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The Upside of Down | Disappointment, Depression and Spiritual Growth

“Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.” ~ Proverbs 13:12

As we get older, we often become masters at “lowering expectations”. It is a way of protecting ourselves that we learn from dealing with past disappointments. However, the lowered expectations are, at best, a shield thick enough to guard our conscious minds, but too thin to guard our hearts. The result is that we still have hopes/expectations, but we are less consciously aware of them and less consciously aware of our feelings about them. Therefore, we become less aware of our disappointments (unfulfilled hopes) and even less in touch with the feelings (e.g., sadness, depression) that they produce.

Observe children, they rarely have any sad feelings that they cannot pinpoint and they know precisely what will “fix” the sad feelings. They wanted a bike and didn’t get it so they are sad. They get the bike they wanted so they are happy.

God, our Father, often seems to deny us the things we want. Our imperfect faith and limited vision cause us to be disappointed by His failure to deliver our desires. But as “mature” Christians we learn not to “complain” about it: we try to accept His will and “move on”. But life just doesn’t work like that. Until our faith in Him truly grows, we CAN’T move on.

Disappointments, and the “heart-sickness” that accompanies them, create opportunities for reflection: they challenge us to confront our (limited) faith in God. They demand that we stay in place and wrestle with God: that we wrestle with our perception of who God is and who He should be. And wrestle we must until our faith in Him grows enough for us to thence move forward.

Disappointments in a child’s life work the same way. When Mom/Dad fails to deliver on a promise, it forces the child to confront the humanity, the fallibility, of their parents. It is at that time that they begin to realize that their parents are not perfect, that their parents sometimes fail, their parents are not superheroes. The child then has to decide if their parents are worth loving and trusting anyway.

Some parents fail so badly and so often that the child decides they cannot be trusted.

Some parents don’t do so badly. And the child learns that their parents love them and are trying to do their best, and the child puts their trust in that love, despite their failures.

But the parent-child relationship NEVER “moves on” before those issues are resolved. Indeed, sometimes it takes years, even decades, to find a resolution. But, until a resolution comes, all parties are relationally stuck.

comfort bears-1

“Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.” ~ Proverbs 13:12

Often, a child who desperately wanted a toy that their parents never gave them grows up and does not want that toy anymore. Then they grow up some more, and they realize their parents’ wisdom in not giving them that toy.

The point is this: they had to grow to get there. It was growth, maturity, that took the child from the first stage to the last. We too must grow in our faith to get to the point where we agree with God. However, ignoring our disappointments only undercuts our ability to grow, because we never face our feelings.

In the Bible, Job confronted God with his feelings, he voiced his disappointment with God; he aired his grievances. And, by the final chapters of his book, Job grew and depression left him. The man who could find comfort, in the end, was comforted.

“Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him:” ~ Job 42:11

Rather than deny our disappointments with God, it is far more helpful to face them head on. Yes, even it means we complain, whine, and fuss just like a child would. We must confront the reality that our expectations of God often do not match the character of God. As we confront Him with His “failure” to meet our demands we might learn that God’s demands of us are more important than our demands of Him. As we wrestle with Him about whether He really kept His promises to us, we might learn that God’s faithfulness does not support our selfishness.

In closing, neither disrespectfulness nor irreverence is being suggested here. Rather, the proposal is that we are honest with God, our Father, and with ourselves about how we feel when things don’t work out the way we thought they should. As we pour out our disappointments to Him, He will give us a new and correct perspective as He did with Job (Job 38-42). It is that new perspective that allows us to grow spiritually as we get a better understanding of God and a better understanding of ourselves.

1 Comment

  1. What an awesomely accurate depiction of hope deferred making the heart sick. Absolutely love the way you lead us to that place of the tree of life!

    What you say here is how I encourage my clients to approach God rather than sit and stew in their “unexpressed” anger and disappointment. Perhaps we forget God sees and knows it all and recognizes when we pull away from Him. He is not judging but waiting for us to approach Him with our cries so He can comfort us. So much more to say.Awesome article.

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