Friday, February 27, 2009

Good Disappointment

This is another continuation of the valley series. Oddly enough, this was what I began writing at the first sign of me slipping into a spiritual funk. It’s odd because as I re-read through it, I sound like I’m dealing with things quite well and anticipating the struggle to come in a healthy way. It would have done me well to have headed my own words at certain points along the journey. I have gone through and changed a few things for the sake of clarity and so you don’t think I’ve gone insane, but much remains as it did when I originally typed it. Here we go…

I’m an idealist. I think everyone is to some degree. We all have dreams and our own perceptions of reality. We all have a picture in our hearts and minds of how things ought to be, how life and all the joys and pains are meant to play out and be experienced. If only it were so.

The stale, over-chewed gum currently in my mouth captures this wonderfully. Ideally, it would forever taste as good as it did the moment I put it in my mouth, it would never cease making my breath smell like heaven, and every time my pearly whites were exposed to light, you’d see a sparkle and hear a bell ring. Not so. I feel like I’m chewing on a tire. My breath is unholy, not heavenly. And when light runs across my teeth you can still see the pop-tart residue from breakfast. There’s no bell either, just the gasping sound of disgust. Very disappointing really.

Truth is, life rarely lines itself up with the ideal picture we make for it. And when it doesn’t, we’re faced with unwanted, unexpected disappointment. Broken dreams, misconceptions, confusion, heartache, loss, guilt—life doesn’t work out the way we thought and hoped it would most of the time because if it did, these things wouldn’t exist. But they do exist. It’s our ideal picture of life that doesn’t seem to be real. Instead, we’re left picking up the broken pieces of our dream-world trying to make sense of it all, feeling hopeless and lost, not wanting to dream big again, wanting to give up on the things our souls most long for and treasure—things like love, joy, peace, passion, beauty, and meaning.

Gum just looses its luster after a while.

It’s not a question of whether or not disappointment will come. It’s coming. In some form or another and when we don’t expect or want it to. And the focus is not trying to figure out when. Or even how for that matter. More so, how do you respond to it when it does come? Not knowing how can only prolong the valleys.

I thought I had most of this figured out already—the whole dealing with disappointment thing. You can come out with a simple, church answer and be pretty accurate: “When disappointment comes your way, you should turn to God and trust that He’s in control. He’s sovereign. He has your best interests in mind. He can use disappointment and all the unpleasant emotions that come along with it for good.”

Yes, all very true. But it doesn’t play out so simple when you find yourself in the thick of it. Your faith is put to the test. Sometimes you’re faced with a difficult and confusing situation and you actually do pray from the very beginning—at the first sign of trouble—for God to help you trust Him and navigate you through the fog. You feel like you’ve been faithful and patient and you’re convinced God is going to honor that. You’re constantly on your knees begging God to show you His way and not be blinded by the one you want to create for yourself. You know that ultimately He knows what is best so you cry out for Him to lead you in that direction. You seek the wise, godly advice of friends and family along the way as well. You’re honest as you share your struggles with them and take to heart their counsel. From just about every angle, it seems like you have a handle on things; your ducks are in a row and most people are impressed by how straight they are. Surely, things are going to work out the way you want them to. I’ve made sure of it. God owes it to me to see me through without the disappointment.

So what are you to think when despite your best efforts, you face huge disappointment?

Maybe trusting God still gets you hurt. Maybe it brings on more confusion than you had before the disappointment—at least for a season. Maybe part of the plan is for you to experience the pain and the disappointment to expose the depths of your heart and allow God to go to work on it. Maybe He wants to see how you’ll respond. Maybe this is the only way for you to learn and to grow and arrive at a stronger place spiritually. Maybe brokenness is the only way to wholeness. It's like there's something good to being disappointed every once in awhile.

My dad used this analogy with me once:

You can know everything there is to know about the fundamentals of swimming. You can learn all the different strokes and techniques. You can feel like you’re an expert swimmer and that you have it all together. But your understanding doesn’t really take root until you jump in the water and start swimming, putting what you’ve learned into practice.

Truth is, experience can be a very powerful and useful teacher. In certain areas of life, it’s really the only way to learn. Maybe God simply wants us to jump in, go for an extended swim, and experience new struggles and new disappointments so we know how to approach them the next time come. As I've come to acknowledge time and time again, this is yet another way to remind us we're not in control.

I’ll be honest. I don’t really like that He chooses to work in this manner, dragging me trough the coals in a sense all for the sake of learning. I wish he would just supernaturally learn me. This other way just makes me out to be crazy and people look at me funny.

God is sovereign and faithful far beyond my ability to understand. He is at work in me and around me in ways I’m surely unaware of and unable to appreciate as I should. And although I know this, I still battle against the emotions that war within me at the deepest level when I’m faced with disappointment. Because when I am, I feel as if God has let me down, ignored my cries, and abandoned me when I know he hasn’t. I feel completely empty, stripped of every comfort and source of security—like I’m fighting for joy and losing—yet in the end I know I possess in my very self the most precious, most glorious treasure of all. It gets crazy; I start becoming disappointed with my ability to overcome disappointment. And if I’m not careful, I’ll start the whole process over again, dwelling on my insufficiencies, being overly concerned with my own ability to understand, forgetting the freedom and joy found in letting go of the things I can’t control. Because there is a joy associated with letting someone else manage your dreams when that someone is, you know, all-powerful, all-knowing, and infinitely loving.

Joy, in fact, may be the antidote to our broken dreams—the kind of joy that pulls its strength from faith in Christ, the abundant life-giver.

A good reminder: this world is not our home. It will never be what we desire it to be. It’s a broken place and will let us down time and time again. We will never reach full contentment here because our souls were created to thrive in another. Christ has gone to prepare a place for us—our true home—and I don’t think we’ll be disappointed when we get there. Oh what a glorious day that will be, huh? Until then, we hope and pray that His kingdom come and reign on this earth as much as possible. Yes, especially through the disappointments.

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