Have you ever been really disappointed? I mean really, really hurt by something you had hoped would go a different way? How did you handle it? What advice would you give others facing disappointment? What is disappointment anyway?
At its most fundamental level, disappointment stems from unmet expectations. We hope for and begin to expect a certain outcome. And when it doesn’t happen, our hopes are unsatisfied and we are disappointed. Someone said, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.”
From this background, some people wrongly conclude that the key to avoiding disappointment in life is to eliminate all expectations. Maybe you have seen the slogan, No Expectations” or something similar. While it is important to avoid unrealistic expectations, is it really realistic to think we can take all expectations out of life?
Expectations are a part of daily existence. We expect the sun to rise in the morning and set at night. We expect the law of gravity and other natural laws to operate throughout the day. We expect people to act the way they typically act. And we come to expect the consequences we always receive from our own actions.
Expectations are not wrong in and of themselves. They provide stability and predictability to life, and they make it possible to plan our activities. Imagine the chaotic world in which we would try to live if God chose to capriciously suspend his laws of nature, or if people could never be counted on to do what is expected.
But managing our expectations is important to a happy and healthy life. We need to be careful about setting our sights too high, or too low. Excessive optimism is not only unrealistic, it is a recipe for disaster. We’ve all known of supervisors who have placed people into positions for which they were totally unprepared—and unqualified. On the other hand, pessimism can cause us to constantly seek the worst in others, and miss out on the joys of life. The Bible reminds us that love “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things,” (1 Cor. 13:7).
One sure way to be disappointed is to hold other people to our own perfectionist standards. We need to be careful about constructing images of perfection in our own minds. And we need to be especially careful about imposing them upon others. Each individual is going to have to find his or her own way in life. Although I must try to teach and encourage, I must stop expecting others to work out the details exactly the way I would.
This is especially difficult for people who are proficient in occupations of precision, where there is only one right answer. People in the fields of mathematics, the sciences, medical technology, electronics, engineering, etc. may find it challenging to remember that not every decision is black and white. A computer programmer may learn a lot about expectations and disappointment when he finally recognizes that his wife is not a computer.
God has created us with amazing abilities, and an almost infinite set of variations. He holds us to a standard, and gives us the motivation we need to walk within it, but manages to be loving and patient with each of us as we grow and develop. In short, he has realistic expectations.
But we need to also try not to disappoint God, because disappointment hurts. Disappointment is painful. And disappointment is always avoidable if the expectations are reasonable, like God’s. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust,” (Ps. 103:13-14). God does not set unrealistic expectations upon us.
God loves us, and will always provide what is best for us. If we cooperate, we may find that the disappointments in life are barely worth mentioning. In hindsight, it’s probably best we did not get some of the things we thought we wanted at the time.
I hope your disappointments in life are few. But when they come, I hope they are not too painful, and that you learn and grow from them. Disappointment may be one of the ways God helps us grow and mature into our fullest potential. Sometimes a loving father has to say, “No.”
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.
A Study in Disappointment