A Super Spectacle of Disappointment

It’s the day after. The game is over. The commercials have finished. The parties have been thrown, the crowds dispersed, the trophies awarded, and the annual ritual of American sport has run its course for another year. But not everyone is happy. Given the make up of American football only 1/32 of us are happy today. Chances are you might have actually cheered for a team last night, even if it wasn’t your regular, tried-and-true team. However, if your team didn’t win, even the team you rented for the night, you feel a distinct disappointment today. There is, in most of us, a bad taste left in our mouths that isn’t the cheese from too many nachos gone bad. We wanted something spectacular.

We wanted the heroes, the gladiators, the pinnacles of human physical fitness and physique to accomplish something. We wanted the wily veteran who is about to retire to go out on top. Or we rooted for the rookie, who is getting his first taste of championship-caliber life, to achieve the victory that he rose from the ashes to grasp. And yet, one way or another, failure is staring the majority of us in the face. It has been said that losing the Super Bowl is more difficult emotionally, professionally, and physically than to have never played in the game at all. Yet, every year 31 teams face the failure of not having won the “Big One” and one team in particular feels it more than any other. They’ve tasted the glory, if only momentarily, and now all they’re left with is a Big-Gulp of disappointment.

Athletes are not the only ones facing the Day of Disappointment this morning. For some of us we’ve woken up to the stark reality that we were cheering for a loser. As a boy I found myself waking up with the bitter disappointment of seeing my heroes lose three Super Bowls in four years. The only thing that made it feel any better was watching fans of the Buffalo Bills deal with the crushing blow of loss in four consecutive seasons. Still it stung. My heroes were failures. My friends would laugh and mock me for wearing the uniform of a known loser. People would feel sad for me because I chose to like the loser. Hanging my head in shame, disappointment greeted me regularly.

Disappointment Destroys

Where does the sensation and feeling of disappointment come from? Why are we downcast and troubled when our sports teams lose, when business prospects fall apart, when plans are shattered, or when commitments are broken? Why does disappointment plague us so often and in so many corners of our lives? The answer seems to be in understanding the opposite of disappointment, hope.

The wisdom writer of Proverbs seems to best illustrate that disappointment is really “hope deferred.”  It is that hope deferred, delayed, or denied that makes our hearts sick (Proverbs 13:12). Conversely, the fulfillment of a desire or dream is like a tree of life; abundant, enjoyable, nourishing, pleasurable, and sustaining. So disappointment is our dreams, desires, and hopes put off and abandoned until another time. We hoped and believed that something in some way would be ours, only to discover that it had been snatched away from us once again.

The consequence  is a sick heart. We feel terrible. If you were banking your hope yesterday on the team that lost you don’t feel so hot about it today. You may have a handful of excuses for their loss: the refs, the pre-game meal, the injured players, or the half-time show. Whatever your excuse is you still feel let down. This feeling can play itself out in much larger scenarios than sports. Anyone who has been dumped, duped, or lied to knows the feeling of this heart-sickness. In fact, the higher we place our hope in the fulfillment of an expectation, the deeper the disappointment we will feel once that hope is not realized. Next time you discover a friend of yours has unexpectedly had their love relationship broken, look into their eyes and you will see a deep well of disappointment.

Quit on Hope?

If misplaced and unrealized hope brings us soul-sickness, what sort of remedies are available to us? For some the answer is simply not to hope deeply in people or projects or teams again. We quote mantras like, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” We pledge ourselves never to get so close, never to hope so deeply, never to love so intensely, never to be fools again. We leave all emotion behind so that we do not get burned the next time around. Hope isn’t merely deferred it’s lost. We become calloused, cynical, skeptical, and worst of all despairing of everything. The reason the motto of a Chicago Cubs fan is “wait until next year” is because they realize it is never “next year.”

Distancing yourselves from placing hope and confidence in others however won’t undo the burden of disappointment. At our core humanity is utterly broken. Our brokenness will always find us being either the victim or the perpetrator of disappointment. The sad reality is that all of us, no matter how unattached and disenfranchised we are we will taste the ugly cup of disappointment. However, just accepting the reality that we will be let down at some point or another isn’t the right remedy. If we walk through life in that manner we will become the real-life-embodiment of A.A Milne’s character Eeyore. There is no joy, no hope, no actual life in life. Disappointment is the plague of humanity and we best accept it and get on with being disappointed in everything.

The Death of Disappointment

If disengagement from hope or unimpassioned acceptance of disappointment isn’t the answer, is there one? Jesus’ interaction with two close friends, and sisters in John 11 reveals something deep about overcoming disappointment. The simple plot of the story is that one of Jesus’ close friends, Lazarus, has died. The sadness of that event cannot be overstated. However, the expectations and hopes of Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha were not met either. They had sent messengers to Jesus to come as quickly as he could to heal their brother. They had banked hope upon hope that Jesus was able and powerful and willing to heal his friend. But Jesus showed up, in their opinion, too late. Their brother was dead and gone. There was no more hope and all that remained was the disappointment of loss, failed hope. Their hearts were sick. They had banked on a winner, and Jesus had come up a loser.

Both sisters expressed their disappointment to Jesus in the exact same way. “‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’” (John 11:21, 32). Many people feel a disappointment with God because he didn’t play by their rules. He didn’t meet their expectations or respond to their actions the way that they deemed he should have. Prayers were not answered in the manner they should have been. Distance and disappointment with God is felt because it didn’t happen as we thought it should have. If God had done what we planned for him to do, we wouldn’t feel the sting of hope deferred.

This all seems well and good, but if we consider the character of God we have a problem. Does God lie? Does he make promises and fail to meet them? Does he string us along with carrots of hope all the while placing an unbearable burden upon us that we can never haul ourselves?  If we are fair, we have to recognize that the problem isn’t with God, the problem is with us. The problem is so deep within us that we can’t even rightly put our hopes in the right place. We hope for God’s power to intervene in a difficult situation. We hope for God to work a miracle to undo us from the terrible circumstance that we’ve placed ourselves in. We hope in God’s actions instead of hoping in God himself.

This was the source of disappointment for Mary and Martha. They thought they had Jesus under their control, ready to do their bidding and serve their needs and problems however they felt most wise. However, Jesus had one purpose in mind, his glory (John 11:4). Jesus ordained the temporary death of his friend to more greatly reveal and display his glory and power over death. Lazarus was raised to life, but only after Jesus redirected the hope of his friends from Jesus’ ability to act onto Jesus himself.

This is our remedy as well. We will find disappointment in just about everything, even seemingly mundane things like Super Bowls. The reason we feel disappointed is because we have hoped in those people and things to deliver on whatever we were expecting. Our hope is placed in broken cisterns. Jesus invites us to place our hope in a different source. He invites us to turn from hoping in people, power, and events. He calls us to hope in him alone. He told Martha, “‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die’” (John 11:25-26).

If we want to overcome the paralysis of disappointment, we have to place our hope in a better source. We must bank our hearts desires and dreams on Christ himself. For so many of us we expect God to do great things, even to do things that bless and benefit us. However, when God doesn’t do what we want, we live with Super-Bowl sized disappointment. Our solution is Jesus himself, not what Jesus can or should do. When we hope in Jesus we will not be overcome with despair and disappointment because things don’t work out as we always anticipate in our lives. We can live with faith and confidence that Jesus is doing all things for his glory, and for our good. We can rest with certainty that this hardship, failure, and frustrations of this life is met by our great and sovereign King that reigns over all things, even our lives.

Here is a world beyond all disappointment. Christ has taken our disappointment and buried it within himself. He has been raised to life again so that we would have our deepest hopes realized in Him. There is no disappointment with Christ. Our deepest desires, dreams and hopes are all realized and discovered when our deepest hope is placed in Jesus alone.

Jeremy Writebol(@jwritebol) has been training leaders in the church for over thirteen years. He is the author of everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present (GCD Books, 2014) and writes at jwritebol.net. He lives and works in Plymouth, MI as the Campus Pastor of Woodside Bible Church.