People are disappointing. That’s reality.
And usually the people closest to us are the greatest source of disappointment to us. When Adam saw his bride, he sang with delight over her: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23). Here at last was a companion for him—a wife he could delight in. Men and women have sang about love, compatibility, romance and marriage ever since.
But the truth is that you do not live in Eden, so your marriage does not match up with what Adam and Eve enjoyed. And the truth is that Hollywood makes fictional films, so your marriage does not match up to a cinematic “happily ever after.” As our friends use social media to showcase a sanitized, satisfied, funny and fulfilled version of their lives, we feel more disappointed. As the TV shows give us glamour, sophistication and romance, we are more disappointed at the lack of these in normal life.
If you are married, then it would be surprising if your husband or wife was not a disappointment. It would also be surprising if you did not feel the shame and remorse of knowing that you are a disappointment to them.
It’s not just spouses though. I am guessing that you are disappointed with someone. Your parents have let you down. Your children have. Your friends have. Your church has. Your pastor has. Maybe in little ways, maybe in terrible ones, maybe somewhere in between. Perhaps you were being unrealistic. But very possibly you were not. They just fell short—far short—of what you had every right to expect of them.
Be shocked by sin but not surprised.
Sin is shocking. I find it disturbing how mean I can be to my wife. I am scared how angry I get with my children. Sometimes the harsh, cynical ways I talk about my friends make me angry (with myself, but perversely I often blame them for that too). Sin is shocking, and it is shockingly common. So common that we will be terribly disappointed by some of those who should stand by us. The friend who should have our back might well stab us in it. The husband we promised to love for better or for worse is most likely to be the cause of the “worse.” We will tell our children that we love them through gritted teeth.
Sin should always be shocking, but we need to stop letting it be surprising.
When we forget that others are sinful, we over-react in disappointment at their sin. We get angry, we withdraw, we stop trusting. The end of this road is emotional shutdown and relational isolation. People will disappoint you. And if you are surprised by sin and so push them away, you will end up with no one to love and no one to love you.
Be hopeful in the face of sin.
There is a Savior who has wrestled hope from despair, life from death, light from darkness. Jesus can redeem anyone and any relationship. Sin is very common, but the Holy Spirit is very, very powerful. We must not be surprised by sin, but equally we do not have to be resigned to it. We can be hopeful when faced with people who disappoint us. We can be prayerful. God is greater than any situation and any sin. Prodigal children do return. Marriages fractured by unfaithfulness can be mended. Distant parents can grow warm. Things can be changed. Not by us, no—but by him.
Jesus can redeem anyone, and any relationship.
So who do you find disappointing? Who has let you down badly? It would surprise me if your closest family was not on that list in some ways; and there’s no need to feel bad about acknowledging that (you are probably on their lists too). How do you restore joyful love to these relationships scarred by past hurts and present disappointment? Hopefully the joy that comes from hope, purpose and perspective will go some way toward that. Your hope was never in that relationship but in Christ. Assuming it does not place you in danger (and that’s an important caveat), you can offer love within that relationship, just like Christ. And one day you will enjoy only perfect relationships, in the presence of Christ.
Be prayerful about your disappointments.
Without the Spirit, you will either strive fruitlessly to change the situations or people you’re disappointed with, or you’ll despair of them. But the Spirit can grow fruit and bring hope. He may do it through you or around you. So pray.
We pray so little, as though it achieved so little. What fools we are, for there is nothing like the power, love and wisdom of the Creator of all things. When such a mighty King is our Father, why would we not ask?
Let your disappointments be fuel for firing your prayers, and not the burden that dampens your love.
John Hindley is the pastor of BroadGrace church in Norfolk, UK and the author of the bestselling Serving without Sinking. He studied for ministry at Oak Hill College, and then co-founded The Plant church in Manchester before moving to Norfolk. John is married to Flick and they have three children.