One Christmas Day, our youngest son Timmy (who has Down syndrome) eagerly opened a Christmas present. As the wrapping came off and he began to read the front of the box, his shoulders slumped. Shaking his head, he just sat there—thoroughly deflated. “It’s crap,” he stated. We all cocked our heads and looked at him with confusion. He held up the opening to the top of the package and raised his voice, “It’s crap! I got crap!” Again, we all exchanged mystified looks.
Suddenly, I realized what the two-fold problem was. First, Timmy was still a beginning reader. And second, Timmy had only ripped off part of the paper. And the word he saw was actually “cap.” Not “crap.” The present he was holding was a “cap gun.”
Disappointments in Life
All of us can identify with Timmy—with the disappointment of getting (or thinking we were getting) something we never desired—or, conversely, of not receiving something we did deeply desire. When our expectations exceed what reality brings, we can easily feel disappointed. And disappointment can be a tough emotion to navigate. (We’re assuming, for our discussion here, that I’m referring to expectations that are based on legitimate desires—not expectations that are either a function of an entitlement mentality nor desires that God has clearly stated in his Word as “out of bounds” to us. Those are topics for another post…)
What are the disappointments in your life right now? No matter where they fall on the spectrum of depth and intensity—how are you contending with them? Maybe you expected a promotion and just found out that you didn’t receive it. Maybe your daughter is engaged and your son-in-law-to-be is not even remotely the type of man you had envisioned for her. Maybe your church just seems to be fracturing over ongoing petty disagreements—and you feel disillusioned by that. Maybe you’re still single and deeply wish that you were married. Maybe you are married and have recently been blindsided by an unexpected divorce you never wanted. Maybe you are reeling from the shock of a diagnosis of permanent disability for a family member. Maybe you’re having to come to terms with the reoccurrence of your cancer—again.
In a sermon recently, my pastor shared this quote by counselor Sharon Hersh: “Your quality of life is determined by how you live when you don’t get what you want.” How are you living in the face of your disappointments?
- Are you binging on food or alcohol?
- Do you check out with the Hallmark movie channel or endless episodes of your favorite show on Netflix?
- Do you numb yourself as you scroll endlessly on your phone, spending hours on Instagram or Facebook?
- Do you try to fill your life with empty substitutes for your losses, hopping from one frantic activity to the next?
- Have you stopped wanting anything so that you don’t need to feel disappointed again?
- Are you harboring resentment towards those who have received what you did not?
- Have you shut off your heart to God and others and are marinating in your own chronic sorrow?
- Are you in super-assertive mode, attempting to control everything around you so that you will never be subject to such pain again?
If Sharon Hersh is right, you may find the clues to how you are really living in your experience of the quality of your life. Or, as is often stated in snarky fashion in social circles today, “So…how’s that working for you?”
Because Christ has Made Us His Own
In Philippians 3 Paul writes, “I press on to make it (the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus) my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Have you ever thought of that truth as being central to how you process everything in life? The starting place is that “Christ Jesus has made me his own” and because of that, we press on to make him our own. Let that sink in—to the core of your soul. When that truth is the center of our understanding, at the very fabric of our being, it changes how we live out the processing of our experiences. But, how exactly does the truth that Christ Jesus has made us his own relate to how we process disappointments in life?
First, when we belong to Christ—and experience our life in union with him—we have a Savior and Brother and Friend who knows what it is to live with disappointment. Colossians 1:16 states, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” Have you ever wondered what the experience of the incarnation was like for Jesus? If Christ is also our Creator—what was it like to enter this beautiful world of his Creation, now broken with all the ramifications of the fall on display in every area of life and in every human relationship he encountered? Every. Single. Relationship. That had to be so difficult—and a constant source of unmet desire accompanied by human feelings of disappointment. His desire for us is a life of image-bearing that reflects and honors him and blesses the world around us. Was this, in part, one aspect of his earthly experience as the “man of sorrows?” Jesus, who has made us his own, is not a stranger to disappointment. We can take comfort in his identification with us.
Second, there are some commonalities between Jesus and Paul Harvey. (If you’re a millennial, you may have no idea what I’m talking about!) Paul Harvey was a radio commentator who had a short daily show called “The Rest of the Story.” Each day, he’d tell a tale that left his audience thinking that one thing was going to happen, only to reveal information at the end that told “the rest of the story.” It was all about the “ah-hah” moment. Jesus has already written the story of your life—and he can’t wait to show you “the rest of the story.” Like Timmy, it is possible for us to pull off part of the wrapping paper of our life’s story and be deeply disappointed by what we think we see. Sometimes we haven’t got the eyes of faith to read the words of our situation for what they are really saying. Many parents who have children who are born with disabilities struggle navigating the co-existence of two truths: 1) that their expectations of giving birth to a “typical child” have not been met, and 2) that the child who is packaged in unexpected ways is an authentic gift whose story—full of a different kind of potential—has yet to be told. Christ, who has made us his own, calls us to trust him as the Author of our stories.
Finally, Christ is not only Creator and Author, he is our Transformer. The night before my husband Fred and I were married, all our luggage was stolen from our cars while we were attending our rehearsal dinner. At the wedding the next day, our pastor gave a wonderful homily on Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana. He reminded us that Jesus turns water into wine—taking the disappointments of life and transforming them into something beautiful. That wise counsel has been immensely helpful throughout our lives. Christ, who has made us his own, calls us to have faith in him to bring his transforming power to bear in our lives. To turn our water into wine. To take our crestfallen-laden experiences and bring glory to his name and good to our lives through them.
“Your quality of life is determined by how you live when you don’t get what you want.” How will you live differently today amid your disappointments in life? Christ has already made you his own. Let that truth saturate your heart. As your Creator who became incarnate, he has walked in disappointment like you have. As the Author of your story, he knows how it ends—he knows “the rest of the story.” And as the Transformer of your life, he has the ability and the will to turn your water into wine. Christ has made you his own. Identify with him. Trust him with your story. And have faith in his transforming power. That is how you make him your own, in grateful response.
About the Author:
Steph served as Director of Mission to North America’s (MNA) Special Needs Ministries from 2007 to 2016. She currently works as a Research Fellow in Disability Ministry in partnership with Covenant Theological Seminary. She also serves on the Lancaster Christian Council on Disability (LCCD). Steph is the author of Same Lake, Different Boat: Coming Alongside People Touched by Disability and All Things Possible: Calling Your Church Leadership to Disability Ministry. She has been published in ByFaith magazine, Focus on the Family magazine, and Breakpoint online magazine and has produced a Christian Education DVD series based on Same Lake, Different Boat. Steph and her husband, Fred, have been married for 34 years. They have two deeply loved adult sons: Fred and Tim, the younger of whom has Down syndrome.