Your Disappointment Doesn’t Scare God

At some point, as it has for many of us, life probably has confronted you with the devastating truth that it was not going to live up to your visions and dreams. You had plans for the way your daily life would look, expectations of what your church life would be, and assumptions about the trajectory your family’s life would follow. And in some way—or perhaps many ways, big and small—your life is not what you imagined it would be. It’s not what you hoped for and still long for.

Me neither. Until my mother’s schizophrenia finally reached a point where my family could no longer ignore or hide it, I thought people who follow Christ were supposed to be deeply and joyfully satisfied, no longer needing anything but a connection with God’s presence in this life. I thought Christians would go through “hard times” but without the kind of lament or loss that plagues other people.

Boy, was I wrong. In a family altered by severe mental illness, not a single day is untouched by lament, loss, and disappointment. My mother’s schizophrenia didn’t change my satisfying life into an unsatisfying one; it brought me to a place of honesty with myself and before God, where I could not overlook the fact that life was going to fall short no matter what.

You live with your own reasons for disappointment. Have you been forced into that place of honesty? Are you lonely there? Do you get the feeling that many Christians are terrified by the ways your life has not lived up to expectations? by your disappointment? your anger? Like me, perhaps you feel that many would like to keep their distance from you and your stubbornly unfixable circumstances.

You probably aren’t imagining things. Many people haven’t yet been placed in a position that irreparably undermines their illusions. And most of us put up at least a little resistance to evidence that contradicts what we really want to believe. Many people are desperate to believe life always makes sense, everything happens for a reason, and every cloud comes with a silver lining. If you acknowledge you live with not only gratitude and a gentleness born of suffering, but actual disappointment as well, you are likely to threaten someone’s carefully constructed convictions about what we should expect from life as followers of Christ.

So let me say this: It’s OK with me, and with God, if you admit you’re disappointed.

I say this on my own behalf because I’m right there with you. That’s why I wrote a book on this: for people like you and me.

There are two reasons I make this claim on behalf of God.

First, God wants your honesty more than all the good attitude, positive thinking, and false expressions of gratitude you could ever muster.

Second, an unsatisfied life is exactly what God wants for you—for all of us.

I don’t mean that God put you in difficult circumstances for fun or wants you to live in frustration. God hasn’t singled you out for a special “character-building experience” to keep you in line or punish you. God has allowed you, like everyone else, to live with both the heady delights of human freedom and the terrible consequences of using our freedom to reject and resist God. All suffering comes down to that painful bottom line.

What I do mean is that God wants more than this for you, just as you do. He wants better. He wants total and complete restoration of health, wholeness, and goodness in your life and in the world around you. He wants it so much, he bought it with his own life. And every moment in human history is bringing us closer to the time when his righteousness, justice, and powers of creation will usher us into the world we were meant for.

Every time we acknowledge just how desperately our lives and our world fall short of the one God created, we agree with God. Each time we get angry, or sad, or wrecked at seeing someone in pain, our hearts beat in time with God’s. And every single time we whisper a prayer of longing for the people and places we love to be whole and flourishing, we catch a glimpse of God’s grand vision for his creation.

There is grace in your disappointment. You have been given a tangible expression of the longing that lives in your heart and mine. And God wants you to stay with it.

In Matthew 5:1-12, Jesus teaches about the counterintuitive ways God blesses people, in the passage known as The Beatitudes. In Verse 6 he says God blesses people with a promise of satisfaction, and it’s not the ones who have everything; it’s the people who live with a gnawing hunger and thirst for righteousness. In other words, Blessed Are the Unsatisfied.

This verse pronounces blessing on people who are longing not only to be righteous themselves, but to see God’s righteousness reign. They are longing for the better world we were all made for—a longing that will not be satisfied in this life.

Jesus did not trivialize our hunger and thirst any more than he trivialized the pain of mourning, purity of heart, or the work of peacemaking. He declared we are blessed if we stay hungry and thirsty—desperate for his kingdom, which is the only kingdom where we and all we love can possibly be restored.

God isn’t afraid of your disappointment. He wants you to live in awareness of the gap between your current circumstances and the ones he is leading you toward. But disappointment isn’t your only choice, and he doesn’t want to leave you there. He wants to turn your disappointment to anticipation.

Chronic disappointment is one path to dissatisfaction. Anticipation, on the other hand, comes from being temporarily unsatisfied. You can choose to be unsatisfied rather than dissatisfied.

What’s the difference?

Dissatisfied people believe God owes them something and isn’t delivering. Unsatisfied people know God has promised something he will deliver. Dissatisfied people learn to expect life to let them down. Unsatisfied people learn to live with long-term expectations. Dissatisfied people try to quell their desires with spiritual and emotional junk food, while unsatisfied people keep the coming feast in view and keep their appetites sharp for the real thing.

As I wrote in my book Blessed Are the Unsatisfied, “While dissatisfaction implies either rejection or frustrated pursuit of satisfaction, unsatisfaction is something more like acceptance combined with anticipation. It is acknowledgment of desire without the demand that it be satisfied. It is a kind of openness that doesn’t ask for closure. It is a kind of desire that can live with deferral. It is an embrace of the God-shaped vacuum in us and a commitment to stop trying to make it full. It is a healthy hunger that is content to wait for the feast.”,

God is not put off by your recognition that life is not what you want it to be. He is in it with you, more than you can know. The good news is, he is in the business of redemption, restoration, and re-creation. His good plans will far exceed your wishes. So live in grief for what you have lost, and live in anticipation for what will be. You are blessed.

  1. Tam says:

    This is lovely. I have come to this place in my life, but never read it spelled out so eloquently. My daughter has mental health issues and the pain and heartbreak of watching her grow up, rejecting a relationship with God and making poor choices, has been a huge life-disappointment to say the least. Well-intentioned believing friends live by the “rule” that Jesus came to give us abundant life and so all must go well. That has not been my experience. Finding anything about mental illness in the Bible, other than demon-possession, is difficult. My go-to verse is John 14:1. I’m glad I found your blog. I’m always looking for ways to help my daughter.

    • Amy says:

      Tam, I’m so glad this is helpful. I hope you’ll find some other encouraging articles here and resources elsewhere. Please know that you’re not alone.

  2. Amy,
    I so appreciate your candor and vulnerability surrounding your mother’s mental illness. My mother was an alcoholic and diagnosed bipolar. Upon her death two years ago, my therapist and I concluded that I indeed had been mourning her death since her first attempted suicide during my sophomore year of high school. In addition to that, despite the great improvements she made in rehab, I also had to mourn the disappointment that I didn’t have the mother-daughter relationship I had always dreamed of. I found that I had experienced so much shame over my mother’s illness and it wasn’t until recently that I began sharing with my closest friends about what actually happened. In that vulnerability, I found that I was not alone and that my story opened the door to share the gospel with my best friend, encouraging healthy boundary setting and loving her mother despite her diagnosis. It also has opened the door to encourage women in my MOPS group and women’s accountability group who are also in codependent relationships with their parents. This topic is one that I hope to write about in my next book.
    I love that God meets us in our disappointment, blesses those whom the world deems as weak, and desires to use our dependance on Him to do unbelievable things for the purpose of bringing Him glory.
    I loved hearing about your book in this post. I will be listening to your audio book over the next few days and adding your other books to my “read next” list.
    Do you have any new books that you’re working on? What books are you reading these days?

    • Amy says:

      Melissa, thanks for your encouragement! And it’s great to hear that your own story is becoming a ministry to others. It’s an exceptional kind of blessing, isn’t it? To answer your questions: I’m not currently working on any new books. I’m taking a hiatus while I concentrate most of my time in a fairly new full-time role as an acquisitions editor. So I’m helping other people write their books! And I’m currently reading a book called Liturgical Theology, by Simon Chan. It’s challenging and changing my view of the church.

  3. I simply cannot stop listening to your audio book. I had to take a break to grab water during your Well chapter. I loved your approach. Though it is so tempting to preach a “thirst no more” theology, I am reminded that the kingdom is already but not yet. We have access to God constantly through the Holy Spirit, who is the comforter, helper, advocate, and friend, but that does not remove the suffering of this life nor remove the longing for eternity and perfect communion with God. I so appreciate your honesty and call to reassess theology and ask hard questions. I have always wanted to thirst no more, but I recognize that doesn’t fit with my personal story, nor the stories of suffering of those early church martyrs, modern persecuted church, believers in impoverished nations, etc. If this thirst no more or health and wealth theology doesn’t apply to all believers, I cannot accept it as accurate theology. Thank you for speaking this controversial truth in your books and recognizing the place of suffering in the gospel promise of the now but not yet kingdom–providing perseverance, character, and hope through the Spirit to help us to endure suffering in this life, but also a deep thirst and longing for the hope on the other side of eternity.

    • Amy says:

      You’re welcome, Melissa! I’m so glad this message is resonating with you.

      • I appreciate your responding to me! The truth in your book actually inspired me to take a slightly different direction during my miscarriage support group teaching today. I was teaching that nothing can separate us from God’s love, even our own anger in the midst of grief, from Romans 8:38-39. In fact, Jesus himself experienced righteous anger in Matthew 21; He was passionately moved over the disrespect being done in the temple; a place He loved, His own home. I initially was going to speak only on Romans 8:38-39, that nothing separates us from the love of God, even our own anger. I felt prompted to include also Romans 8:35-37, that even our suffering and hardship doesn’t separate us from the love of God. God still loves us in our suffering, the reality of suffering does not reduce God’s goodness or love, and suffering is not a form of punishment–specifically in the case of miscarriage. In our American society that is mostly devoid of poverty, persecution, and hardship, it is hard to comprehend this truth. I so appreciate your candor and willingness to broach such a controversial theological topic.

        I will definitely need to add Liturgical Theology to my list! I have a very limited understanding of liturgy but have so much appreciation for the beauty and rich history of liturgy. A close friend of mine is Catholic and we were recently discussing praying through the rosary. I found the Rosary of the Holy Spirit and have really enjoyed praying through the Our Father, Glory Be, and Apostles Creed (with which I was familiar) as well as the 3 Prayers to the Holy Spirit, 5 Mysteries, and the Veni, Creator Spiritus (with which I was not familiar). It was so beautiful and grounding knowing that I had the opportunity to share in these prayers that thousands of believers have prayed. I had never heard of the rosary of the Holy Spirit before last week, but would definitely suggest looking it up.

        I actually found your website through the Mt. Hermon Christian Writers Conference page. I am really looking forward to meeting you and will be sending you my book proposal as an Advance Submission–I am excited to receive your feedback.

© 2019 Amy Simpson.