Apparently we do not always get the gift we hoped for according to retailers. Retail stores will process a flood of returns starting today. Around 75% of people surveyed this Christmas season said that they would be returning gifts for various reasons. Clothes that do not fit properly, technological gadgets that do not function properly, things that are just unwanted – will find their way back to the customer service desk or the UPS store.
Have you wrestled with missed expectations in your life? Have you ever felt that someone over-promised and under-delivered?
It happens in so many ways. The move to the new town is loaded with expectations of a whole ‘new start,’ and then the person finds that he is still the same, living in a different place. A new job seems to offer so much more fulfillment but then the routine settles in and it’s just ‘a job’ like the one before it. Marriages fail when two people bring very different ideals about the relationship to the altar and then find that other person is incapable of being that ‘person of their dreams.’
There is one way to avoid being disappointed, but I do not recommend it. If you withdraw from life, refuse to get involved with others, and avoid risk as much as possible, you will reduce your risk of disappointment. But, is that how you want to live, safely insulated from both joy and sorrow, hiding from life? People who are fully alive, working to make a difference in the world, and loving others will eventually deal with missed expectations.
The worst kind of disappointment can happen to us spiritually when we are taught wrong things about God: Who He is, how He acts. When prayers appear to go unanswered, when we find ourselves wrestling with life in spite of doing the right things, we can become angry with Him, though it can be hard to admit.
Let me suggest some important choices we can make if we find ourselves struggling with disappointment with God.
The first seems counterintuitive, perhaps.
Reset your life’s anchor in the Person of God.
Instead of focusing on those things you think He should have done, on those situations where you cannot see Him at work, contemplate His majesty, thank Him for being love, for His grace, for His patience … as you choose to ‘be still and know that He is God!” (Psalm 46:10)
Preacher Isaiah watched Judah fall ever more deeply into spiritual malaise, knew that God was going to allow Assyrian invaders to destroy Jerusalem and even the Temple. Life might have made him bitter or filled him with despair. What did he do? He settled his hope, not on changed circumstances, but on an eternal God. He inspires me to greater faith as he reminds me that “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:30-31)
Sometimes we must choose to adjust our expectations. In a recent conversation with my adult children they teased me about having ‘adjustment issues’ knowing that both my personality and my stage of life tend to make me resistant to change. But, I am not alone. People generally work at making a life that ‘works’ for them. Then, reality arrives, and with it, the inevitable need to adjust, to adapt. Some refuse and invest tremendous amounts of energy fighting to make life just as it was, to force people and situations into an ideal that they have created for themselves.
Here’s a brutal honesty. That choice will be a destructive. Self, as the center of existence, leads to a life of misery, bitterness, and loneliness. I love the opening lines of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
In our human interactions, there is an important choice to make – forgiveness! Forgiveness, in one sense, is releasing others from our demand that they act in ways we approve or like. Forgiveness is a choice to submit to a higher purpose and to surrender our disappointment, the offense, to God. How can we do that? In the faith that He will bring all things to justice in His time.
When we release that person who has disappointed us to God’s justice, we find freedom from the anger, hatred, and bitterness. Jesus taught that unless we forgive, we cannot find forgiveness! “Forgive us our debts, as (in the same way) we also have forgiven our debtors…. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:12) Forgiveness is a greater blessings to the forgiver than it is to the forgiven.
Today, even as you may be thinking about some gift returns, I encourage you to thank God for His Perfect Gift. As you do, you will find both a preventative and a cure for disappointment. If you’re struggling to make sense of the will of God, of the actions of others, or even of the mysteries of your own heart, start here.
“Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do,
everywhere you go;
He’s the one who will keep you on track. ” (Proverbs 3:5-6, The Message)
(Matt Redman builds our faith with this song of praise)
Bless the Lord O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name
The sun comes up it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes
You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find
And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore
Worship Your holy name
Lord I’ll worship Your holy name
Jonas Myrin | Matt Redman © 2011 Atlas Mountain Songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
CCLI License # 810055