How God’s Truth Can Guard Us from Disappointment
By JASMIN HOWELL
If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad. Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable.
I groaned as my son’s wail cut through my sleep and the cold blue light of the alarm clock obnoxiously glowed 2:30 AM. Earlier that night I had settled peacefully into bed with three clear prayers: Lord, help our son to sleep through the night, help us wake up with our alarm, and help us get to church on time.
Instead, I found myself stumbling wearily to the kitchen to prepare a bottle in the wee hours. In my tired stupor I didn’t turn on a light. I started to get the bottle ready by memory, but something wasn’t right. The splat, splat, splat I heard was not the normal sound this task made. Fumbling for the light, I saw that I had somehow managed to pour formula all over the counter and the floor, instead of into the bottle. I rushed to clean it up and take my son his bottle, but as soon as I rounded the corner from the kitchen, I collided painfully with the hutch in the hallway. My son only cried louder. I shook off my pain and whisked him up, kissing his sweet little face that was wet with tears. I fed him and cuddled him back to sleep in my arms, but as I went to lay him down in his bed, he awoke and stood abruptly … the crown of his head smashing into the bridge of my nose. I cried out loudly, my eyes filling with tears from the impact, at which point my son began to cry again. So there we were, in the dark, in the middle of the night, both with tears in our eyes. If I hadn’t been grumpy about how the night was going, I might have laughed. But I was in no mood for laughing; I was in pain, I was exhausted, and I was stressed about the coming morning.
My husband and I were leading worship at church the next day, but we weren’t as prepared as I wanted to be. We needed to be there early the next morning to get organized and have enough time to practice! And I needed to get some sleep! By 3:30 AM my son was sleeping sweetly, but I lay awake in bed, rubbing my bruised nose and thinking about the morning. I slept fitfully the next few hours in anticipation of my alarm clock.
Sunday morning slowly dawned … and I woke to a peaceful house, realizing in horror that I hadn’t set my alarm properly and we had all slept in. I threw off the covers and launched into full-fledged panic mode. If we didn’t hurry, we would be late! I got everyone up, and, miraculously, we were ready in record time. But as I hurriedly opened the fridge to grab some breakfast, I knocked a glass dish from one of the shelves and it smashed all over the kitchen floor, shooting glass shards and old leftovers in every direction. And now — I realized in frustration — we would definitely be late! I cleaned up the mess as quickly as I could, but the glass shards embedded in the food made it tricky. Even working quickly, it seemed like everything was moving in slow motion, and I was getting grumpier by the minute! This was not how this morning was supposed to go!
We made it to the church with just enough time to run through each song quickly, but in my fatigue and distraction I forgot to check that all my music was in the right order. As I led the congregation in the last song of the morning, I realized to my horror that my pages were out of order, and I had sung the entire song backwards! I wanted to go crawl into a hole. I wanted to curl up in a ball with my bruised nose and my hurt pride, my tired mind, my mounting frustration, and my sense of total failure.
The last 12 hours of my life had been the complete opposite of what I had expected.
Expectations: Hoping in the “Shoulds” of Life
Just as I collided painfully with the hutch in my hallway, my son’s head, and my own imperfections … I had also collided harshly with reality, and I was miserable about it. We have all experienced this at one time or another … when things just don’t go as planned!
We all have “shoulds” in our minds, and very often they are dreamed up for our own benefit and sense of comfort. If everything goes the way it “should” — and aligns with all of our expectations — we imagine it will be the epitome of ease and enjoyment. I loved the Lord and was doing my best to serve Him by loving my son, my husband, and serving my church — so why couldn’t He have spared me this series of frustrating back-to-back mishaps when I was already short on time and energy? I should have had more sleep! My son should have slept through the night like he normally did! My alarm should have gone off! We should have been on time! I should have double-checked my music!
When we place our hope in “shoulds” — essentially idols of our own making — we often experience struggle in our relationship with God, especially when we face an unexpected difficulty, or a withheld desire, or a day full of mishaps! The Bible speaks often about idols as anything “made by human hands” and that they are lifeless, hollow things in which to place our hope. It further says that “those who make [idols] will be like them, and so will all who trust in them” (Ps. 115:4,8 NIV). Our expectations of how certain circumstances should play out can quickly turn into idols in our lives … and suddenly, God giving us the right outcome to all our hopes and dreams becomes more important to us than knowing God Himself. We start asking, Doesn’t He love me? Why does this day/season/circumstance have to be so hard?
When I reflect back on challenging seasons of my life, the challenges were often made more intense if I did not allow God to shape my reality through His truth. If I kept battling the “should” that was in my mind and expecting reality to match it, I often ended up trying to make it so through my personal efforts. Placing trust or confidence in works of our own hands and in our own plans can quickly drain the LIFE from our earthly experiences and lead us astray from the abundant life that God calls us to — one where our hope and expectation is in Him alone.
Even Christians can get caught up in the idea that things will simply sort themselves out if we work hard, do the right things, get a degree, get organized, tithe faithfully, get that great job, get married, have kids, serve the Lord. God loves me, so He will bless me with all the good things. As Lewis says, “If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable…”
The expectation that we “should” be happy in all of our circumstances only leads to disappointment because it is based solely on the pull of human desire, not on the rock of biblical truth. But what IS the truth? How should we view the frustrating circumstances, troubles, and disappointments we experience in the face of unmet expectations?
Reality: My Expectation is from Him Alone
I am a natural dreamer, an optimist by nature, and also an idealist … which by definition means I tend to view things as they might or should be, rather than as they are. Perhaps you relate? This can sometimes be a gift — to be able to see potential in bleak circumstances or the ability to hope for things beyond what I can see! But it can also lead to less favorable results such as struggling with frustration, disappointment, and, yes, even anger when things just don’t go the way I anticipated (which is often).
As we live in a fallen world and are prone to sin, it should come as no surprise when our human plans go off the rails, whether by some fault of our own fleshly limitations, by the error of ourselves or others, or by something else entirely out of our control. Are you feeling frustrated, disappointed, or disillusioned that your “best-laid plans” have fallen apart? Take time to assess your own expectations and present them before the Lord.
Ask: What idols have I been trusting in? Is my hope in Him or in something else? Are my expectations for life based on my own desires, or placed securely in the truth of His Word?
To my surprise, God used my own set of mishaps as a fruitful training ground for me. C.S. Lewis wrote that when we view our time on earth as a place for the Lord to train and correct us — not merely as a stage for the playing out of our personal “happiness” — life can become a hope-filled reality as we daily train in godliness. The Bible also says that “…while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and in the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:8 ESV).
Each little mistake, injury, and failure I experienced through my sleepless Saturday night and the stressful Sunday morning that followed — opened my eyes to just how much I relied on myself to bring my own expectations to fulfillment — and how much hope I regularly placed in my energy, my organization, my performance! But it also made me aware of just how often my expectations of life were shaped around my desire for comfort, ease, and rest. That set of mishaps actually opened my eyes to see that my heart needed a course-correction! Christ did not pay the penalty for my sin in order to ensure all of my days go smoothly and all of my plans succeed while on this earth. He purchased an eternal hope for me — and for all who place their expectation in Him — to far outlast the things of this earth.
We tend to be forgetful, so let’s daily align our hearts to this bold truth: “My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him” (Ps. 62:5). Only when we properly place all of our hopes in God can we really be content in our souls, no matter the outcome of a circumstance, a day of mishaps, or a difficult season of life. We can trust that even if NOTHING goes the way we expect, He is still in control, and He loves us. We can trust Him to use even the most adverse set of circumstances as a training ground for our growth and good. Nothing is a surprise to Him. Our loving Father holds our reality safely in His hands, and — even though our own expectations may sometimes go unmet — if our hope is properly placed in Christ, we will NEVER be disappointed. It’s a promise.