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July 10, 2020

That’s it?! That’s all you’ve got?! That’s the best you can do?

Ever gone to a movie that got rave reviews, that your friends said was fabulous, the best movie they’ve seen this year, and when you finish watching it, you kind of think what I opened with? Yep. If it wasn’t a movie, it was something else that you anticipated being great that missed the mark.

Well, my friends, that’s life. Thankfully, life’s not just an endless string of disappointments, but disappointment is a part of life. You have very little power to stop disappointment. What we do have is the choice of what we will do when we’re disappointed.

I believe almost nothing offers a clearer indicator of our maturity (or lack of it) than how we respond to disappointment. Mature people respond in one way and immature people respond in a whole bunch of other ways.

Although I can’t recommend him for his faith, because he was an avowed agnostic, I think of Thomas Edison as someone who knew a lot about dealing with disappointment. He burned through thousands of filaments, seeking the one that could sustain under the electrical charge to light up the light bulb. The story’s famous about a reporter asking him about these thousands of failures. His response was that he knew thousands of things that weren’t the right one, and that put him ever closer to the one that was.

Edison was not easily discouraged. Some of his most significant inventions resulted from hundreds, even thousands, of failures and disappointments. And many of his inventions required dozens of improvements before they met his standards.

There’s only been one Thomas Edison. The rest of us aren’t quite as resilient toward disappointment and failure. I freely admit I’m way not Edisonian in my responses to disappointment.

What’s your “standard operating procedure” for dealing with disappointment?

For me, some of it depends on the depth of disappointment. If something doesn’t matter much to me, like a movie, I move on pretty quickly from the disappointment. But if its something deeper, more important to me, moving on is harder.

Becoming irrelevant and/or no longer useful are things that I don’t quickly bounce back from. It’s happened in my career and it’s happened in my relationships. When it happens, I have to recontextualize myself, re-invent myself, to move past it. I think people in my demographic will get this.

The Covid-19 thing has been a string of disappointments for me. I’m guessing it has been for you, too. Things that you had planned for. Things you had hoped for. Things that just aren’t going to happen now. Some won’t happen at all. Others won’t happen when and how you had planned or hoped they would.

It looked like life was going to get back to normal, with sports events, church, normal shopping and dining, travel. Nope. Now it looks like that’s not going to happen. Anyway not as soon as I want it to, More disappointment.

For lots of us, this is a season of disappointment. Try as hard as you can or want to, but you’re not changing this.

So let me offer a couple of things to try (because they actually work pretty well) for dealing with the inevadible disappointments in life. You might want to teach them to your family, through your example and through your direct teaching.

First, ASK GOD TO HELP YOU BY GIVING YOU MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL PLASTICITY AND AGILITY. In other words, ask God to give you grace to adjust to the things that happen to you. If you can train yourself, with God’s help, to spend less time stewing and fuming about the things that disappoint you, you may even be able to leverage the disappointment. This is essentially what Thomas Edison did.

For some people, this is easier than for others of us. I say “us,” because I’m in the group that finds it difficult to do this. Due to temperament, some people can just roll with it lots better than others can. If you’re one of these, stop right now and thank God for this gift of temperament. If you not one of these, then the prayer for mental and emotional plasticity and agility is essential for us. Use whatever words you want, but call out for God’s help with this.

Then monitor your self-talk. I’d call this “Step 1-B.” You now, the silent monologue you carry on in your mind. What are you telling yourself about the events that are disappointing you or have disappointed you? Are you just rehashing and reliving them? Do you get caught in a spinning cataract of frustration and irritation? It’s easy to do. And the more important the disappointment or the thing you’re disappointed about is to you, the more likely you’ll be to revisit and rehash it in this negative way.

When you notice your self-talk taking you into the whirlpool, acknowledge it. Denying it won’t help you. Admit your disappointment and frustration to yourself. You might find it helpful to tell someone else about it. Be careful, though. If you’re pretty bent out of shape when you talk about it, they may feel like you’re accusing them of causing the problem. And if you do this over and over with the same person, unless they’re your paid therapist, they may get fatigued and avoid you.

You don’t need a script for this, but here’s how I’d suggest you talk to yourself: OK, that’s disappointing. I’m kind of mad about it. Actually, I’m really mad about it. I can’t fix it right now. I may never be able to fix it. God, give me grace to move through this, instead of getting stuck in it.

The second thing is really closely related to the first. ADJUST YOUR EXPECTATIONS.

I don’t think there is a context in life in which realistic expectations are not helpful. Most of the conflicted marriages I get to help with are conflicted, at least in part, because of unrealistic expectations. Often, one of the things that makes them unrealistic is that they’re unstated. In marriage, a disappointed unstated expectation can be devastating. Here’s a little marriage tip: eliminate mind-reading by eliminating as many unstated expectations as you can. You can’t stop having expectations. That’s not what I’m saying. Son’t even try. But you can, and must, eliminate unstated expectations by converting them into stated expectations. I’ll some day write a whole blog about this. But for how, this is enough. Get rid of unstated expectations. They’re grenades with the pin pulled.

Adjusting your expectations is very smart as you are in the process of setting them. In other words, be mindful and thoughtful about how realistic your expectations are as you’re setting them. is it realistic to hope that this event or thing or person will put you over the moon? Sometimes it’s just not.

I’m not suggesting that you take enthusiasm or excitement out of the process. Be enthusiastic. Be excited. But try to be realistic about what you hope to feel about your realized expectation.

Once you’ve been disappointed, though, you have a choice to either adjust your expectation and alter your plan, or to get high-centered emotionally by your disappointment, and stay stuck until God and the universe decide to throw you a bone.

Some disappointments can actually be leveraged for forward movement. This is what Edison did. But no disappointment will be leveraged by people who are stuck in them. Much easier to say and write about than to actually do. Believe me, I know.

And then one last thing about disappointment. Phil Keaggy (one of the finest guitarists in the world) wrote a song many years ago with a line that has stuck in my mind: disappointment, His appointment; change one letter…

When I let Him and His grace shape my response to things that disappoint me, there really are times when in retrospect I realize that this disappointment really was His appointment to bring His best my way.

What if you and your family learned how to respond to disappointment by and according to God’s grace? I’m pretty sure it would pave a path to a great life in a world that will never not be full of disappointment.

From → Marriage, Parenting

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