On Disappointment and Hope

And hope does not disappoint us . . . – Romans 5:5 (NIV)

In his book Disappointment with God Philip Yancey tells the story of two men: a young seminary student named Richard who burns his Bible, his textbooks and all his Christian books after an intense struggle with disappointment; and Douglas, a psychologist who turned down a lucrative career to launch an urban ministry and faced a life of trial after his wife was diagnosed with cancer and a car accident left him nearly blind. I bought this book more than 20 years ago in an out-of-the-way bookstore while on a visit to my brother during a time when I, too, was struggling with disappointment. It was probably the lowest time in my life, when the future was a big question mark and everything that meant anything to me, from faith to family to career, seemed to be slipping away. A time when God was silent and I wondered if He even cared to stop my fall into a hole that seemed to have no bottom.

On that getaway trip, though, God was so real that everything I touched, read, and experienced had GOD written all over it—including Yancey’s book. Because the disappointment I was feeling was bitter, deep, painful, and hope-sucking, that book was a lifeline.

A dozen years later, I endured another period during which God was silent, the questions were plenty, the problems were getting deeper, and no answers were on the horizon. I prayed to get perspective, but I remained in a fogbank. Once again, disappointment tainted my days.

But I wasn’t having a crisis of faith. My faith was sure, firm—then and now. It’s my backstop against the wild pitches life hurls at me.

What I experience during these times is a crisis of hope. I don’t want to hope. I don’t trust it. Hope leads to disappointment. Wouldn’t it be better, I reason, to hope for nothing, expect nothing, and deal with whatever comes when it comes, whether it’s a delightful surprise or a discouraging setback?

Perhaps I hope too much, put too much stock in the future, in plans and dreams. Maybe I haven’t really learned to live. Perhaps life is like going on a trip, with the destination known but the route and the time it takes unknown – watching the scenery, enjoying the detours, stopping at a scenic overlook, or buying fresh fruit from a roadside vendor; not being concerned about the gas mileage, whether or not I’m making good time, where I’ll stay the night, what I’ll eat, or how much cash I have left in my wallet.

Just lifting each moment as it comes and holding it close to my heart, gently pressing out the love and joy.

As I reread the story of Richard, I thought, “How sad! He didn’t give it enough time.” After years of professing Christianity and experiencing one bitter disappointment after another, he spent a night in prayer, asking God to reveal Himself. When morning came and heaven was still silent, he burned his faith.

Douglas, on the other hand, responded to his crises in a most unexpected way.

“To tell you the truth,” he told Yancey, “I didn’t feel any disappointment with God.”

What? He didn’t blame God or feel betrayed after being obedient and giving up money for ministry, only to have his wife get cancer and a drunk driver ruin his health? Wasn’t disappointed that God didn’t stop it or at least protect them?

“I learned,” Douglas explained, “not to confuse God with life. . . .We tend to think, ‘Life should be fair because God is fair.’ But God is not life. And if I confuse God with the physical reality of life—by expecting constant good health, for example – then I set myself up for a crashing disappointment.”

So where is hope in all this – in the unfairness and disappointments of life?

Perhaps, like faith and trust, hope is a choice.

Will I be a Richard or a Douglas?

Dear God, when disappointment dries up my dreams, give me the hope I need to plant new ones. Amen.

Read and meditate on Psalm 42

(c) 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.

 

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