I loathe disappointment.

I really don’t like being disappointed, but I’m a thousand times more averse to causing disappointment in others. The worst is when it hits me by surprise. When this happens, my inner world can come to a halt, and I can easily become fixated on it, analyzing what happened and how to address it.

My (Inadequate) Ministry to Myself

Here are some of the places I tend to go when I find I’ve hurt someone or let them down.

Where did I mess up, and how can I avoid doing it again? I start with assuming failure on my part and begin to retrace my steps to figure out where I went wrong, primarily for the sake of not repeating it. How did I let this happen, and how could I have been so insensitive, immature, or self-serving? Deep down, however, all these attempts to understand and prevent further damage feel like treading water in an ocean of humiliation and fear. They keep me afloat for now, but I wonder if I can do enough to keep from drowning.

Where is the other person being unfair, and how do I avoid being hurt by them again? Eventually, I might find gaps in my analysis of my failures, places where my attempts to do good were interpreted negatively, or where I was incapable of doing more, and my anger begins to rise. What gives them the right to demand so much of me or show me so little charity? Again, deeper still, waves of grief and shame continuously surge and crash over me and, sadly, indignation feels like the only safety raft I have, so I hold on tight and hope the waters will quiet soon.

This feels terrible, and I need to get away from the pain. I can objectively recognize why this situation is a problem and I try to rationalize my way out of it. I remind myself that relationships are messy and that I’m not perfect and neither is anyone else. I shouldn’t be a people pleaser or care so much what others think, and soon this will all pass. But I’m haunted by the ambiguous or unresolved nature of the situation, and my powerlessness to fix things or prevent them from happening again. And the sobering reality that I somehow failed to do enough (and might not ever be able to do enough) leaves me aching. It sits like a heaviness in my chest, and while I actively pursue meaningful distraction or engaging entertainment, it’s not enough to eradicate the hurt.

While I am still swimming in these waters, God has increasingly intervened and joined me and even shown me that my knee-jerk reactions and approaches leave little room for his involvement.

God’s Ministry to Me

As I’ve opened myself to him, he’s been kind to remind me of what I have forgotten (or at least functionally denied) in my attempts to make others happy.

I am indeed not enough. Disappointing someone is first and foremost an opportunity for me to remember and embrace the reality that I am “not enough.” Rather than fixating on how something like this could happen, God invites me to accept that disappointment is inevitable due to the combination of our creaturely limitations, our broken expectations, and our remaining immaturity as we engage with each other. Acceptance still leaves much room for appropriate grief and hurt and longing for things to be better, but it simultaneously calls us to a posture of humility that heals and steadies us, freeing us from demands God doesn’t expect us to fulfill. When we disappoint others, we can start with the encouragement that somehow, in God’s kingdom, being not enough is good news because Jesus honors, welcomes, and helps us no matter what our limitations are.

God is more than enough. Recognizing that I (and the person I have offended) am not enough redirects my attention to the One who is enough. As I engage with him, I find his disposition toward me to be dramatically different from my own. He is gentle and patient, and instead of displaying surprise, irritation, or embarrassment for whatever I’ve contributed to the problem, he eases my discomfort and draws me in with his charitable kindness and compassion. He empathetically validates the pain of seeking to love others only to receive their disapproval in return and reminds me that he knows what it’s like to be misunderstood and judged unfairly. He tells me that in my weakness, he is strong and more than enough for me and the one I offended, and he continually offers his help and support as I seek to act in love and humility toward them.

God will always give us enough for each next step. He walks with me along a path of discernment and directs me in each next step:

  • He will likely encourage me to pursue more understanding before engaging the other person: to ponder with him what took place, to recognize what makes sense to me and what still doesn’t, and to ask for clarity on where I have failed. He might even direct me to talk to a trusted and wise friend about the matter for the sake of gaining more perspective on what happened or even help me see how God is at work even in this painful situation.
  • He may convict and give me the courage to invite the other person into a conversation. He may persuade me to ask them to share more about how they were impacted by my choices, express sorrow over their pain, ask for forgiveness, or even ask if they would like to hear my experience of the situation. And if he does prompt me to engage, he will likely need to remind me that even while we are pursuing maturity, we are his children, and children are messy, awkward, and continue to make mistakes in the process. But bearing with each other through this process is integral to us growing up together.
  • He might even direct me and give me the patience to wait to engage with this individual (or at least be more intentional and selective with my communication) until I am better equipped to speak or gain confidence that a conversation would be appropriate and fruitful. He will, however, prompt me to stay active in this waiting. This may mean wrestling with him in the discomfort and vulnerability of ambiguity, asking him to help me fight against bitterness and pride, or praying that he would be at work in the other person’s heart. But it will at least include seeking his help to remain soft-hearted to him, sensitive to his leading, sober-minded in my judgments, and open-handed with my expectations.

I don’t think I will ever fully become fully immune to the discomfort of disappointing others. But I am developing an appreciation for how God uses it to minister to the parts of me I would otherwise keep out of his reach to generate genuine humility and compassion toward the other person. So the next time you find yourself distressed, defensive, or deflated by a disappointment you’ve caused, keep your eyes open for these kinds of interventions from God. Embrace them, and don’t be surprised when he turns your world on its head with his great kindness and kind greatness.