When Life is Disappointing

Originally published Monday, 17 June 2013.

Talking about life over dinner one day, my friend looked at me and said, "My life is such a disappointment." We talked of broken dreams, failures, unexpected trials, and wondered--where is God's blessing in all of it?

Another friend and I had a similar talk. Where does brokenness fit in the Christian life? How about when sins, failures, and weaknesses continue to haunt us--even after following Christ for years? How about when we pray for healing and it doesn't come? What about when the despair never comes to an end? And what about when we cry out to God but he doesn't answer?

These are all questions that we rarely voice aloud. These are feelings we wouldn't share with others. After all, people would raise eyebrows and question our faith. Because as we've been taught in the American church, God blesses us when we do the right thing. When we pray in faith, he gives us all things. So if life is disappointing, we must be doing something wrong. Right?

But, I wonder, what if--what if life is supposed to be disappointing? And what if that disappointment is the doorway to something greater?

Too often, we live our lives either in the doorway or on this side of the door. We seek our satisfaction in temporary and fleeting things.  We live as though seeking happiness in this life is why we are here. We follow distractions that lead us not toward but away from what truly satisfies.

And on those occasions where we actually admit and face our disappointments and broken dreams, we fight against them. We resist opening the door, resist stepping into our disappointments to see what lies on the other side. Like Lots wife, we look back to what we once had, wishing we could return to what was familiar and tangible.

If we gave up our hopes, goals, and dreams-as good as they might be-and pursued the greater dream, what might our lives look like? If we accepted the trials, broken dreams, and suffering as the pathway to our greatest joy, what would change about how we look at life and how we live?

I get emails all the time from the hurt and wounded, from those whose hopes have failed, who've prayed and God has not answered. Each message I read breaks my heart and moves me to sorrow for them. I want desperately to step into their situation, snap my fingers, and make all the pain go away.

But what I'm learning in my own life is that if I could make my own pain go away, it would be a great tragedy. For it's my pain, my dashed hopes and failed dreams that brings me to the One who fills all the aching parts of my soul. It's my brokenness which draws me to Christ, the One who was broken for me.

The question is, what's on the other side of the door? What do we find when we cross the threshold from what we think we desire to what fulfills every desire? The answer is God Himself.

Larry Crabb writes in Shattered Dreams, "The suffering caused by shattered dreams must not be thought of as something to relieve if we can or endure if we must. It's an opportunity to be embraced, a chance to discover our desire for the highest blessing God wants to give us, an encounter with Himself." But do we really believe that? Do we really believe that God is our greatest desire, that we were created to be in fellowship with him, to love him, to be known by him?

For me, my current happiness often comes from a peaceful day and well behaved children. When my plans work out, when my goals are achieved, when I don't have to worry about bills, when everyone is healthy, then I feel safe to breathe in happiness. But if God is my greatest desire and source of joy then no matter what happens around me my joy cannot be moved.

Because I don't live as though God is my greatest desire he has to take away my lesser dreams so that I can dream higher. He has to remove my false idols and all the things I like to have under my control so that I will walk through that doorway. And sometimes, I have to crawl through that doorway on my knees in brokenness and complete surrender.

Jesus knew the way to joy was through the doorway of suffering. "For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). It was Christ's suffering at the cross that opened the door to our redemption and freedom from sin. It was his suffering which tore the curtain that separated us from God. Because of his death, we can now enter God's presence with complete confidence.

As Christ's follower, if I want to truly know and experience him, I too have to enter that same doorway. I have to enter into my own disappointments, broken dreams, and failed expectations. Not because broken dreams and suffering are good, but because good awaits me on the other side. Because Jesus conquered sin and death, I can experience the joy of knowing God in this life and look forward to an eternity with him in heaven.

Life is supposed to be disappointing because it pulls us away from lesser dreams and draws us to the joy Christ purchased for us at the cross. When disappointments come in this life they are opportunities and open doors for us to seek and find what our hearts most long for--God Himself.

"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29:13