Disappointment is a powerful force in our lives. I know so many Christians who are disappointed with God; or, if not with God, with other people in the church. It is a matter as serious as it is widespread. In fact, it is unavoidable. Speaking personally, I am disappointed by so many circumstances in my life, by the behaviour of so many people – including myself. My observation is that for so many people disappointment is a destructive thing...but that, in fact, it is intended as a gift.
Here’s how I see disappointment working in our lives. We have a particular expectation, and it isn’t met. We think that if we do x, then God will do y (that, by the way, is an incredibly pervasive view). We hold up our end of the bargain, and God doesn’t deliver. Or we think that Christians ought to treat people better than other people do, and then we discover that they are just as bitchy as anyone else, if not more so. And our disappointment leads us to become disillusioned with what we had gone along with – believing in God, being part of a church. Things are not what we thought they were. God did not come through for me. The shine wears off; we think, how could I have been so naive? And, holding on to our expectation and recognising that it will not be met, we become disaffected. Something in our heart shifts, realigns us, so that we are no longer loyal to the person or thing we had given our loyalty to. Disappointed, disillusioned and disaffected, we are well and truly neutralised by the accuser, the satan (satan is a title, not a personal name, and means the one who accuses; comparable with christ, a title, which means the one who liberates).
Now here’s how I believe that disappointment is meant to work in our lives. We have a particular expectation, and it isn’t met. We think that if we do x, then God will do y (that, by the way, is called legalism). We hold up our end of the bargain, and God doesn’t deliver. And the gift of disappointment – if we will receive it – is that we are disillusioned: that we are set free from an illusion or mistaken belief (that’s what the word means). The illusion was not that if we do x then God does y; the illusion was our belief that if we do x then God will do y. The illusion was not that Christians treat one another better than other people (so when they don’t, they are hypocrites); the illusion was our belief that Christians are better than anyone else. Our illusions – our mistaken beliefs – need to be shown for what they are, and while advice can expose them to our mind only disappointment can expose them to our hearts. And so, rather than becoming disaffected, rather than our hearts being realigned further from God’s heart, our hearts are realigned more in line with God’s heart, our will is realigned more in line with God’s will. We have a new expectation (though here a health warning is needed: if we hold this expectation too tightly, try to interpret it more fully than it has been revealed to us, it will in turn become an illusion from which we need to be set free).
When I am disappointed – and as I said, I am disappointed on a regular basis – it is not because my expectations were too high, and I need to settle for lower expectations. It is because my expectations were mistaken expectations, and I need to turn from them to right expectations - or, in the words of Jesus, to repent and believe.
Disappointment opens our eyes to a gate between a world under the influence of the accuser, and the in-breaking liberating kingdom of heaven. Do we shrink back, or dare to step in...?
Definitions from The Oxford Dictionary of Current English:
Disappoint: 1 fail to fulfil the desire or expectation of. 2 frustrate (a hope etc.).
Disappointment: 1 person or thing that disappoints. 2 being disappointed.
Disillusion: free from an illusion or mistaken belief – noun. disillusioned state.
Disaffected: discontented; no longer loyal.