It was Christmas Day. My little 4-year-old nephew was about to open his present from his grandparents: a darling little black leather motorcycle jacket. This would have been a winner with a teenage boy, but when my nephew opened the box, his sweet little face filled with bitter disappointment, and as tears ran down his cheeks he cried bitterly, “I thought it was going to be a toy!”
Disappointment hurts. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). Things don’t always go as planned. Sometimes hopes and dreams don’t materialize. We can end up bitter, disillusioned, and accusing God of wrongdoing. How are we to deal with the hard knocks in life? We don’t have to look very hard to find examples in the Scriptures of people who faced deep disappointment. Some of them responded well to setbacks and tragedies, and some of them reacted poorly. There are some helpful biblical lessons on disappointment for us.
Naomi was from Bethlehem. She and her husband, along with their two sons, sojourned in the land of Moab because of a drought and famine in the land of Israel. Then tragedy struck: Naomi’s husband died in Moab. Their two sons married Moabite women there, and then both sons died. Naomi was “bereft of her two children and her husband” (Ruth 1:5). Life certainly did not go as she had expected.
Naomi decided to return to Israel, and one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, chose to go with her. Upon arriving in Bethlehem, the women of the city said, “Is this Naomi?” She answered, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt vey bitterly with me. I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?” (Ruth 1:20-21).
Naomi wanted to be called “Mara,” meaning “bitter.” Although she was not responsible for the tragedies dealt to her, she was responsible for her response to those tragedies. To her credit, she firmly acclaimed the sovereignty and the righteousness of God, but her conclusion was premature. She didn’t have a handle on His goodness and wisdom, and as a result, she responded to her trials with a perspective of short-sighted bitterness.
Job was a man who lived through some extreme disappointments without ever understanding why. Like Naomi, Job was not responsible for his situation. Nor did he know about the conversation between God and Satan in which God gave Satan permission to attack Job. The loss of his children and his wealth surely left him in utter shock and grief, but amazingly, Job was able to respond to the unexpected tragedies without denying his faith or yielding to bitterness. How did he respond? “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped” (Job 1:20).
The key to Job’s God-honoring response? Job worshiped God. He had no idea what the future would hold, but he knew the One who was in control of the future, and he proclaimed, “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth” (Job 19:25). Job went through a long phase of questions and he had his day in court with God. But in the end, he was confident in God’s power to vindicate him, and his faith in the supremacy of God held fast.
The Apostle Paul certainly dealt with disappointments large and small. In writing about his “thorn in the flesh,” he explains, “Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me” (2 Corinthians 12:8). And three times God refused, but He promised Paul something better: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9a). Was Paul disappointed by God’s answer? Listen to Paul’s response: “Most gladly therefore I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10). Paul was not disappointed by God’s answer because he understood that God wanted to use the trial for His glory. And in that, Paul rejoiced.
Lessons to Learn
What are the lessons about dealing with disappointment from Naomi, Job, and Paul?
Naomi’s life encourages us to not let disappointment turn into bitterness. What Naomi didn’t know was what God had in store for her: Ruth, her daughter-in-law, would become the great grandmother of King David and would be included in the genealogy of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5)! Learn from Naomi: your story isn’t over yet, so hope in God’s wisdom, power, and goodness. Trust God in times of disappointment. He is perfect in wisdom, so He knows what is best for you; He is perfect in power, and He could have made things go differently; and He is perfect in goodness, so He wants what is in your best eternal interest. Are you willing to trust Him?
The lesson from Job is to worship God. No matter what happens. Walk with God daily, and when disappointment hits, keep on walking. Remember your security in Christ and your future hope. Don’t let the disappointments in life derail your faith. Stay focused on eternity.
From Paul’s thorn in the flesh, we learn that we can gladly accept trials as an opportunity to glorify God, knowing that He will give us sufficient grace to do so. Be thankful for how God will work through your disappointing events. “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Are you willing to exercise your faith by thanking God even when you don’t feel thankful?
Are you struggling with disappointment in life? Maybe you can identify with my little nephew—your expectations set you up for frustration. Maybe you don’t have the spouse or baby that you long for. Maybe your career dreams weren’t fulfilled. Learn from the lives of Naomi, Job, and Paul: Put your trust in God’s wisdom, power and goodness. Worship Him and stay focused on eternity. And be thankful for how God is going to work in and through you. He is not finished with your story yet. He has a purpose in your disappointment.