Disappointment: 4 Steps in Overcoming the Letdowns of Life

spilled milkLife has felt an awful lot like a roller coaster ride these days. Chances are, you’ve experienced the same sort of thing. One day life feels as fresh and full of hope as a beautiful spring day. You go to bed and wake up—and boy, have things changed. Before you know it, a conversation or email plunges you to the pits of despair. There’s spilled milk everywhere!

All of a sudden, what you thought was steadfast hope and faith collides with an unexpected reality check leaving behind disappointment big enough to knock you down.

A natural optimist, I generally see the good in people or in situations. But I’ll be the first to admit just how quickly my positivity is overtaken by a depressive spirit. Sometimes it takes every ounce of spiritual maturity I have to climb out of the deep places that disappointments take me.

Disappointment leads to hurt. Hurt leads quickly to anger and anger to bitterness. By that time I’m fighting to find a sliver of forgiveness in the deepest crevice of my heart.

If not for a strong belief that God can bring good from the worst situations, it could be overwhelming. Thank God we have the advantage of 20/20 hindsight that comes because God has rushed in and proven that he is bigger than any disappointment that has ever come our way.

Rarely is God the one who pulls the rug out from under us. I’m not saying he can’t or won’t ever do that, but it seems to me that God occasionally allows a “big picture” view when it comes to taking care of us. I don’t mean that as an existential statement saying God does not care and isn’t intricately involved in every aspect of our lives, because I know he is. I simply mean I believe there are times when he allows injustice or disappointment to happen in our lives for the sake and benefits of what he can and will do in the big picture if we trust him and move forward with confidence.

Disappointments are a part of life. People let you down. Your body fails you. A precious child suffers and dies. Cancer comes back. Friends betray you. Bosses turn on you. Organizations toss you aside. The Stock Market falls. Children make bad decisions. Old habits—thought conquered—return, [insert your disappointment here] , and the list goes on and on …

It doesn’t matter “which” disappointment you’re dealing with now, this one thing holds true: no matter how bad life looks or how let down we feel, hope is always there. In fact, it is the believer’s constant companion—even when you can’t see it, it’s there.

So how do we overcome the letdowns of life? Here are four steps I use to process disappointment and help me move on with life.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
Psalms 34:18

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#1. Grieve
Although I’d like to say I am able to start the process of overcoming disappointments with step two, personal experience has taught me that it is almost impossible to defeat deep disappointment without going through a grieving process of some sort.

Feel your disappointment. It’s okay to be sad and grieve. When things don’t go the way you’ve planned or expected, or when life as you know it is shot down, it’s natural to be sad and even mourn what was or could have been. For some, grieving is a time of quiet reflection; for others, it involves tears and anger. Of course, the trick here is to release the sadness and accept the inevitable without feeding the root of bitterness that can quickly sprout up and flourish.

Pray. How blessed we are as believers to not have to carry the heavy burden of disappointment alone. Scripture teaches us, the load is more easily carried when the yoke is shared with others. We have Abba Father, Spouses, Trusted friends, Life group families; surround yourself by those who love and care for you and share your burden.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

God already knows about your heartache and disappointment, but tell him anyway. He wants you to talk to him. Be honest; speak from the heart. If you’re mad, tell him. (It’s okay—he’s God and he can take it!) If you want to know why, ask him. (Again, it’s okay—he’s God!) More importantly, ask for his wisdom and insight. Be still. Be quiet. Allow him to speak to your heart.

Cast your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.
1 Peter 5:7

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#2. Put Things into Perspective
It’s during my times of great disappointment that I’m reminded of Isaiah 55:8-9: “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your thoughts.”

Realize that God knows best. How many times have we railed against circumstances and disappointments only to praise God later for the way things turned out? Though it’s difficult to swallow, there are many times when God will use a very painful disappointment to move us; even if we feel called to be right where we are. It’s okay. He’s faithful. He’s our defender and will go before us. Psalms 59:9 says, “God, my strength, I am looking to You, because God is my Defender.

Other times God will use a disappointment to take us  where he’s been trying to get us to go. And, almost always, God allows it to grow our character and faith.

Be thankful. It might sound tough when you’re reeling from disappointment, but be thankful and look for God’s goodness and graciousness in your life. Sure, it’s easier to wallow in self-pity, but don’t. 1 Thessalonians 5:8 teaches us to, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” Easier said than done, I know, but be intentional about your thankfulness and God will bless your efforts.

Serve others. When someone or something disappointments us, the inclination is to withdraw, turn in and focus on ourself. That’s the easy choice. But it’s not who we are in Christ; We can chose to be driven by what has happened to us or we can push through and live by the principles that guide our lives.

When it’s hard to put things into perspective, that’s the most important time to find the good, grab it with both hands, and celebrate it.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah 29:11

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#3. Focus on God’s Purpose for Your Life
Do we serve the God of the universe or not? I mean this is GOD we’re talking about—the one who created the earth. The author of life, purveyor of miracles. essence of resurrection and all things new. Omnipotent, Omniscient, God; Savior of the world! He can do anything. ANYTHING! [Note to self: God is in control!]

Reaffirm your faith. When disappointment takes a nose-dive down into our lives, it often brings a crisis of belief with it. That when our faith has to kick into gear and make a conscious decision of saying “yes, I believe in God’s plan and purpose for my life.” “I trust him with my future.” “I believe he’s got this,’ and he’s looking out for me and one day I’m going to step back and see how God’s perfect plan unfolded in my life.”

Move forward. In the meantime, things may stink but God’s plan for your life and the way he has gifted and shaped you hasn’t changed. Step back and look at where God is at work around you; then move forward. Sometimes we become so focused on “us,” we fail to see where he is directing our path. Even in our pain and suffering, God will use us.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
Romans 8:28

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#4. Adjust Your Life Accordingly
There comes a point when all the wailing and gnashing of teeth subsides and life must continue. Psalms 30:5 says: “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Sometimes it takes a while to get to the “morning,” but eventually, the sun comes up. And when it does, there’s often change involved.

Embrace the change. If you can’t embrace change, go back to step three and review the part about God being in control. This is when we have to pull ourselves from the mire of disappointment and believe what we believe! If we don’t, we run the risk of becoming hostages to our disappointment.

Trust God and have courage. Trust God that you’re going to be able to say, “That was the best thing that could have happened in my life.” Why? Because sometimes God allows disappointments to take us where we otherwise would never have the courage to go!

Let go. The first time I went hang-gliding, I quickly realized it takes a lot more trust to jump off the mountain than to hang in the air. Once you’ve jumped, there’s not much more you can do than just hang on tight and enjoy the ride! We need to let go of “anything” we’re hanging on to tighter than God. The only thing we need to be holding on to IS God. Sometimes that “anything” may be more than just the disappointment—it may be people, places, jobs, homes, health—it may be everything. But, it’s when we let go of everything except God that hope thrives.

Hope Flourishes
This is what I know with all my heart: God has plans for us. They’re plans for good, not disaster; he wants to give us a hope that flourishes. We have a purpose and it doesn’t run or go away because someone or circumstances rocked our world. God will allow us to live out our purpose on this earth.

Even in the midst of great disappointment, God is preparing us for even greater work in the days ahead. Because of that, I’m inspired to make a promise this day—and every single day—to use my life for his good.

No matter what. Come rain or shine.

Billy Graham once said, “Even if we may not understand why God
allows certain things to happen to us, we know he is able to bring
good out of evil and triumph out of suffering.”

He can and he will.

Remember, it’s on the roller coaster of life that we discover the truth of Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength.”

We can and we will; because life’s too short to do anything else.

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Everyone Has A Story

Everyone has a story.

IMG_1709Although I was born in 1955, mine really started on the day I gave my life to Christ. I was 17 years old and to this day, I still remember that moment of letting go of my willful self and slipping out of the pew to walk down the aisle of the church I had attended most of my life.

It wasn’t a sudden decision.

When the Jesus Movement began sweeping across America in the late sixties, even my hometown of Louisville, KY saw its own mid-western version of religious coolness and I began my on-again, off-again relationship to the church. During my younger teen years, the church was the center of my social circle. There was a skating rink, gymnasium, youth activities and earnest youth ministers who moon lighted as seminary students (or vice-versa!). I attended regularly. I knew how to respond and all the right words to say. I was a good girl; one my parents could be proud of. The problem was that I had a head knowledge of Jesus but I never quite let him into my life.

When I started high school I went to church less. There were other things to do, boyfriends to date and my group of friends expanded to others outside the church. But my best friend, Karen Carter was always a rock in my life. She was the tie that kept me bound to the church. Her life was a constant reminder of my need for Christ and the church. Even when I sat behind her in home room at Durrett High School, it was what I thought about staring at the back of her head. My older brother, Dan was also a huge influence in my life. He sensed my struggle but he never condemned. He only encouraged and prayed for me. I knew this and I loved him even more for it.

Revivals were the hardest. I’d always tuck a little pack of tissues into my pocket because I knew I was going to cry and feel convicted about something. I just wouldn’t allow myself to figure out what it was I felt so badly about. So, I’d sit there feeling miserable. And worried. I might have an accident on the way home and it would be tragic because I didn’t quite have the salvation thing figured out. I remember hearing that Jesus was only going to knock on my heart’s door a few times — and if I didn’t answer, he might never knock again. I even answered a few times, but I wasn’t sure what to say when I saw Jesus standing there, so I’d quietly close the door, asking him to come back later.My father decided that if I was dating, then I had to attend church more. It was easy. Going to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday nights equaled three dates a week. So that’s what I did. I was physically there, but my stubborn heart resisted and stayed away.

I remember hearing a lot about God’s wrath and revenge during those years but not enough about his love or mercy. I watched so-called “Christians” live one way on Sunday and another way during the week. I always told myself, If I ever decide to become a real Christian, I would not live like that — I would be sold out. I’d walk the walk and talk the talk. If …

So here I was sitting in the pew, up front in the third row because I’d rushed into the sanctuary at the last-minute and it was the only place to sit. I’d just graduated from high school a couple of weeks earlier and I was feeling rather smug because I was pretty sure I had the rest of my life figured out. I had plans. Life was out there to be lived and I couldn’t wait to get started with life on my own terms.

But Jesus had other plans. No sooner had the sermon started than he began to speak to me. It was so real and so audible that I actually looked around to see if anyone else was hearing his voice. He spoke clearly and with authority telling me that I stood at a fork in the road of my life. I could either choose to go my way or I could choose to follow him. With great love, he reminded me that he had a plan and purpose for my life. All I had to do was follow. He would forgive my sin. He would turn my stubbornness to determination.

But, today was the day. I needed to make a choice. Go his way or go my way.

As he spoke, for the first time in my life, my heart listened and answered back. “You’re real,” it said. “I can feel you here and I’m not afraid!” I bowed my head, opened the door to my heart, stepped aside and invited Jesus to come in. And he did. To this day, I can recall the moment the holy spirit came to me. It was as if a cloak was gently laid upon my shoulders. I felt the weight of his power and presence immediately.

When the invitation was given, I did not hesitate. I was on a mission. My life was transformed. The holy spirit began guiding my life and choices immediately and I let him. Within two hours, I’d broken off a steady relationship and began exploring what God wanted me to do next. I knew my plans were over. I wanted only his will for my life.

A few weeks later I was traveling across Europe and it was amazing how God used this time to teach me. I met missionaries and other believers along the way and it was not only encouraging but eye-opening. Stretched out on a hillside in southern France with the wind blowing my hair and my face lifted to the heavens, God audibly spoke to me again. “I want your life,” he said. “You have me, Lord,” I spoke back aloud with sincerity in every word. “I want all of your life” he answered. Then silence. Speaking and praying with my pastor upon my return to the United States, I came to realize that God was calling me to ministry. I made a decision in that moment to go anywhere, to do anything, and say anything that he might ask. His purpose for my life was revealed!

Just a few months later, at the University of the Cumberlands where God led me to prepare for the work ahead, I met my partner in ministry and life, Terry Sharp. That was 39 years ago.

We’ve lived a lot of life since then and it has been amazing. There are times I close my eyes and consider what might have been if I’d chosen the other road — my way. There’s a moment of sheer panic. Darkness. But then I’m quickly reminded that I didn’t. I chose God’s way and I’m overwhelmed with gratefulness for his grace on my life. That’s why my life is amazing. Every day!

I’ve served him as a wife and mother to husband, Terry and daughter, Rebekah. I also have a son-in-love, Terrence.

I’ve served him on church staffs and organizations where I’ve walked alongside and learned from some of the most incredible men and women of God.

I’ve been privileged to be a part of innovative practices and strategic missions and God has used them to teach and prepare me for the task he has given me today.

I’ve served him as a missionary to Spain and Brazil where he allowed me to live out and share my faith in a way that I will never forget. I am forever changed because of the relationships and experiences I had serving God overseas. I’ve also discovered that, “Once a missionary, always a missionary.” The place of my assignment has changed but I continue to share my faith and build relationships wherever God directs. Volunteer missions around the globe will always be a part of my life.

I’ve served him with my strengths and spiritual gifts. He made me a leader, a teacher and a communicator and I’ll use those gifts in any way that he asks. I actively mentor young women. I consult with churches to help them find their voice in the area of communications. I’m a writer and a speaker — I serve him with my words, written and spoken, and I’ll continue to do so until he tells me differently.

I’m sold out. I’m always ready to go anywhere, do anything and say whatever he asks — anytime.

My story began 40 years ago on June 10, 1973. As I reflected and celebrated my spiritual birthday yesterday, it occurred to me that my story will go on forever. Eternally. How cool is that?

Everyone has a story and we should share them more often.

What’s your story?

© 2013 Kathy Chapman Sharp

My “Not-to-Do” List

Note: This article first appeared in HomeLife magazine back in the mid-nineties. Revised, it has been posted by special request. Hope you enjoy it as well!

I haven’t always been a list person. But when I married my sweet, wonderful, list-making husband, I never stood a chance. It wasn’t long after our wedding day until he realized what a disorganized waif he had married and decided to take on the personal challenge of making me a paragon of structure. For years he modeled list making around the house. With the changing of the seasons came a new list of things to be done – clean out gutters, wash outside windows, straighten garage, paint the mailbox. Proudly posted on the front of the refrigerator, it was a constant reminder.

I remember being awestruck when I first saw the lists he made at work. His calendar pages, filled to the edges with daily tasks were unbelievable! Inspired, I began to make my own lists: Groceries. Dinner guests. Books I needed to complete a collection. Packing for a week in South America. Things to do today.

Before I knew it, I was hooked and cranking out daily “to-do” lists with the best of em’!

It wasn’t long before my “to-do” list took on a life of it’s own. After a while, I learned to skip spaces so I could insert new things to do when the phone rang unexpectedly. I was, quite simply, obsessed with it.

Suddenly it seemed I could never finish the day’s assignments. My inability to say no, coupled with my tendency to be an overachiever, soon had me feeling like the depths of need that surrounded me were inhaling me in and spitting me out. Though I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, I knew something was wrong.

Finally I realized it was that darned “to-do” list! Overcrowded with responsibilities, endless meetings, and family obligations, my to-do list was dictating a schedule that left me frustrated and fatigued. Worse than that, I realized all that busyness was keeping me from the truly essential responsibilities God had given me as a Christian wife and mother.

Of course when I really thought about it I realized that the problem wasn’t in making the lists. Rather, it was not being selective about what I put on them. I knew I needed to pare down my to-do lists and make time for what was really important in my life. As I reflected on my predicament, I grabbed a pen and did what came naturally – I made another list. However, this one was different; it was my “not-to-do” list.

1. I will not allow anything to come between God and me.                     I learned a long time ago that the secret of being a powerful, victorious Christian is spending time alone with the Father each day. But admittedly, my life had become so busy I didn’t have time to nurture a personal, intimate relationship with God that was healthy and growing. I needed to revel in his quiet presence, study his word, and spend more time in prayer.

2. I will not allow busy, meaningless activities to take precedence over my family.
Like most Americans, I am extraordinarily adept at adding things to my “to-do” list. In fact, I was giving so much of my time away to insignificant distractions that my husband and daughter suffered the loss of my attention. Plus, after a full day of meaningless activities, there wasn’t a lot of energy left for being a fun mom and sexy marriage partner. Being a better wife and mother meant I would have to set priorities so I could spend more time with my family.

3. I will not neglect my personal needs and desires.
Somewhere along my journey of life, I erroneously understood that being totally selfless was a virtue. It’s not. I’ve since realized that we can’t possibly be our best for God and others if we continually neglect our personal needs and desires. The scriptures teach us that God created us uniquely. They also instruct that if we delight ourselves in him, he will give us the desires of our heart. When we seek our happiness in his perfect being, the desires of our hearts are proper and in perspective because they come from him. I’m a better person when I’m looking at life through his viewpoint; my personal needs are met, my heart’s desires are granted, and I find great fulfillment in the simple things in life; a morning walk, a long soak in the tub and my favorite activity, doing the Sunday crossword puzzle stretched out in front of the fireplace.

4. I will not say yes every time I’m asked to do something at church.
Even though I knew better, I somehow found myself so involved in church activities that I was actually spending more time at church than at home with my family. Of course, I was serving as a minister of education and administration at a large church, but I knew that was no excuse. I already knew that the best volunteers were those whom God had called to a specific task. They invested their time into their called ministry and it flourished. Other workers who took on multiple tasks usually ended up not doing any of them well and quitting before the year was over. My freedom finally came when I realized that God didn’t intend me to do everything – only what he asked me to do. It was time for me to listen more closely to what God was asking me to do.

Changes in my life didn’t happen overnight and I’m still notorious for making lists. (I’ll even admit here the sheer satisfaction I find in marking off a task on my list that has just been completed.) But, with determination and discipline I am able to set priorities that allow more time for the really important things in my life.

These days I’m relying on God to help me use my time wisely and keep up a more self-controlled lifestyle. I’ve learned to do less better and invest more time in the things that really matter – my Lord, my wonderful husband and daughter. My church, work, and personal ministry are still high priorities, but I’ve learned not to let them take over my life or steal from my time alone with God. The best part of all this is the wonderful sense of destiny that has returned to my life. There’s no more getting numbly from one day to the next. Life has passion again.

My “not-to-do” list helps me be happier and keep a great attitude and fresh perspective. It has also helped me simplify life. Now, before I add anything to my “to-do” list, I think twice and remember my “not-to-do” list!

Elizabeth Eliot once said, “A simple and orderly life represents a clean and orderly mind. Muddled thinking inevitably results in muddled living.” If you’re feeling frantic, frustrated, harried and hassled, perhaps it’s time you sat down and made your “not-to-do” list.

Now, I’ve got the clutter out of my life – if only I could just get it out of the garage!

For Further Thought: Stop and Smell the Coffee
T.S. Eliot once reflected that he had measured out his life in coffee spoons. Do you ever feel the fragmentation he was talking about? You give a little here and a little there, until suddenly it seems there’s nothing left. Write your own “not-to-do” list. Then, take a serious look at how you use your time by keeping an hourly account of how you spend your days for one week. After marking off the “not-to-do” items, you may just decide to not only stop and smell the coffee, but sit down and have a cup or two!

© 2012 Kathy Chapman Sharp

Caught in the Middle

I have a dear friend who is experiencing a lot of change in her life. She is handling things well, but soon she’ll have to make some big life-changing decisions. What I’m wondering is if she’ll truly trust God and follow the path of change he’s opening before her very eyes, or will she dig in her heels and refuse to move forward in his will for her life.

Not that change is always drastic, but in this case it will be.

It will mean leaving behind all things and all people customary and comfortable and having the courage to step ahead into an unknown and unfamiliar scenario. It will mean letting go of her current situation and hoping and praying that things will get better and she can stay. Most of all it will mean forgetting the past and forging ahead to the future.

And, that takes courage.

It also takes focus because sometimes we hold on so tightly to our current situations or things in the past, we can’t move freely into the future. We get caught in the middle and waste a lot of time looking backwards when we should be looking forward. In fact, we often get so caught up in the past we don’t realize that change brings an opportunity for a fresh start and the chance to be a part of something new and different.

It won’t happen overnight, but eventually her change will become real and exciting. That’s because when God is the author of change, we can count on adventure – and who doesn’t love an adventure!

The truth is life’s too short to fight change.

Accept it.

Embrace it.

Most importantly, trust God with it.
We don’t have to cling to the comfort of the familiar if we trust that he’s in control. More importantly, we can leave it to him to make sense of it all.

I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.                 Philippians 4:12-13 (Msg)

© 2011 Kathy Chapman Sharp