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How to Deal with Disappointment in Our Lives
Dr Alex Tang
Life is hard. Life is not fair. Anybody who has lived a few years will agree with these two maxims. The Teacher is Ecclesiastes was very perceptive when he wrote,
I have seen something else under the sun:
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all. (Eccl. 9:11)(NIV)
No matter how well prepared we are or how connected we are, we cannot get everything the way we want it to be. And when things do not happen the way we want it to, disappointment happens. Disappointment is so much a part of life that I would venture to say that life is mostly disappointments punctured with occasional episodes when things did actually happen the way we wanted it to be. Disappointment is one of the means of grace in which God helps us to learn to trust Him and to produce faith.
My Story (Three examples of personal disappointments)
First, I was not chosen to be a prefect. I always wanted to be a prefect in my secondary school, Victorian Institution. I was a prefect and school captain in Brickfield Primary School. However, in Victorian Institution I was not chosen as a prefect. Even now, I did not know why I was not chosen. I was very active in extracurricular activities. I was a scout leader, president of Science and Maths society, editor of Scientific Victorian, a school science magazine. I suspect the reason I was not chosen was that I did not represent my school in any sports. I represented my sports house in the 100m sprint. To me that was a major disappointment and I was very resentful and angry. However this disappointment forced me to decided that I will prove myself in other ways that I am better than those who have been chosen to be prefects.
Second, I was not given place to do medicine in University of Malaya. I did well in my HSC (Higher School Certificate which is equivalent to STPM) and applied for medicine. I always wanted to be a doctor. I listed University of Malaya as my first choice and University Kebangsaan Malaysia( UKM) as my second choice. At that time, there were only two medical schools in Malaysia. The offer from UKM came first so I accepted that. I did not know that automatically cancelled my application for University of Malaya. I like the campus of University of Malaya. When I was a secondary student, I visited the campus on its open day and it made a great impression on me. I have fantasised studying medicine and doing research there. So it was another major blow when I was admitted to UKM. I felt like a second rated student.
In fact, I was ashamed of it and tried to hide the facts from my friends. I was angry and disillusioned. This became worse when I discovered that out of a class of 160 students, there were only 3 token Chinese and 1 Indian. The lectures were to be in Malay and lecturers were from Indonesia. This was the time when the Dakwah movement was very active in the local university campuses.
Then I was awarded a scholarship for the best HSC results and this mean the government paid for my whole medical course. There were a few Christians but they did not meet together. By God’s grace, I was able to start the Christian Medical Fellowship and later the Bangi Christian Fellowship. Both groups are still meeting regularly for fellowship, encouragement and teaching.
Third, I did not pass my specialist exams in my first try. I decided to specialise in Paediatrics. At that time, there is no local Masters program as at present. To specialise, we have to go to the United Kingdom to do some training and then sit for a Membership examination. My wife and I scraped and saved from our meagre medical officer’s salary which was very low. We had just enough for one attempt. It was decided that I should go first, qualify and come back. Then we shall save for her to go for her own specialist examinations (she is also a medical doctor). So there was a lot riding on my passing the exams in the first try. And I failed!
I can still remember the shock and pain at seeing the results. All our dreams came crashing down. After the shock came guilt, depression and anger. It was a lot point in my life. The gloomy wet British weather did not help matters.
Then I was offered a job in a hospital. At only was I able to get more experience but I was able to save enough money to bring my wife so that she can take her exams. This time we both passed the exams and were able to go home to our children together.
Disappointments in the Bible ( Three Examples)
First, Moses and the Golden Calf
Exodus 32: 19-20
When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. And he took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.
Moses was with God on Mt. Sinai for forty days and God has given him two tablets of stones with the Ten Commandments, written by God’s own fingers. Meanwhile the Israelites were waiting impatiently for Moses. After a time, they begin to wonder whether Moses is alive. Soon, they even begin to wonder if Yahweh exists at all. Then they became afraid because they have no gods to protect them. So they pressurized poor Aaron to make a golden calf so that they can worship. The golden calf is the worship of Baal. In other words, they have shifted their worship to another god.
Moses must have been very disappointed. After all they have seen; parting of the Red sea, being fed by manna from heaven; being led by a cloud in the daytime and a pillar of fire by night, yet they doubted. Yet all these were forgotten in only forty days. They had very short term memory. His disappointment turned to anger. Moses was very angry.
The Moses burnt the golden calf, grounded the gold to powder, mixed it with water and made the people drink it. That was an object lesson in their unfaithfulness.
Second, Jesus and Jerusalem
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.
Jesus’ disappointment was that the Israelites, in spite of their privilege experience in being God’s chosen people and received so much lived experience of God yet did not know God nor were they willing to follow Him
Jesus reaction was deep sorrow.
He then continued with his path of going to Jerusalem, offering himself up as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. The torch has been passed from the Israelites to the Gentiles.
Jeremiah 35: 17
"Therefore, this is what the LORD God Almighty, the God of Israel, says: `Listen! I am going to bring on Judah and on everyone living in Jerusalem every disaster I pronounced against them. I spoke to them, but they did not listen; I called to them, but they did not answer.' "
God also was disappointed with Israel. Many times, he has spoken to them and asks them to return to Him but they had not listened.
God was angry.
Then Babylonians were allowed to conquer the southern kingdom of Judah and send the people into exile. The northern kingdom was already conquered and exiled by the Assyrians. Hence the Israelites experienced a period of exile from their homeland and the Temple.
Each of this examples showed the cause of the disappointments, the emotions involved and the way the disappointment was deal with. There are consequences in the way we deal with our disappointments; consequences to ourselves and to others.
How To Manage Disappointments
In this section, I will suggest eight steps in which we deal with our disappointments so that the outcome will be favorable.
1. Check the facts.
Make sure the facts are correct before you react. Many a times, we react to rumours rather than to actual facts. One of the most famous suicides was that of Queen Cleopatra of Egypt and the Roman general, Brutus. They were in love. After Brutus murdered Julius Caesar, Rome was plunged into a civil war. Octavius Caesar seeks vengeance on Brutus for the murder of his uncle, Julius Caesar. So he led an army to fight Brutus who had fled to Egypt. During the battle, Cleopatra heard a rumour that Brutus was dead so she committed suicide by putting her hands into a basket full of cobras. Brutus, who was very much alive, later found her dead body. In sorrow, he ran himself through with his own sword. The moral of the story is get your facts correct first before you react.
2. Experience your emotions (within reason).
When things do not go the way we expected, we are disappointed. It is natural to feel anger, hurt, guilt or sorrow. We must experience the emotions. Do not suppress them because suppressed emotions have a way to come back to haunt you. Cry, yell or tear your hair. But express your emotions appropriately and within control. Do not kick the cat. Do not throw things around. Do not commit suicide. Just let the emotions out until you are exhausted.
3. Share with a friend and pray together.
If you have a close friend, seek him or her to talk it and pray about him. Again the Teacher in Ecclesiastes has the right idea.
(Eccles. 4:9-12)Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
4. Decide whether you want to be in bondage to your disappointment.
Make a decision whether this setback will control you or you control it. If you fall down, you have to make a decision whether you want to get up or lie there on the floor. Lie there on the floor may be comfortable but somebody may step on you. Winston Churchill could have given up when the British army was driven out of Europe through Dunkirk during the dark days of the Second World War. Instead he realized that you may lose a battle but still win the war. So he fortified Great Britain and planned for the invasion of Europe.
5. Re-examine your goal (Is it realistic?)
If you decide to control your disappointment, then you have to do some reality testing. Is what you want realistic? If you have only one leg, do you want to be a professional footballer and play in the world cup? Get a friend or a church leader to help you in this. You may also seek the help of a counselor. One way is to divide a piece of paper into half. List on one side all the reasons you should continue to pursue what you want (the cause of your disappointment). On the other side list all the reasons why you should give it up. Then spend one week praying about continuing on. Next, spend another week praying as if you are giving it up. Finally spend the third week praying for discernment to know what you want to do. I am sure God will honour this discernment by leading you in the correct direction.
6. Look for other open doors.
If the door in front of you is closed and no matter how you pound on it, it will not open, then it is time for you to look for other doors or opportunities. Someone once said that if you keep facing the closed door in front of you, you will not noticed the opened doors behind you. So look for other opportunities. Maybe what you want is not good for you and God has other better opportunities for you.
7. Reflect on your disappointment.
It is often good to reflect on your experiences. Writing a journal will help because it will always be a reminder of what you are going through in this difficult period of your life. Later, you may spend some time reflecting on it. See where is God in all this? Maybe, you have not had the ‘big picture’ yet. Reflect on this in 5 year’s time. Reflect again in 10 years. You will be amazed at what the ‘big picture’ is.
8. Move on
Then move on. Do not let your disappointments shackled you. Experience it; deal with it and then move on. Life has many more interesting experiences for you.
Disappointments are part of life. It is wonderful to realize that disappointments are not the end but a doorway to another path. Sometime there is a better path which we would not otherwise choose. I agree with the Teacher in Ecclesiastes that we can be sure of nothing in this time. The only time we can be sure of is God. He is present and He is behind all the disappointments. Disappointments are not enjoyable and given the choice, I would not seek them. It is good to agree with Paul who wrote that, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Rom 8: 28-30)
Soli Deo Gloria
| posted 4 June 2006|
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