When Disappointment is Good

Rachel Chimits

Nothing seems more undesirable than hard times and unanswered questions, but God always has a plan and purpose for these moments in his children’s lives.

Disappointment seems like the gateway emotion to a lot of worse ones: bitterness, anger, depression and more. By that logic, God wouldn’t want Christians to experience disappointment. Why expose us to what only breeds bad things in our hearts?

The only problem is that Jesus regularly disappointed people.

Think about how Mary and Martha must’ve felt when their brother died in John chapter 11. They had seen Jesus heal so many sick people and knew that he was in a town nearby, and yet their brother suffered for days until he finally died.

For those Jesus did heal, how many more people were not? His own mother and brothers thought he was going crazy and tried to stage a family intervention (Mark 3:21-22). His disciples got upset at him when he told them that he was going to be killed (Matthew 16:21-24).

Huge crowds of people thought Jesus was their political savior, but then he was brutally murdered by their tyrannical foreign rulers.

How horrible. How disappointing. 

Looking Up to Doubting Thomas

Judging people in the Bible for their lack of faith is easy to do with the benefit of hindsight. Of course Jesus was going to rise from the dead, so why was everyone panicking and mourning?

However, in our own lives, confusion and doubt seem like very different matters.

Why was our child born with cerebral palsy? Why was our loved one diagnosed with cancer? Why did our spouse cheat on us or leave us? Why doesn’t Jesus heal this person or make this situation better?

Why does God seem silent?

Sometimes disappointment hits believers so hard that they walk away from the faith, as Bill Ireland points out in his article for a house church network in California.

“Remember Doubting Thomas? He expressed his unbelief after Jesus had died, and came to represent all skeptics forever after. But it’s worth remembering that Thomas was one of the twelve—the inner circle who had traveled with Jesus for three years, who heard His most intimate teachings, and were entrusted with the future of the faith.”

As far as we know, Thomas and Mary are also the only two who actually touched Jesus in his resurrected body. In their deep, crushing disappointment, they experienced God in a way that no one else did. 

When Disappointment Hits Hard

In his reflections on suffering and the death of his brother, Rick Thomas offers a caution against letting disappointments either in ourselves or God develop into cynicism.

He points out that if we allow disappointment to develop into discontent, then it often grows into a critical spirit that only cements any future disappointments as inevitable. “One of the most important aspects of the gospel is transformative suffering.”

Lori Freeland mused on this topic in Crosswalk after her oldest son went through two battles with cancer before he reached his twenties. “God never promised I’d get what I want, that my days would be easy, that just because I chose to follow Him I wouldn’t suffer, or that He’d let me skip the bad parts of life. 

“And that’s where disappointment comes in, hitting the hardest when I confuse what I think God owes me with what He actually told me.”

For her and many other believers without answers, life’s hardest blows transformed into some of the most intimate moments of their relationship with God, the times they later point to as the moment when the Spirit really began developing certain gifts in them or strengthened them in a special way. 

An Invitation From God

The work of not allowing our disappointments to develop into hard bitterness is not a solo job. In his podcast, Gary Wilkerson talks about how disappointment, spiritual-emotional wellbeing and community are all interconnected.

First, though, he urges people to honestly ask themselves a vital question: “Okay, so if I'm disappointed, what am I disappointed in?”

What expectations did we have of God, ourselves or other people? If any one of these three are not meeting our demands, are those desires Biblical and realistic? If they aren’t, what fears or past wounds are they springing from?

“Wellbeing in community starts with your own soul care, looking into your own heart…” Often the problems, Gary points out, are false expectations of our relationships with others, our own lives or our God getting in the way of true community.

Once we share our disappointments with others, healthy community brings about one of two outcomes. Fellow believers either help us find a right perspective on the situation, or they simply walk alongside us until we come out of the dark valley of hurt hopes and grief.

Disappointment is God’s invitation to draw closer to him and experience his presence in way we may have never known before.