When I was a kid, the words “I’m so disappointed in you,” stung more than any other. Even now, I’m super careful to say it to my kids, knowing the effect it had on me. Making someone mad I can handle, but disappointed? That’s a whole other level of shame and woe.
The root of all suffering is attachment.
Suffering happens when something or someone we’re attached to comes undone. Attachment is that gelatinous connection we have with others, ideas, beliefs, and ways of living.
You know disappointment, you know it well. We don’t talk about it anywhere near enough. Most of us (myself included) have been clueless as to what to do with it, and so it sits in the corner, being ignored, all the while festering and tainting our perspective. With all the talk of faith and hope and expectation, we need to be able to put disappointment, suffering, and unmet expectations on the table beside them. Either it's all included, or we’re missing the point.
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The Psalms are a great comfort to me in this. The laments and the questions and the rage and the heartache for all the disappointment – those self-inflicted and those otherwise – they tell me that my disappointment is not something to ignore.
We quote all these scriptures when we’re in the thick of life. Ones like:
“I know that plans I have for you… for good and not evil…” (Jer 29:11).
“God causes everything to work together for good…” (Romans 8:28).
“Faith can move mountains…” (Matthew 17:20).
We become so attached to our prescribed and projected “outcome” of these scriptures and what we think they mean, that when they don’t come to pass we suffer the pain of it. And often in silence, because in most of our faith traditions, faith and expectation are meant to work. Or if not in silence, we use prescriptive scripture to numb the suffering. Something like:
“My ways are not your ways…” (Isa 55:8)
Should we just stop caring? Stop expecting? Stop hoping?
No. Please don’t. Detachment is not the antidote for unmet expectations and suffering. In fact, sorry to say, but there is no antidote. There is no way always to get what you expect. Even if you expect nothing because ‘nothing’ rarely happens to any of us.
There’s a third way, a kind of “in-between and both” way. A way of holding both the hope of something more and the devastation of what has happened in both hands and seeing it all the way through. I never want this space (Pocket Fuel) to be one where were trite with the darkness that lurks in all our lives. Faith isn’t a bandaid; it’s an invitation to travel all the way through whatever comes our way.
But first we have to do something many of us find hard: we have to let go.
We have to let go of what we think faith and expectation and hope are meant to do if we’re ever going to find out what they really do.
Disappointment is a part of it. A sacred, holy, part. It teaches us how to see a thing through. It shows us where we are.
And the real miracle is when you can look all those unmet expectations (even those of an innocent teenager with high hopes) in the face and somehow be grateful for where they landed you.
Written by Liz Milani