our feelings and wants us to bring them to Him so that He can change us and heal us from the heart. Because of this the first step is to pour your heart out to God. He wants you to bring your whole heart to Him. Psalm 62:8 says “Trust in Him at all times people, pour your heart out before Him, God is a refuge for us”. And in 1 Samuel 1 we have an example from Hannah, a woman who was barren for many, many years and she pours her heart out to God from the depths of her anguish, broken heart and resentment. So take time to just speak to God in prayer and express to Him how you’ve felt regarding these disappointing circumstances. Remember, prayer doesn’t have to consist of coherent words or sentences when speaking to God, He knows what we need before a word is on our tongue. Quite often if I don’t know how to express something to God, I just visualise myself opening up my chest and exposing my heart so that He can see what’s going on and I just say “look, see”. That is all prayer.
- Ask God for spiritual discernment – What I mean by this is we need clarity about God’s role and responsibility in our disappointing circumstances versus Satan’s role and responsibility, and our role and responsibility. A good prayer for this is, “God help me see Your role in this. What has Satan’s role been and what is mine? Specifically where is my sin?”. This step is really important because we can make a lot of assumptions. For me, with my current disappointment God showed me that Satan stole away Olivia’s desire to breastfeed. After 5 weeks of breastfeeding he put it in her head that breastfeeding was stressful and made her completely adverse to it to the point that she began to scream and cry when I’d try to breastfeed her. All of a sudden, instead of being a place of comfort and nourishment, breastfeeding for Olivia became a place of anxiety. However, God also told me He let Satan do that because He knew that there were things in my heart that needed to be cleaned out and healed. And He knew that they would come out when breastfeeding broke down. So we need to ask, “God, what are You doing in this? What has Satan done and where is my sin in this?” We need spiritual discernment.
- Confess and repent – If God has revealed sin on your part in the last step, confess that to God and get help and power from God to turn away from that. For me with breastfeeding, I had to confess that I wanted to be Olivia’s everything (her comforter, her provider, her nourisher and nurturer). The truth is I can’t be Olivia’s everything, nor am I meant to be! Only God can ultimately be Olivia’s comforter, only He can protect her and sustain her life. And my role as her mum is to point her to Him. He is the One that provides for her and nourishes her. I wanted the role only God could have in Olivia’s life. So I had to confess that and turn away from that. Another thing to confess and repent of (which I’ve had to do loads in the past) is say I am sorry to God that I have held my disappointment against Him. He was not in the wrong, but because things didn’t go the way I had hoped, I assigned blame to Him. So whatever God has revealed to you as your part, confess it to Him and ask Him for help to turn away from that.
- Ask God what He wants you to do now or believe Him for – We really need to hear from God on this, not man. This part generally requires taking a big step of faith and it’s not always intuitive. What God may want you to do or believe Him for may be completely different than what He wants someone else to do or believe Him for in the same situation. For example, when we were struggling to get pregnant, He kept reassuring me to believe Him for a baby from my own body, while others I knew who were going through the same thing were being urged by God to believe Him even though there wouldn’t be a baby from their own body. He wanted them to believe Him for something different. So we need to go to God and ask Him, “What do You want me to do? What do You want me to believe You for?”
- Resolve to trust in God – Please don’t hear me the wrong way here, what I don’t mean is to ignore your feelings, put a smile on your face and act unaffected by disappointing circumstances! No! Remember, we don’t want to just push our feelings down or suppress them, we want to trust God deeply from the heart. So this is taking a step toward God to trust Him for what we cannot see, despite our feelings, even when we don’t know how the situation is going to work out. When we have no faith and have no idea how we will have faith, we have to put our hope in God to give us the faith we are lacking. This pleases God and He WILL respond to this! I have to say, this is hard, it’s a really hard thing to do. If at any point you feel this is difficult, that’s good, that’s when you know you are really dealing with stuff because it’s difficult to put our trust in God. Let’s take encouragement from all of our Christian brothers and sisters who have walked before us by faith, and let’s affirm our trust in God, even though we cannot see.
- Share your feelings of disappointment – This should especially be done with fellow Christians in order to have them pray with you. This is a super important step and the last one. Quite often the circumstances that lead to disappointment are burdensome and scripture calls us to bear one another’s burdens, to love each other, to encourage each other, and to pray for each other. This obviously requires a wee bit of vulnerability to share what circumstances have brought about disappointment, but it’s so worth it! Praying for one another brings about some of the greatest moments of healing by God. Let’s ask God to use our love and prayers for one another to bring about great strengthening in our faith in Him.