It strikes when you aren’t expecting it. It’s worst when it comes in the middle of what should be a good time, like dinner with friends. Or during worship at church. It’s the disconcerting question of your life: “is this really it?”
Disillusionment isn’t just for the obvious times when life doesn’t go as we planned. In fact, it seems to hit hardest when life is pretty good. It may strike you in the middle of what should be the life you want. It can hit after he proposes or after the acceptance letter to graduate school. It’s a feeling that may last a moment or a month, but when it comes, you can’t ignore it. Disillusionment is a deep disappointment in something or someone that turns out to be less good than we first believed. It literally means to be “without illusion” which doesn’t sound like a bad thing—so why does it hit so hard and threaten to knock out our joy and derail our faith?
Madeline L’engle once wrote, “pain is an angel that tells us something is wrong.” Disillusionment doesn’t feel like an angel, but it certainly sounds an alarm in our souls. But disillusionment doesn’t have to be all bad—it can be an opportunity to refocus and find new perspective. Here are three questions to ask yourself in seasons where you feel that life has let you down:
What were you expecting?
“I hate being an idealist,” a friend said to me recently, “because I never arrive where I want to be.” But my friend’s outlook and vision on life is one of the things I love most about him. People with vision for the future are inspiring and creative. They see a way that life can look and they go after it. The problem is, those with high aspirations and ideals often have to handle the reality that life isn’t exactly as they pictured.
Most of us expect life to happen faster, our success to come easier and our path to be clearer. Often, our dreams for the future leave out some of the harder parts—the fatigue, the hard work, the strained relationships. Sometimes our ideals for the future are more selfish than we’d like to admit. When our reality doesn’t revolve quite as much around our needs as we’d like, we find ourselves frustrated.
When life lets you down, ask yourself what you were expecting. Don’t be afraid to play the story forward and put words around it. Don’t polish it up for yourself—pursue brutal honesty. What were you expecting right now? If life happened exactly as you wanted, what you would wake up to tomorrow? What would it look like, feel like?
Where is your faith?
“What is faith? It is confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen” (Hebrews 11:1, NLT). This begs the question, “what are you having faith about?” Most of us want to have faith in the dreams we’ve created. We want to have faith to believe we will be discovered, that we will be loved, that we will be valued. We put our faith in someone advocating for our promotion or laughing at our jokes or loving us even when we are hard to love.
But the writer of Hebrews wasn’t encouraging us to put our faith in the visible things of life, but the invisible. This kind of faith moves our “confident assurance” away from our own self-centered ideals and toward the deeper things of our soul.
After we’ve faced the truth about what we are expecting out of life, we need to ask ourselves what we are putting our faith in. Many of us end up placing all of our hope on something instead of someone. Yet God makes it clear that to put our faith in anything but Him is a worthless pursuit.
It is a tough wakeup call to discover what we’ve truly put our faith in, but facing it honestly is a necessary step. What do you believe will make you happy? Who do you believe will bring you peace? What life step are you waiting for to bring these things about? And does that thing, that next step have the power to truly do that for you?
Who do you trust?
Facing disillusionment isn’t just about your circumstances. It’s about your hopes and your faith. It’s about the courage it takes to be honest with yourself and with God about life’s surprising and sometimes scary seasons. And this is when the question turns, when we must ask ourselves if we are willing to follow Christ even when it gets hard.
There was a time in Jesus’ ministry when he began to systematically dismantle the religious belief system of how people can follow God. He talked of the need for all to eat His flesh and drink His blood. It sounds a little weird to our modern ears but it would have been absolutely shocking to the Jewish leaders of the time. The Bible tells us that the religious people were disgusted and angry and that many disciples also turned away and stopped following Jesus.
In what must have been a poignant moment, Jesus turns to His 12 closest friends and says, “you do not want to leave me too, do you?” (John 6:68).
Sometimes when life lets us down, Jesus’ question might be the one we need to face. “You do not want to leave me too, do you?” Jesus’ question is about faith in Him when you don’t like what you experience and trusting Him when it’s hard. When life is tough in unexpected ways, will we continue to trust that God is still working? When it’s not what we wanted, will we profess that we will still follow Christ? Most of us aren’t about to recant our faith, but we do begin to wander.
So if you’ve found yourself there, consider Peter’s reply to Jesus in the very next verse, “to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of life.” Well, not exactly the strongest profession of faith. Peter answers with truth—what else is worth giving our lives for? Who else is worth following? Peter’s reply is a matter of what’s worth worshipping. And at that moment, Peter answered with what he knew—no matter how hard it gets, Jesus was the only one worth trusting.
It’s not heroic or flowery. It’s just the truth. There is only one who holds the words of life. No success, no relationship, no next life step can actually cultivate life—only Jesus can. And His life is what we can access—His peace, His presence, His power—no matter where our life happens to be.
Nicole Unice is the author of ÒBrave Enough: Getting Over our Fears, Flaws and Failures to Live Bold and Free.Ó (Tyndale, 2015) and travels frequently enough to almost feel like she can fly. Find out more at nicoleunice.com