What Do We Do with Disappointment

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Photo by Pam Ecrement


The dictionary definition reads, “the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.”

One of the challenges we face in life is the reality of how disappointment haunts us.

Though we may try to control or limit our exposure to it, it is not truly preventable and it goes beyond feelings. Our feelings are connected with the neurotransmitters (neurochemicals) in our brains so disappointment is also physiological. Many of us know the neurotransmitters often mentioned in news or health reports: serotonin and dopamine. These and many others not only influence how we feel, they react to what we are experiencing and try to determine what we will need and want.

Photo by Pam Ecrement

When we experience something  we love, something that gives us pleasure, our brains (with the help of the neurochemicals) start to anticipate and predict it will (or we hope it will) happen again in the future. We start to have expectations based on that and as a result the dopamine levels in our brains start to go up.

Jonathan Merritt notes in his book (Learning to Speak God from Scratch) that we actually get a “double shot of dopamine.”

Jonathan goes on to add:

“Here’s the rub. Life doesn’t always give us what we expect. People fail us. People hurt us. People lay us on the altars of their own selfishness. When you don’t get the desired result – you experience what researchers call a ‘reward-prediction error’ – not only do your dopamine levels fall, they plummet from the heightened level generated by your expectations.

Now, instead of receiving a double shot of dopamine, you receive none. You crash doubly hard.”

Looking at that scientific research helps explain why it takes us so long to recover from some disappointments, especially major ones.

Photo by Pam Ecrement

We also sometimes fail to realize how our hopes turn into expectations and assumptions. Those occur not only about things and people, but God as well. When our knowledge of the Word is spotty or skewed by looking only at selective verses, we ignore the greater context or the whole counsel of scripture.

Sometimes we are also impacted by our earliest religious experiences that may not have been wholly accurate at best.  They may be very biased based on our age, how mature we were in our faith, and who exposed us to them and their significance to us.

We can be tempted to create a picture or sense of who we believe or hope God is. Then we may find verses to support that and soon you have strong convictions this is who God is and how He should respond or act. As long as He is operating within that framework, we are okay. But what happens when we are disappointed? We can begin to not only be disappointed in God, but distrust Him and feel as if our world is falling apart.

C.S. Lewis wrote a great deal and some of his profound works included the pain of loss in A Grief Observed and the issue of suffering in The Problem of Pain.  What he says about pain is not an easy truth to hear:

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Disappointment brings with it the possibility of doubt.

The enemy knows well that doubt has worked well as a device ever since the Garden of Eden when Eve tells him she will die if she or Adam eats of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The enemy creates doubt with these few words, “You will not surely die.”  I wonder if in that moment Eve considered all she knew about God and his love and agreed that certainly they would not die given God’s love for them. So she yields and the rest is history for the human race.

Doubt can be deadly.

What do we do with disappointment and doubt?

The Lord desires us to have a conversation about it rather than behaving as a child who goes to his or her room and slams the door shut on dialogue.

Jonathan Merritt gives clarity to what truth we need to grapple with:

“…in times of difficulty, God offers us presence, not a parachute.

What we experience as disappointment is an invitation to give up holding tight to what we hope is true. To stop trying to cast God in our image. To let God be who God is, not who we wish God would be.”

Photo by James Wheeler from Pexels

6 thoughts on “What Do We Do with Disappointment

  1. All our lives we battle to understand God which is impossible. Oh that we would instead channel that energy in allowing God to be God in our lives. Love CS Lewis quote…yes, he surely gets our attention in pain if nowhere else…

  2. Hi Pam.

    When doubt creeps into my thoughts, I often consider whether I’m going to allow the enemy to have his way–which is to grow cold in my faith–or turn to the Lord despite my lack of understanding. It was a journey getting to that place.

    A Grief Observed is interested but I haven’t read The Problem of Pain yet. Thanks for the recommendation.


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