Dealing with disappointment

Disappointment is a tough emotion to grapple with. Where does it come from, how do we deal with it and what does this look like for Christians? Gary Jenkins helps us explore these themes in his blog.

AN Image of Gardy Jenkins Gary Jenkins
6th June 2024 5 minute read
A mural on a shop shutter saying 'Hope' and 'Believe'

They were a picture of disappointment. Eyes downcast, shoulders hunched, they recounted the events of the last few days: 

The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. (Luke 24:20-21) 

That little phrase ‘we had hoped’ says it all.  

Soon their situation was to be transformed by the realization that Jesus was alive but, before we rush on to the joy of resurrection, let us stay with their experience of disappointment for a few moments. 

It is not just the disciples on the road to Emmaus that experience ‘we had hoped’ moments. It is the experience of Christians down the centuries and across the world. It may particularly be the experience of Christians in urban mission contexts. 

Why we are reluctant to talk about disappointment? 

We like to accentuate the positive. We want to praise the Lord in all situations. We want to see what is good even in bad circumstances. We believe God is good and God is in control, so there must be some good somewhere to be found, even in the most desperate situation.  

We don’t want to let the side down by saying we feel disappointed in our Christian work, or even worse, in God himself. It feels like a lack of faith to express such feelings even if they are very strong within us. 

Why we are disappointed? 

Results may be meagre, resources may be low, the work is small scale, and hard going. There may be reversals and setbacks. We may feel isolated. We may face criticism, verbal abuse or even threats of violence. Some of our hopes have simply not been realised and it is hard to admit that. 

Comparison with larger, more thriving, resource-rich churches doesn’t help either. It only accentuates the sense of failure and disappointment.  

We may be physically drained and emotionally exhausted, and what makes it so hard is that it all matters so much. We want to serve the Lord. We want to advance the gospel. We want to bring God’s love and grace to the communities that we passionately care about it. The disappointment and the pain are all the greater because it matters so much. 

What do we do in the face of disappointment? 

  • Admit it. There is no point in pretending we are not feeling what we are feeling.  
  • Share it – with a trusted friend, colleague, or mentor.   
  • Bring it to God. Tell God about it. Pour out your heart to him. Tell him what you feel and why you feel. 
  • Place it in the context of the place where you work. If you are working in a hard-to-reach community, recognise that this is part of the story. If you are working in a low-income community, with deep social needs, and high levels of mental health challenges, recognise that this is part of the story. Comparisons with ‘easier’ places simply don’t apply. 
  • Second, place your experience in the context of God’s overall sovereign plan. Remember his word will not return to him void. The key moment on the road to Emmaus was their realisation that Jesus was with them. Likewise, he is with you. We have his promise for that at the very moment he sent the disciples out for mission: 

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations… And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) 

He has risen from the dead. He has won the victory. We are on the winning side however difficult and troubling our current circumstances are. However, small and uncertain our local victories are, the global, universal, victory of the Lord is undiminished and undefeatable. 

  • Consider what has happened, what has been good, what has been achieved, even if was less than your hoped. 
  • Remember the principle of 1 Corinthians 3:6-7. Distinguish between what is your responsibility and what is God’s. 
  • Look after yourself. Your own well-being is important. Take time to regroup and refresh.  
  • Remember who you are and who you belong to: God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription, “The Lord knows those who are his” (2 Timothy 2:19) and be encouraged.

Written by

Gary Jenkins

Gary Jenkins is the Dean of Estates Ministry in the Diocese of Southwark, responsible for encouraging ministry in 178 estate parishes in south London and East Surrey. Formerly vicar of St James & St Anne, Bermondsey. Married with two grown up children.

AN Image of Gardy Jenkins
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