Disappointment and discouragement do happen, they are part of the universal lot of human beings... but what we do with those feelings is important.
As I write this, I’m thinking all of us are feeling disappointed. The virus that’s plagued us is bouncing back as strong as ever. Restrictions we thought were behind us are returning. Some have experienced terrible physical effects of the virus. All of us have been affected emotionally, and for many it has had spiritual effects.
Disappointment can worsen into discouragement, and I have to say I’m feeling some of it. Discouragement, we know, has the potential to sink further, into despair.
So I got to thinking about what scriptural examples we have, of people dealing with discouragement and worse.
The first one that occurred to me was Hannah. Year after year she was disappointed that she had no child, and we can see in the record (1 Samuel 1) that she grew very discouraged, maybe not to the point of despair, but there is desperation evident in her prayer. How does she handle her disappointment, which was made far worse by being taunted about it? She comes to her breaking point…but turns to God, the right place to go.
Hannah’s story is remarkably like Abraham’s. He’d been promised a son, but had none. His disappointment is acute, in fact he grows pretty discouraged (Genesis 15). But he takes his discouragement to God.
Both of those had happy endings, as we know. But they both endured years and years of disappointment first.
In 2 Corinthians Paul opens up about his own experience with disappointment and worse. Famously, in chapter 12 he relates how he had persistently pleaded with the Lord about his “thorn in the flesh”. The answer he gets is No. The lesson he takes? “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.”
Paul had been driven to despair, but he learned, he grew, from the experience.
I have to ask myself, “Am I content with my physical weaknesses?” Honestly, I’m really not. I’m acutely disappointed to be limited by them. How about, “Am I content with insults?” “Hardships?” I won’t even pose the question about persecution and calamity.
But this isn’t all Paul has to say on the subject in this letter. In chapter 1 he writes,
All the way to despairing that they would survive! But what’s the outcome?
Then in chapter 4 Paul writes,
He had been driven to despair, but he learned, he grew, from the experience.
I think it’s important to mention that not everyone we encounter in the Bible gets what they ask for. As we’ve mentioned, sometimes disappointment and worse last a really long time. And some die disappointed. We all know Hebrews 11, and the words, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised…” “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised…”
Do you think they just shrugged off the disappointment, that it didn’t make them very discouraged from time to time? The writer tells us they were tortured, mocked, flogged, imprisoned, killed in horrible ways–and they didn’t ever get what was promised.
Yet. And this little word is all the difference.
My hope in sharing these thoughts is to remember myself, and share with you, that disappointment and discouragement do happen. I’ll go out on a limb and say they are part of the universal lot of human beings. What we do with them is important.
Like Hannah, like her ancestor Abraham, taking them to God is crucial. The answer might be Yes (both Hannah and Abraham), or it might be No (Paul, and all those mentioned in Hebrews). Then what?
We strive to learn, to not give up. I think it’s uplifting, in a kind of backwards way, that we see Paul driven to despair. Uplifting because we learn that even the darkest despair isn’t necessarily faith-killing—although there’s a risk it could be.
In Paul, and in the catalog of the faithful, we have examples to turn to, to help “make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” In every disappointment, every discouragement, we can stay anchored on this rock: I can rely on God. He raises the dead!