Thanks. Thanks, for the Disappointment

Friends disappoint us. Even good friends. Communities (including faith communities) disappoint us, even those that feel most like home. People we admire disappoint us. Family disappoints us.

I seem to have more of this than I want lately–if any disappointment is welcome at any time.

Obama disappointedThe particulars are mine, and most of it is not appropriate to share in a public way here. The exception might be that while I continue to admire President Obama a great deal, and count myself among his supporters, I also am disappointed at what feels to me to be his too easy acceptance of an old-style engagement of the world (the specifics await other posts at other times).

Such disappointment, whatever its source and cause, is part of living. The only way to escape it is, I think, to deny all desire and hope. That I will not do. I am filled with both, and live off both. To deny them would be to die. So disappointment, like other unpleasant stuff, happens. Get over it.

No, wait. There’s more. Sure, we can accept how others disappoint us. And even move on.

But we can perhaps learn from disappointment, too.

pessimist is never disappointedFor example, several of my disappointments lately have shown me new aspects of qualities I like in myself, parts of me I want to nurture and grow even stronger. Recently, I experienced a disappointment with a friend that caused me to reaffirm my desire to be generous and forgiving. I could have become angry at the friend who did not share in my desire to be generous to a particular person; instead, I accepted their desire to opt out and at the same time to celebrate “my generous gene.” I want more of that, and this incident helped me see that.

Other disappointments reveal that I may be holding on to stuff that no longer serves me so well. Recently, I realized that my disappointment in another person said more about my desire to be liked than anything else.

In both those cases, my disappointment was real, and even painful, and I see more deeply into myself because of it.

Learning is a gift even when pain is teacherPerhaps as important as the disappointment itself is looking at how I deal with it. Like everything else in life, there may be something for me to learn, not only in what someone else may be saying or doing, or not saying and not doing, but also in what my response reveals about me. My disappointment is my own, created by me, not by the other or others who act or speak in ways I find distressing. What can it tell me?

The rich young man in Matthew 19 walked away, in disappointment, when Jesus responded to his spiritual searching by suggesting he change his life. What did the young man do with that after he left? Did he justify himself (“Do you believe what that spiritual guy said to me?”), did he complain to others how Jesus let him down? Or did he bury the pain? Perhaps all of the above.

I have done all that, of course, and probably will do so again.

But when I can take the hurt out and look at it, when I can turn it over in my mind and ask God about it, and check on deeper feelings it arouses, I may find rich nuggets of self-knowledge that will help me, as Frederick Buechner writes, to live “the life that wants to live in me.”

tangled knotOne very important aspect of self-knowledge is to see what, if anything, I did to help create the disappointment. I have learned, and have to relearn from time to time, that often things that bother me, things that disappointment or anger me, involve some contribution from me in addition to what the other person says or does.

I don’t want to beat up on myself for this, just observe, and use the opportunity to engage in some personal change.

So, bottom line: disappointments come, disapppointments go. They may not feel good, but they can be gifts.

So, perhaps I can learn to say, “Thanks for the disappointment.”


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