There’s a memorable scene in the 1980’s comedy film ‘A fish called Wanda’ that makes me smile. It’s when Otto goes to open a safe in a lock up garage where he expects to find the diamonds he and the rest of the gang have recently stolen.
When he opens the safe and finds it empty Otto – sounding as though he had recently spent some time in therapy – starts breathing deeply and, after a pause, exclaims with great feeling, ‘Ok … Ok … I’m disappointed!’ If you’re interested you can watch this short clip
This simple expression of disappointment is funny but it’s also profound because it accurately names something that we all feel from time to time but might not name so readily.
Disappointment is when things don’t turn out as we hoped or as we expected. We often don’t name it as such but we can be surprised when we think about how many disappointments we carry in the normal experiences of life.
We can face disappointment when we fail an exam, or we don’t get the job we hoped for. We can be disappointed in ourselves when our behaviour is less than we hoped it would be or when we feel our weaknesses or lack of success in comparison to others is apparent.
We can be disappointed in our marriage or in our singleness – when life, or our partner (or lack of) do not turn out as we hoped it would. We can be disappointed in our parents or in our children.
You name it – anything where you attach some expectation or hope – and you can be disappointed. This is quite important because unresolved disappointments can have a big impact on our well-being and can produce a sense of weariness or hopelessness together with a desire to withdraw. Proverbs 13:12 describes this, ‘Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick, but a sudden good break can turn life around’. (Quoted from the Message)
Dashed hopes in our expectation of God or of church life can have a particularly powerful effect on our emotional and spiritual well-being – and subsequently on our bodies too. (This is what I think ‘heartsick’ means). Think of the lament of the people of Israel when instead of the hoped for redemption of Israel they found themselves taken away to live in a foreign land and their cherished temple – the symbol and seat of God’s presence among them – was destroyed. They were God’s people, how could this be?
Think of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They had had a very bad weekend as they had watched Jesus – who they believed was the longed for Messiah who would redeem Israel – being put to death on the cross. Their expectations were dashed and Luke records them expressing their deep disappointment in this plaintive cry, ‘We had hoped …’ (Luke 24:21).
Unmet expectations or hopes of church life can also cause deep disappointment. I certainly think that’s true from what we are going through as a church community. Our understanding of how things are at the moment, our expectations of God and how church life will progress have a taken a serious knock over recent months. We have gone through the listening process, received the resulting report on the Health of St John’s and Nigel has stood down five months ago.
I believe that we share a common sense of disappointment about where we find ourselves, which leaves each of us ‘heartsick’ in various ways.
Many are bewildered as they don’t understand what has led up to Nigel standing down. Some folk, hurt and bruised over the last three years, are left with a sense of unsatisfied injustice. Some are hurt and dismayed at what they observe as the community’s response to the difficulties. Others are dismayed at the way that church leadership has responded. Some friendships and relationships have become strained and all of this can make church feel an unsafe place – even though for others it feels safer.
There are different narratives and many have questions, but overall we share a sense that our current situation is not what was expected or hoped for.
How do we deal with such disappointment relating to God or our experience of church life? There is more work for us to do together corporately, but let me make some suggestions for what we can do personally and privately about our dissatisfaction and disappointments. In doing this I am drawing on an excellent talk Catriona Foster recently gave at Mid-Week Holy Communion.
1. Go deeper into God. Rather than living or acquiescing with disappointment let it take you deeper into God. Ask yourself: How does God want to use this experience to refine and purify my faith? God is working for the good in all circumstances so what is the good that God is seeking to work in you? In Romans 5 Paul mentions perseverance, character and hope and goes on to say, ‘Hope does not disappoint.’ I wrote a blog some time ago entitled, ‘How to keep your heart right in the midst of trouble’ which you may also find helpful. . An important verse for me when there seems to be no reasons or answers is 1 John 14:16, ‘And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.’
2. Adjust your expectations. Sometimes we need to recalibrate our expectations (or a sense of entitlement) and embrace what God is actually doing and not what we understand or think He ought to be doing! That was the experience of those two disciples on the road to Emmaus. As they spent time, talked and broke bread with Jesus ‘their eyes were opened’ and they began a new journey towards a new revelation of God’s good and eternal purposes.
3. Build on friendships. We need one another and God often uses other people to support us and help us gain perspective. The Healing Prayer Centre at The Crossway is one structured way of obtaining friendly, prayerful support. See details of how you can make an appointment.
Friendship with one another is so important because our friendship with one another is important to God. So if there’s anything in the way of friendship then at the right time we need to give attention to it so that we can put things right. The scriptures call us to ‘bear with one another’ where we see things differently. That can include giving each other space and time; but it almost certainly will require us to seek reconciliation where someone has something against us (Matthew 5:24), and also offering forgiveness to those who have hurt us (Matthew 6:11-14).
4. Focus on Ultimate Hope. The story isn’t over yet – your story, our story, or God’s story. God has the final word and has promised that, ‘Those who hope in me will not be disappointed’. Our ultimate hope is in God Himself. Lamentations 3:18-26 is a helpful summary of the call to keep our eyes on God even in the midst of difficulties and unmet expectations.
Disappointment is part of our human experience. It can be harmful, but recognising it and naming it can be the start to our hope being renewed – OK … OK … I’m disappointed!