The hard lesson of dealing with disappointment is something that hit home for my family, and most especially for my daughter, yesterday as we attended her back-to-school night. After a number of months of her enjoying her summer filled with lots of play, swimming, staying up later and sleeping in longer, she eventually yearned to see her schoolmates again, and most especially her best girl friend. Alongside hundreds of other families we all scanned the lists of the various classes, searching for our kids’ names so we could find what teacher and classroom they were assigned to. My daughter and her best friend jumped and hugged, and shrilled as only adolescent girls can, as they saw both their last names on the list for the same class.
Within ten minutes their glee turned to sorrow when we got to the actual classroom and realized the girls were mistaken—it wasn’t her name on the list but her brother’s—and that meant she wasn’t going to be in the same classroom with her friend. For days the two girls had talked incessantly about being together as they voiced their hopes with images of sitting next to each other and doing assignments together. The difference between fantasy and reality can feel very cruel and unfair.
Disappointments happen to us all the time, whether they are as simple as a canceled appointment or as serious as the death of a loved one. Learning how to handle disappointment will greatly determine how well we navigate through the land mines of life, especially if we want to be our best for Christ.
Here are four things you can do that will help you turn your disappointments into opportunities:
1. Take a big breath and step back
There have been a number of times when my disappointment has felt like being hit in the gut by a professional boxer. Taking a short break is like stepping out of the ring between rounds so you can get your breath and a drink of cold water. Disappointment can be a powerful emotional state, which can be intensified when you are physically down too. Taking a step back is healthy and it is not the same as turning to some form of physical comfort such as unhealthy food or any other addictive behaviors such as alcohol, drugs, or immoral acting out.
2. Express your feelings
Letting your feelings out is a lot like using a pressure relief value to blow off the steam on a pressure cooker. It stops the dangerous pressure from building and allows you to access the good food inside. Allow yourself to feel disappointed, and then try to give voice to why you are feeling that way. This is not the same as saying you should rehash or stew the disappointment over and over in your mind. Rather, let the feelings out and talk it out calmly with a friend, especially someone who will not inflame the situation. And by all means, when you are dealing with great emotional turmoil STAY AWAY from social media because there is too great a potential for being misunderstood and hurting others.
3. Seek different perspectives — look for opportunities in the midst of the problem
People tend to have either a general positive mindset or a negative one, but brain science has proven that we have the ability to change how we think. If you tend to be a negative person, then it will require harder mental work for you when disappointment happens, but you can develop a mental habit of finding good in the midst of the bad. For instance try thinking like this, “I am disappointed that my friend is not meeting me for lunch, but I now have a lot more free time so how can I use that positively?” My mom often would tell me when bad things happened that “there is a silver lining in every dark cloud.” It was my job to find it, that’s what it means to find opportunities in the midst of the problem.
4. Stay anchored in the true spiritual realities
Remembering that God loves me and is always with me helps me to keep my mind from going down the dark rabbit hole of self-pity, unworthiness, and rejection. This means that no matter what happens to me I never lose perspective on how I am completely loved, accepted, and approved by God because of the work of Christ on my behalf. When this is my reality, it really does not matter what happens to me or what disappointments I suffer because I am complete in Jesus and I will live with God forever. After all, it’s pretty hard to feel much disappointment when I’m thinking like this.
Learning how to handle disappointment will greatly determine how well we navigate through the land mines of life, especially if we want to be our best for Christ.
What other ways have helped you deal with disappointment? Let me know in the comments below.