No human being is exempt from experiencing disappointment at some point in their life. We have all been discouraged or sad because of an unmet expectation regarding someone or something. The Psychology of Disappointment explains that when one considers a risky action, they will form a “prior expectation of the payoff, and if the outcome is worse than expected, that person will experience an emotion called disappointment”. We can deduce from this definition that disappointment is directly related to expectations. If the outcome doesn’t surpass or at the minimum match our preconceived expectations we are left feeling disappointed and discouraged.
Humans appear to be wired to desire a proper ROI (Return Of Investment) for their time and energy. We want our efforts rewarded and want what we believe we deserve (whether our expectations are based on actual efforts or based on delusions of grandeur). When a person has thrown their whole heart and soul into a particular project or relationship but does not receive the positive outcome they were expecting or the outcome that they feel they deserve, they are left feeling bereft. For example, if an artist invested years of their focus, time, and energy into a specific artistic project that they felt called to execute, only to have that project receive little or no attention upon presentation, the artist may experience deep discouragement or even sink into a depression. Anyone who has worked hard at something and received little or no return of investment will feel this heart wrenching let down. As William Shakespeare described, “expectation is the root of all heartache”.
Over time disappointment can lead to low self-esteem and feelings of worry, loneliness, fatigue, anger and aggression, apathy, guilt, bad moods, depression, and/or tension. A large disappointment can scar a person to the point where they retreat. They may stop producing content or stop engaging with others to protect themselves from being hurt or let down again. Some people have grown so accustomed to disappointment that over time they form a "self-preservation shell". They develop a habit of greatly lowering their expectations of others, circumstances, and sometimes even of themselves. They train themselves to expect very little to avoid having to make themselves vulnerable and avoid the trauma of having their dreams, expectations, and hopes crushed. These sorts of people can come across as the “Eeyore’s” of society - the ones who dare to hope and consistently expect the worst to avoid disappointment.
But a person who has committed their lives to following Christ cannot live this way. They are called to have a constant, confident, eager expectation of "living hope" through their faith in Christ (1 Peter 1:3). After all, the biblical definition of faith that we find in Hebrews 11:1 explains, "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." The biblical scriptures and the Holy Spirit guide and instruct Christians to set their eyes and minds on “higher things” and view everything through the lens of what benefits the eternal Kingdom of God, as opposed to focusing on earthly things, ourselves and fixating our minds on what benefits us, individually.
Yet, there appears to be some sort of cognitive dissonance lying within many Christians. Although believers have rooted their relationship with their Creator through faith and are instructed to live out their faith with great expectation, many go through situations that discourage them and greatly test their ability to hope and trust God’s plans, ways and timing. The apostle Paul explained that this is a result of the constant war and wrestling between the flesh and the Spirit that dwells inside each believer.
The flesh demands to know how a person can continue to trust and have faith and hope in an assignment or relationship that is seemingly producing little to no fruit. The mind questions whether or not they were even called to embark on this project or relationship in the first place. And while the flesh and mind mutter on, the Spirit encourages Christ followers to believe without a shadow of a doubt that when God begins a good work in them He will surely bring it to completion and that for those who love God all things work together for good (Philippians 1:6, Romans 8:28). The Bible warns us to not measure our success through worldly standards (e.g., popularity, monetary compensation) but rather focus on providing content and relationships that will glorify God. Christians are called to focus on Christ and help build up God's Kingdom rather than focusing on self and trying to build up on their own earthly kingdom.
The biblical scriptures tell submitted Christ followers that they are merely the clay that will be shaped in the form that God intends them to be in and that they must trust the Potter who is moulding them, even if they go through awkward and frustrating moments and setbacks during their formation. Yet it seems that no matter how much a Christian tries to surrender and submit and allow themselves to be that mouldable clay their flesh still craves immediate success and a good worldly reputation. They often still fall into the trap of trying to get validation from the world and measure their success through worldly standards. When the world doesn't applaud their efforts and disappointment sets in, a Christian can even start to question their God-given assignments, or even their purpose.
So, what are Spirit-filled Christians meant to do with the disappointment they feel when they felt called to do something and the physical evidence points to failure? How can they reconcile their disappointment with their hope-filled faith?
There are so many scriptures that deal with disappointment, discouragement, and grief. King David did such a beautiful job at expressing the tension between despair and hope. When we read through Psalms we see that the most important thing that King David did was to let go of his expectations and let go of trying to control the situation. He had to wait on the Lord God and trust Him no matter how dire the situation appeared. And while he waited, King David poured his heart out to God daily and was honest about how he was feeling. As King David wrestled with his dashed expectations he wrote, “I will praise the Lord no matter what happens. I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the LORD; The humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, And let us exalt His name together” (Psalm 34:1-7).
We see that no matter how frustrated and how disappointed David was with his situation he had a deep resolve to trust God no matter what. He held on fast to his faith in God’s character and God’s ability to turn even the most dire situations around. David continued to believe that God had a good plan for his life even when the physical evidence surrounding him seemed to point to a different conclusion. He committed all of his plans, his ways, and his entire life to God throughout his long season of disappointment and discouragement. And God is asking all of us to do the same.