Four Questions to Ask When Dealing With Disappointment

A young man, whom I respect, recently asked me for some insight on dealing with a situation that brought him much disappointment. He had been journaling and reflecting on his experience but wanted some help in processing it constructively. I encouraged him to ask himself four questions as a way of turning his disappointment into an opportunity for learning and growth. These questions are also helpful in processing the pain we experience in disappointment…

  1.  “What was life giving about the situation?”    Rather than asking in an accusing voice, “Why did You do that to me?” I have learned to ask, “What do You want to teach me through this, God?” To ask myself, “What was God up to? What did I learn? What good came out of it?” It is important to see the hand of God in the choices we make. To know and believe that God is guiding and using every circumstance of our lives to work in us, to shape us, to teach us. I believe these questions can focus us on what God is doing instead of what we want a situation to be.
  2. “What is it I value about what I went through?”    Learn to look ‘behind’ what actually happened. Look deeper to find the principles and values that you learned which could lead you to greater maturity.
  3. “If I had three wishes concerning this situation, what would they be?”    This is where you can evaluate the situation, take what you have learned and see how you would do things differently if it happened again.
  4.  “How do I put into practice what I have learned from this situation?”

A comment about disappointments: they are usually from unmet expectations. We can’t control every situation in life, but we can learn to define our expectations before we enter a situation. Then, if reality is different than what we expected, we can take those expectations to God and ask Him what we should do about them… Sometimes we just need to change our expectations, sometimes we need to surrender to God’s refining work, sometimes we need to realize that we did not research the situation adequately before hand, sometimes we need to simply forgive, and sometimes it’s a combination of all of the above.

There are three classical ways of dealing with disappointment and loss that hinder us instead of help us:

  1. Analyzing our disappointment intellectually. Avoiding the pain we feel prevents us from addressing our disappointment on a heart level.
  2. Blaming others. A “looking for the sin in the camp” approach to problem solving prevents us from learning and growing through a situation. It is usually a subtle way of punishing others for the pain we feel. Obviously, it does not release us to move on with our lives. We carry with us what we do not forgive.
  3. Seeing it as a spiritual matter. The devil may be at work, but he gets a lot more credit than he deserves. It is much more beneficial to discern what God is doing than what Satan is trying to do.

In my studies from the life of King David in the Old Testament, I have observed that his life was filled with disappointments. The Bible records David’s disappointments and his responses to them, honestly. I encourage you to study David’s life from this perspective.

David’s psalms of lament teach us the value of grieving loss in our lives. Grieving is only one aspect of dealing with disappointment, but it is a vital one. We cannot learn and grow if we do not know how to grieve well. Covering up or denying the pain of loss and disappointment does not make it go away. Those feelings remain deep inside us, eating away at us… Until we acknowledge our loss, embrace the sadness it brings, and accept our present circumstance, we cannot move forward emotionally or spiritually.

Worship does not only involve praise, it also means sacrifice. Bringing our sacrifice of sorrow over our loss is a form of worship that is precious to God. When I come to God and acknowledge what has been lost in my life, and present that loss to Him, it is my way of saying “I trust You. I look to You for help. I cannot deal with this disappointment by analyzing it in my mind, I need Your comfort for my soul.”

In the end, responding to God with trust in the face of disappointment is a profound form of worship… our way of bowing - mind, body and soul before Him.