by Ed Welch
Be angry with me, call me all kinds of names, but, please, don’t be disappointed in me.
As a general rule, the older you get, the more oppressive the word.
Disappointing other people
If my wife says, “I am so angry with you.” I can live with that. But if she says, “I’m not angry. I am just disappointed in you,” that is unbearable. I feel like a scolded puppy. My tail goes between my legs, I retreat to the corner, and . . . I feel helpless because I am not sure what I can do to change her opinion. I could ask forgiveness, and she would be quick to forgive, but I would still be left feeling like a disappointment. Forgiveness does not remove disappointment. Maybe I would make vows to do better and spend the rest of the day living out those vows, but it would still be unbearable.
One reason being a disappointment is so hard is that it makes you feel less than—lower than—the person you disappointed. That’s why it might be harder the older we get. Kids already feel like they are not quite in the same category as adults, so they don’t fall very far, but other adults and spouses are peers, and now you have slipped down the ladder into the child category, or that of the family dog.
It is not wrong to be disappointed with someone. The Apostle Paul certainly was disappointed with the churches in Galatia and Corinth (e.g., 1 Cor 3:1). My point is simply that the experience of being a disappointment to someone close to you, especially a peer, is a tough one to shake off.
And, of course, what we find in our relationships with human beings we can typically find in our relationship with the Lord.
Most people I know, when they think about seeing God face-to-face, would love to hear, “well done, good and faithful servant.” But most only hope for this. They are fairly certain that God will say, “You are such a disappointment. Forgiven, but a disappointment.”
Ugh. And how long does it take to unwrap your tail from between your legs in that relationship?
Can you sense how dangerous this is? If I am a disappointment, I turn away until I can somehow be a little more acceptable. In human relationships that means that we hope the urgent matters of daily life will distract the other person from the disappointment and we can soon act like nothing ever happened. But we don’t think that God is so easily distracted or quite as forgetful.
Don’t turn away from God
Since this identifies a common human experience, then we can be certain that Scripture says much about it. Here is just one way the Lord speaks to us about this essential matter.
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”(Numbers 6: 22-27)
This is how God deals with disappointing people. And remember that Israel by this time was supremely disappoint-ing. You might rival them in being disappointment-worthy but not top them.
The Lord turns his face toward them and delights in blessing them. In doing this he invites them to turn their face toward him. There are no doghouses in the Kingdom of God.
So when you feel like a disappointment to the Lord, hear his blessing and turn toward him. If you are looking for words to say to him, “thank you” is usually a fine place to start.
Don’t turn away from other people
Now, back to those times we disappoint others. The answer is the same: don’t turn away. They may not be so quick to pronounce an enthusiastic priestly blessing in our direction, but once we realize that disappointment is not a word that our Father uses with us, we might be bolder when we disappoint mere humans.
So instead of turning away from someone who is rightly disappointed with you, imagine going toward the person (probably after you have asked forgiveness), and saying: “I know I disappointed you, and I hate that, so I want to understand your concerns—I want to really hear them and take them seriously—because my relationship with you is important to me.”
Move toward people with humility rather than humiliation. That’s what we are after