- Zi Cong
The Bitter Pill of Disappointment
For some of us, it may feel like an uphill battle getting our feet off the ground for the new year that is upon us.
Perhaps 2022 did not pan out the way that you had hoped for it to.
Many did not advance in their careers as hoped and even lost their jobs. For some, a relationship that is deeply cherished didn’t work out even as friends are happily getting married and starting their own families. For some, the years seem the same and it feels like change would never come.
Or maybe your passion project didn’t take off, and you find yourself grappling with disappointment after having put in all that hard work. That was my story amidst the pandemic. I had left my job to take care of my dad who met with an accident in early 2020 while working on the manuscript for my 2nd book, “A Rose in the Wilderness”.
As October rolled around, I felt the book was ready for publication. Many friends had sent in texts of encouragement ahead of time and I was eager to see my book go out to bless those who have experienced wilderness in their lives.
But on the day of my book launch, I had sold only 6 copies! After 6 long years of hard work, it was a shock and a bitter pill to swallow. Sadly, instead of a glorious turnaround, this was to mark the start of a long, arduous struggle with disappointment.
How did we get here?
No one starts out planning to end up in a rut. Chances are, we embarked on our journey towards our dreams or goals bright-eyed and full of hope. We were perhaps a little naïve or idealistic, but the mere pursuit of our vision would charge us with the energy and vitality to overcome the obstacles in our way.
Yet the hard knocks come – the lack of support from loved ones, unforeseen circumstances or setbacks can accumulate over time, and it is common that we may end up in a valley of discouragement and even feel depleted of hope. In this space, it seems that even as we try to pick ourselves up, we find ourselves going no further than a few steps before the weight of our disappointment pulls us back down again.
If left unchecked, disappointment can be debilitating. It can sap us of our hope, our energy, and if we allow it to, it can even turn into cynicism and unbelief. It is a common enemy to really living, as we numb ourselves, carrying about a chip on our shoulder or feel victimised.
Can this bitter pill bring healing?
One of the accounts in the Bible felt very relatable through this season of loss and sadness for me. It is the story of how the Israelites were subjected to harsher treatment as a result of Moses’ demand that they be released from slavery.
This prophet deliverer from God, instead of succeeding at securing their freedom, worsened it – at first. Not only were their hopes of deliverance seemingly dashed, but their burden was also made even heavier.
Yet, it did happen. God did deliver them with great acts that stunned the ancient world. The rest of the story reveals how our hearts can be easily hardened towards God, and our appetites dictate our attitudes, as we find this same group of people constantly complaining about their circumstances.
Eventually, as they consistently chose discontent and murmuring over gratitude and fortitude, they were denied entrance to the Promised Land until a new generation grew up.
This story was very instructive and highlighted to me that I had to be careful how I responded to my disappointment. Allowing it to fester and darken the prospects of life is unwise and may eventually close off what Life has to offer me.
It is no easy feat to peel back the clouds of discouragement to gaze upon the sun that has not ceased to shine.
Yet this is the precise muscle that needs to be built in the valley of discouragement and disappointment.
Another major lesson for me is to embrace life’s realities, as captured in these words:
“Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” – Job 5:7
The journey towards maturity entails accepting that life won’t always go our way, especially in this fallen world that we live in.
Disappointments need not lead to shame. Instead, it can build conviction and character if we learn to contend for our dreams in spite of the obstacles in our way. And that alone is worth celebrating, regardless of what the outcome might be.
As I leaned into looking out for sunshine and checking for my value of my dreams, three further lessons came up, which I hope you will find helpful too:
Lesson #1: There is rest and security beyond our circumstances
In the arid months of having my books all about me, I slowly learnt to relinquish my desired outcomes even as I soldiered on with my job and other responsibilities. None of it was easy or smooth going, but I experienced a deeper sense of the promise that God is ever working all things for our good (Romans 8:28), and began to feel a deeper rest within me.
“God never withholds from His child that which His love and wisdom call good. God's refusals are always merciful - "severe mercies" at times but mercies all the same. God never denies us our heart’s desire except to give us something better.” – Elisabeth Elliot
Lesson #2: There can be contentment and gratitude in every circumstance
It is easy to fixate on what we are missing out rather than to appreciate what we have. This must be why we need these words:
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17
The basis for this is not a denial of our experiences, but to set them against the larger backdrop of Grace and Goodness. Christians believe in a sovereign and loving God who cares for and watches over us. Working against our innate tendency to complain requires that we take these words seriously. The habits of gratitude can lead us to a place of contentment and graciousness. Above all, here is where we learn to delight ourselves in the Giver of good things beyond the gifts themselves. In so doing, it is either we are given the desires of our heart in His timing, or that He transforms our desires and grants us that which is for our greater good!
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” – Psalm 37:4
Lesson #3: There can be more Life when we learn to put others ahead of ourselves
Where God is concerned, our motives matter greatly. In a letter to an early church, James cautioned us not to ask amiss – for the wrong motives, such as vainglory and strife. It can take some soul searching to come to see what our true motives are.
There is something about our motives that define us and the shape of our lives. One of the three dimensions of the To Really Live ethos is to Serve – to see our lives as gifts that can serve others. This means that God will give or withhold in order to bring out our true selves and enable us to better serve others. Along the way, as we encounter disappointment, our motives will be confronted and purified.
My book may not have done as well as I had hoped, but it is not the end of the story. If you are facing disappointment or feel like you are in a valley of discouragement, it is not how your story needs to end either.
My prayer is that He will grant you a fresh revelation of His purposes for your life – one that will burn deep in your heart, and expel the dross of disappointment that has been weighing on you. There is never a better time to pick up where you left off – many are counting on you!