When Joseph found out Mary was pregnant, he must have been crushed with disappointment. He had been anticipating their wedding and life together when all of a sudden his dreams were dashed and he found himself in a very difficult situation. What’s a God-fearing man supposed to do when his fiancé tells him she is pregnant and he knows the baby is not his? Joseph’s initial solution was to walk away quietly.
Everyone experiences disappointment – biblical men and women of faith, moms and dads, leaders, pastors. As I reflect on 35 years of ministry, I’ve run head on into disappointment a number of times. Sometimes I’ve been disappointed in the congregation I pastored. It was usually just a segment of the church but it felt like everyone. I remember returning from sabbatical one year and being really frustrated with the lethargic commitment and irregular giving habits of the church as a whole – both while I was gone and after I returned. As catharsis, I wrote a newsletter article that expressed my heightened frustration. I never intended to send it. I just needed to get the disappointment off my chest. I showed the article to my worship pastor and then threw it in the trash can. He retrieved it, had the secretary print one copy of the newsletter including my discarded article and he sent it to my home address. Imagine Cindy’s state of mind when she received it two days later and read it. She thought I had lost my mind. She was both relieved and peeved at the worship pastor when she found out it was a prank.
I’m sure you’ve been disappointed at people in your church. Maybe it’s the person you invested a lot of counseling time in only to have the person continue to make really bad decisions. Or the person you thought was a really good and trusted friend only to feel stabbed in the back. Or maybe the staff person who really needed to leave but resisted and things got really messy. Or maybe you were the staff person and you felt betrayed by the lead pastor. Or ___________. You fill in the blank.
Sometimes we are disappointed with God. I know I’m probably not supposed to say that out loud, but let’s be honest – sometimes we are. We hold to a promise in Scripture and feel deep in our spirit that God is going to honor that promise in a certain way. Then God doesn’t do what we think He should do and we feel let down by Him. That is a miserable feeling and can even become a crisis of faith.
What do you do when you are disappointed with someone?
- I’ve seen people (even church people) revert back to toddler behavior and have a total melt down. I’ve even tried that approach a few times myself. That’s never helpful. It hurts others and makes us look childish. But that kind of behavior can sure be tempting at times.
- I’ve seen people give whoever disappointed them the cold shoulder. The silent treatment strangely makes us feel like we are making our point loud and clear, but it actually makes us look very immature and selfish. I’ve never seen it work constructively to ease disappointment. But I have tried it a few times. Ugh!
- I’ve seen people talk unwholesomely about the person who disappointed them. The rational seems to be that “if I just tell enough people, then I’ll feel better.” That’s extremely ineffective, trashes relationships and is just plain wrong. But it has a strange appeal.
What did Joseph do when he was disappointed in Mary? Though the Bible doesn’t overly say it, I suspect they had a conversation. Imagine how awkward for Mary to tell Joseph, her fiancé, that she was pregnant. She knew they had not been intimate. She knew how this would appear to him. I would love to have been a fly on the wall as she tried to explain to him that the child was of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t appear that their conversation went particularly well because afterwards Joseph planned to end the engagement quietly so as not to humiliate Mary. Not wanting to humiliate her tells us a lot about Joseph’s character.
After the incredibly painful conversation with Mary, Joseph had an encounter with an angel who gave him a new perspective on the situation. Wouldn’t it be nice if each time you experience disappointment your own person angel came to you to help you sort through your feelings and give you new insight? Wait a minute. Isn’t that what God does when we take our disappointments to him and lay them at his feet? Doesn’t He help us talk through our feelings, give us insight into ourselves and maybe even into the situation and then help us work through it? This happens most often for me when I journal about a disappointment. As God and I interact through journaling, we make progress addressing the disappointment or whatever else is bothering me. I am amazed at the new perspective He gives me.
When you are disappointed, don’t BE a character. Face it WITH character. Talk with a trusted friend but, just as importantly, talk with God about it. Sort through what you are feeling. Seek to understand why you feel the way you do. Then intentionally choose to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. One thing I am learning about leadership is that great leaders choose to look at things with positive intent rather than assume the worst.
God, help me to respond courageously to disappointment and not let it sabotage my character and my relationships. Give me your insight and wisdom.
Have a blessed and Merry Christmas! May the living Savior give you strength and perspective as you face life’s disappointments.