From time to time at church we have special services in which people are invited to share their praise and thanksgiving for how God has worked in their lives. We typically hear stories of how God came through in some impossible situation, whether bringing deliverance from some form of addiction, or restoring a broken marriage, or providing physical healing from illness or injury, or providing a job to someone who was jobless. Certainly, these incidents are all reasons to celebrate and praise God, and they can be very encouraging to hear about.
However, sometimes I long to hear testimonies of how God didn’t come through in miraculous ways. Strange as that may sound, I think sometimes I relate better to those who have known great disappointment. Please don’t get me wrong–I’m not discounting the importance of testifying to God answering prayers. But while it’s important to acknowlege the successes that God brings into our lives, I think it’s also imporant to acknowlege the disappointments, the situations that did not turn out how we wanted, the prayers that were not answered according to our heart’s earnest pleadings.
There is much to be learned from life’s disappointments. It is often in these times that I lean most heavily on God. I feel closer to Him in times of brokenness than I do when everything is seemingly going my way. In these times, I learn the true value of having friends and family to lean on. I am reminded that my sense of worth is not wrapped up in my marital status or my career path or how many friends I have.
Disappointments can serve to remind me that life’s too short to live in the past, take loved ones for granted, focus too much on work, or take myself too seriously.
In these times I learn to value God for who He is, not for what He does for me.
Disappointments offer opportunities to pull back and look at life from a broader perspective, realizing that God’s plans do not revolve around me, but rather remembering that what’s happened is ultimately for the good of His kingdom as well as me.
Disappointments are not the result of a lack of faith. In Hebrews 11, aka the Faith Chapter, the writer spends time commending men and women of great faith in the Bible. First, he acknowleges those who experienced extraordinary outcomes:
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. (Hebrews 11:32-35a)
Now, those are some triumphs to celebrate. But then, the writer offers a sobering reminder that not all the prayers of the saints are answered the way we’d like:
Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. (Hebrews 11:35b-38)
Obviously, life did not turn out how these saints would likely have preferred. And yet, these seeming disappointments were paving the way for greater things:
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40)
We will all, at one point or another, face disappointment and heartache in our lives. Sometimes we may get the chance to understand the reasons why; other times, those reasons may remain a mystery for us, at least as long as we’re living on Earth. Regardless, God DOES have a reason for everything that happens–or doesn’t happen–to us.
Perhaps one day at church we’ll take some time to share not only some disappointments we’ve faced, but also the lessons that God has taught us through those tough times. And while I look forward to Heaven and spending time hearing firsthand accounts of the lions’ den from Daniel and other heroes with amazing tales, I also want to spend time with John the Baptist and Stephen and others who were martyred for their faith. The lessons and perspective that they can teach us are not to be discounted.