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"I never thought it would be like this!"

What do you do when life disappoints you
Romans 12:1-2


Have you ever played Bible Trivia? I've played it twice--the first and the last time. My father and I, both pastors, were on a team against my sister and my mother. Our team took a real drumming. I'm not a good loser, I tell people it is because I've not had much practice at it, nevertheless, I hate to lose. After the game, Dad taught me an important lesson about Bible Trivia. "You can't win, even if you win," he said. "If you win, they will say it is because you are a Pastor, if you lose they will really rub it in." He was right, and I've never played it again.

I thought my team should win because my Dad is the world's greatest preacher and I had just graduated from Seminary. I was disappointed in our loss. In retrospect, I see that I entered the game with unrealistic expectations. My mother and sister were both great Bible students and both paid close attention to details. It was unrealistic to expect that we had an edge on them. I'm not a strong detail person--I read the scripture and see principles, characteristics, and trends and don't even notice some details that the writers of Bible Trivia noticed.

Unrealistic Expectations

By definition, disappointments occur when reality doesn't meet expectations. I suppose the first question to ask when coping with a disappointment is, "were my expectations unrealistic?" Like mine were with the board game. If they are unrealistic, instead of being disappointed, make appropriate adjustments in your hopes and dreams and start again.

The Apostle Paul gives an exhortation to those who need a fresh start in Romans 12:1-2. He wrote, "I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. [2] And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."

Notice what brings transforming power: it is the "renewing of your mind." The phrase, "renewing of your mind," is closely connected to the one that precedes it, "do not be conformed to this world." To clear the cobwebs out of your mind, begin by untangling yourself from worldly expectations. Using the world's standards of success, Mother Theresa was a failure. But when we clear away worldly expectations of wealth, comfort and power, we see no reason why she would be disappointed in her life.

The unhealthy expectations do not just come from the world. For some, their "faith" sets them up for disappointment. We Christians are fond of using words like "should" and "ought." For instance, how many of you have heard or thought that Christians should never get divorced? That "should" has no scriptural grounding. In Matthew 5:31-32 (NASB), Jesus said: "And it was said, 'Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce'; [32] but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Notice that He gives an exception to the "no divorce" rule: "unchasity."

Christians do get divorced. Some for Biblical reasons. According to researcher George Barna, the ratio of Christians who have been divorced is higher than the percentage of non-Christians. In his sample of almost 4000 adults, Christians led non-Christians in divorce by a margin of 3 percentage points, 27% to 24%. -REV Magazine, May-June, 2000

Perhaps the number of non-Christians that live together, without the benefit of marriage, and the number of Christians that find their faith after divorce should be taken into account before we jump to any conclusions about this data. My point in citing it is just to say that it is unrealistic to believe you are immune from marriage problems just because you are a Christian.

What Others Do

For many Believers, their greatest disappointments have to do with the way their children live. Perhaps they've abandoned the faith and are living in open sin. How far do you have to read in the scripture to find a disappointed parent? God gave Adam and Eve a couple of boys, and what happened? One of them killed the other. Which one was it? I can't remember--I'll call my Mother later and ask her. Now you see why I lost at Bible Trivia. Oh yea, it was Cain, wasn't it? 

Look with me at Genesis 4:6-12 (NASB) Then the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? [7] "If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it." [8] And Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. 

[9] Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" And he said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?" [10] And He said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to Me from the ground. [11] "And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. [12] "When you cultivate the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you; you shall be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth." 

The first family was a bit dysfunctional wasn't it? Think about the way Eve's nest was emptied. One son was evicted for killing the other. What was that first night like for Eve? What was it like to try to go to sleep knowing that one son was in the grave and not knowing where the other one was.

Eve would never hold her grandchildren. 

One son was dead, the other was banished from the presence of the Lord. What would happen to him? How would he survive?

God made a promise when he banished Cain, let me read it to you: So the Lord said to him, "Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold." And the Lord appointed a sign for Cain, lest anyone finding him should slay him. (Genesis 4:15)

God put a mark on Cain and protected him. It is some comfort to know that God watches over our children when we can't.

What We Do

Sometimes our disappointments come because of unrealistic expectations, or the actions of others, but sometimes they come as a result of our own sinfulness.

Take King David, for example. He suffered endlessly because of his sin with Bathsheba. It affected most of his other relationships and tarnished his legacy. What did he do about it?

He cried out to the Lord: "Hide Thy face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities. [10] Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. [11] Do not cast me away from Thy presence, And do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me. [12] Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, And sustain me with a willing spirit." (Psalm 51:9-12 NASB)

If you discover the root of your disappointment comes from your own sinfulness, do like David did. Own it. Confess it. Crucify it. Get over it.

Where is your life map coming from? Another way to ask that questions is, whose expectations are you trying to meet? For some, it is a parent. For others, it could be a teacher or a coach. And for still others, it could be their own dream of an idealized future. I call it the "white-picket fence" syndrome. Why not re-write your life map with new expectations today. Begin with a clean slate. Whether the source of your disappointments are unrealistic expectations, something someone else did or something you did, why not start over today?

You can. Will you?

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