If You’re In the Middle of Managing Disappointment

by Susannah Baker

Several of my people have experienced hard things, really disappointing things this week.

Just when we all thought we were almost out of the woods with COVID, cases started to rise and masks started to go back on.  Once again, life can come to a screeching halt and things took a sharp turn for the seeming worse with one little word on a test result: “positive.”   And all of our well-made plans that we thought this time, finally, were fool-proof were not.

So every morning this week, I’ve woken up with John Newton’s words pressed heavy into my heart both as hope and prayer for those who are walking through disappointment:

“All shall work together for good; everything is needful that God sends; nothing can be needful that He withholds.”

Those words bring healing and hope much like a surgeon’s scalpel – they cut deep into the reality of our disappointing circumstances and lay bare what we really believe about God, not just what we profess to believe.

We either really believe that God is good and does good (Psalm 119:68), or we believe that the goodness of our circumstances dictates the goodness of our God.

It’s hard work to believe the former.

It’s hard work to lay bare the true feelings and bitter disappointments of our hearts before the God we know could have intervened, saved, or helped if He so choose…but didn’t.

It’s hard work not to let our disappointment grow into mistrust of who God is and learn to say, “But even in this, Lord, I will trust You.”

But it’s work that is worth it.

Because can I remind us with a gentle truth: When this round of COVID cases decreases, when the pandemic is quiet and settled once again, we still will not be in control of our circumstancesPandemic or no pandemic, we will always be managing disappointment.

As my husband is fond of saying, “We are always walking down into a valley of suffering, through a valley of suffering, or coming up out of a valley of suffering.”  It’s just part and parcel of living life in a world that groans underneath the weight of sin.

But a disappointment-filled world isn’t where we were meant to live, and a sin-cursed world isn’t our forever home.  The presence of our good God is (Psalm 90:1).  So all of disappointments serve as gifts to turn us towards the presence of the One under whose wings we find eternal shelter, protection, redemption, and reward.  

That’s not the hope we always want to hear; but it’s the hope we need to hear.  At least, I know I do.

I am so tempted to think I know best, not only for me but for the people I love.  And my definition of “best” always avoids suffering and steps around disappointment instead of embracing and walking right through it.

But God’s best always knows exactly what we need to live a life that is fully surrendered to Him.  He always knows exactly what disappointments we need to produce the perseverance, character, and hope that enables us to run a strong race to our forever home.

As I processed the disappointing news about one of my nephews missing out on something that he had worked so hard for and looked forward to for so long, I thought about the quote from John Newton I love so much and looked it up it in its full context.

On August 19th, 1775, Newton wrote a letter to a friend and closed with this paragraph,

Your sister is much upon my mind. Her illness grieves me; were it in my power, I would quickly remove it. The Lord can, and I hope will, when it has answered the end for which He sent it….I wish you may be enabled to leave her and yourself, and all your concerns, in His hands. He has a sovereign right to do with us as He pleases; and if we consider what we are, surely we shall confess we have no reason to complain; and to those who seek Him, His sovereignty is exercised in a way of grace. All shall work together for good; everything is needful that He sends; nothing can be needful that He withholds. Be content to bear the cross; others have borne it before you. You have need of patience; and if you ask, the Lord will give it: but there can be no settled peace till our will is in a measure subdued. Hide yourself under the shadow of His wings; rely upon His care and power; look upon Him as a physician who has graciously undertaken to heal your soul of the worst of sicknesses, sin. Yield to His prescriptions, and fight against every thought that would represent it as desirable to be permitted to choose for yourself. When you cannot see your way, be satisfied that He is your leader. When your spirit is overwhelmed within you, He knows your path; He will not leave you to sink. He has appointed seasons of refreshment, and you shall find He does not forget you. Above all, keep close to the throne of grace. If we seem to get no good by attempting to draw near Him we may be sure we shall get none by keeping away from Him.

How beautiful is that!  And how amazing and appropriate that the quote I’ve heard so often is in the context of Newton’s friend struggling with disappointment over his sister’s illness. It was as if the words written almost 250 years ago were for today.  We are not alone in carrying the weight of our disappointment – others have borne it before us and can show a well-worn path to walk of trust and hope in God if only we will choose to look.

The words Newton uses to end his letter bear repeating:

“If we seem to get no good by attempting to draw near Him we may be sure we shall get none by keeping away from Him.”  

Like Newton reminded and admonished his friend, if you are in the midst of managing disappointment, do one thing: draw near to God.  Good is not found in walking away from Him but towards Him.  Good is not found despite our disappointment but in our disappointment.  In fact, our disappointment is often the very medicine for the wound we so desperately need healing for and from: our sin.

God isn’t always interested in restoring our circumstances if our circumstances hinder our intimacy or closeness with Him; but He is always interested in restoring our souls (Psalm 23:3).

Restoring our circumstances is the easy part.  In Christ, our future is secure.  Heaven is real, and we will live forever with Him in our eternal home.  All shall be redeemed far beyond anything we could ever imagine.  But in the here and now, before we take our final breath and see Jesus face to face, God is interested in preparing our hearts for that final homecoming.  And He will use all of our disappointments, all of our failures, all of our messes, even the ones of our own making, for our good and His greatest glory.  Our circumstances are often the prescription we need to find healing for our souls and to keep us close and pressed in to the throne of grace where we always find help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

So if you are knee-deep in disappointment today, turn towards the God who remains good, ever and always, even in the midst of managing our disappointments.

Goodness is always found wherever He is, in whatever He allows.  And in His presence is always where our real comfort and hope is found.

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord In the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.  Psalm 27:13-14

For more encouragement throughout the week, you can find me on Instagram, @baker.susannah.