Many things do not go the way we plan. Rain pours down on your outdoor event. A friend forgets to call when they can't make a meeting. Children act up when you desperately want them to behave. A work obligation derails fun weekend plans. Life is full of disappointments. Things don't work out, people don't show up, what could have been just isn't. Our circumstances are only a small part of the equation in life; the bigger part of the equation is how we respond to our circumstances.
When reality bursts our expectations, will we find ourselves overwhelmed and discouraged? Will we let the negative things define us, demand our focus, and rob us of peace and joy? On the surface we say, “Of course not!” But do we recognize how persistent our mind is in focusing in on the challenges?
Recognize the seeds of disappointment
We want to focus on the good things in life and all the blessings for which we are thankful! We desire to be positive people who count our blessings! But the devil uses disappointment in subversive ways to rob us of joy and hope. Discouragement and despair creep into our experiences through small moments and losses. But the disappointments can accumulate into a destructive heap causing bitterness to take root in your life. How are you fostering seeds of disappointment?
- When we have unrealistic expectations of how our life should be
- When we compare our lives with others who have what we desire
- When we list all the ways others should perform better if they really loved us
- When we can recite the ways that things could or should have been different
- When we find ourselves wishing for a different reality than the life we are living
- When we start define ourselves and our life around the negatives
- We find ourselves letting hurts and shame define our identity
Be careful what you feed
The thoughts on which we dwell and feed tend to grow. Problems loom larger as we invest attention on them (instead of on our God with the power to transform our situation). When we allow seeds of bitterness to grow it inhibits our gratitude to God and our ability to love our neighbor. We are called to put away bitterness and anger.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:31-32).
So how do we counteract the pull of these negative ruts? It involves a turning to God and remembering his grace to us. As we live in God's forgiveness, we find the grace to forgive one another. Removing our bitterness involves an ongoing refocusing in a positive direction. If we trust that God is still on his throne and believe he is bigger than our problems, we can find joy and hope for the days ahead.
Manage your expectations
Don't let fantasy dreams of a perfect life tarnish your real life. Choose realistic expectations of how life should be. Don't expect others to already know your thoughts and hopes and then be disappointed that they are "tuned out" to your needs. Keep your expectations realistic and choose to ask others for precisely what you need. Our expectations become more reasonable when our life revolves around God instead of trying to make the world revolve around our expectations.
It is interesting how quick we are to compare ourselves with those who have more than we have, but we seldom look the other direction to compare with those who have less. Looking beyond ourselves to the needs of others shows us how blessed and fortunate we actually are. Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, we can look for ways to bless others with what we do have. When we look for ways to care for others our focus shifts off of our own situation. Instead of reciting our frustrations, we can start listing our blessings. There is no better exercise than counting your blessings to remind us of the rich love that God has poured out on each of us.
Laugh a little
Sometimes we take life's bumps too seriously. A rainy wedding can become a good story and a misbehaving child might just be exercising some creativity. If we can see the humor in the dog eating the cake just before the party, life gets lighter. Laughter is a healthy way to embrace the situation while keeping a bigger perspective. If it will be funny later, it can be funny now.
Consider what a disappointment looks like through a broader lens. Most disappointments don't matter in the big view of life. They don't change God's love or alter our salvation. When negative thoughts arise, be ready to contradict them with scripture. Remind yourself of how loved you are by God and how he is working all things for the good.
When you feel discouraged let it be your reflex to come to God in prayer. There is nothing better than a good cry before God to release the burdens that we carry. Let him hear all of your struggles and lay your burdens at his feet.
Disappointments are inevitable in life. We are fallible human beings who make mistakes. The world will not always live up to our expectations. The devil may actively seek to undermine our peace, but he does not get the last word. Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Lay your disappointments at God’s feet and find peace in the great love of your Savior.