In thinking about the purpose of Second Wind Ministries in recent weeks, I have been reminded of how often people in general and Christian leaders in particular need encouragement in the face of disappointment. Because disappointment is an inevitable part of living and especially so in the fine art of leadership. Disappointment happens when the good we anticipate doesn’t materialize. Disappointment recognizes the reality that not everything turns out well — at least in the short term. There are times when our best preparations and efforts do not produce the results we had expected. Disappointment challenges the faith factor in our lives.
For several weeks recently I had been looking forward to a beginner’s experience in fishing for the ‘big ones’ in British Columbia’s second largest river near its west coast. I anticipated fishing for sockeye salmon on the Skeena River with a good friend who was also an experienced fisherman. He had the time, the equipment, and the knowledge of where to fish and how to catch these delectable beauties of the sea. In my naive anticipation I had the impression that we would walk to some secluded spot along the river where the fish were plentiful, toss in a line, and easily pull out our quota of two fish per day.
But as the time went by I soon discovered that catching that big fish wasn’t nearly as easy as I had thought! For one thing, there was the challenge of finding just the right place on a river whose waters were higher than usual. The water being fast made it difficult to find a good place to stand along the shore where the fish might be. Then too, there was the challenge of “getting the hang of casting,” so the line actually got more than 30 or 40 feet out into the river. Once the line was out there, letting it bob along the bottom and reeling it in without getting it caught on a rock was an additional test.
By research and common report we knew there were lots of fish in the river. In fact the first cast resulted in an immediate catch — at least for several minutes. I soon found out it was one thing to get a fish on the line; quite another to land it. Keeping the line tight, it seemed just a matter of seconds before I would have that fish on the stones at my feet. But about twenty feet from shore, in the shallow water, the fish suddenly jerked free of the line and was gone. At that moment I suffered my first great fishing disappointment! But that was only the beginning. Sometimes we bush-wacked our way through the woods along the shore in search of the perfect fishing spot only to find when we arrived at the anticipated location that the river was too high. Other times we saw fish jumping all around us, but not biting. And sometimes we had one on the line, but had trouble landing it successfully. Once, my fishing buddy caught one, but decided it might be smaller than the big ones we would still catch, and turned it back into the river. At the end of three days of fishing, it was disappointing to think I had been “skunked” despite all that effort!
I know that what I have described happens often in fishing — even for people with lots of fishing experience! Fishing disappointment is one thing, but it is nothing compared to much larger disappointments — possibly the outcome of a crucial vote, the betrayal of a good friend, or the chosen direction of your company. Sometimes our disappointments are even deeper — the experience of unanswered prayer, or what might be called, “disappointment with God.” We all know there are disappointments that are much greater than “the one that got away.”
So what should we do in the face of large disappointments? What should we do when the people we love don’t listen, when the Board we count on doesn’t support our vision, when the position we apply for is filled by someone else? What should one do in the face of personal rejection or bad news? What should you do when a Christian brother lets you down or the church you’re serving with or under embraces a direction with which you fundamentally and biblically disagree?
Sooner or later we all get bad news, we all experience betrayal, we all find ourselves abandoned. It’s part of what life is like in sin-cursed world. Disappointment should not surprise us — even though it may happen often. But what we do with it says a lot about what we’re made of and the direction of our lives.
First, we should realize that disappointment is an inevitable part of our lives. Job said that man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward (Job 5:7.) Disappointment is the default of human existence. This is what Solomon concluded in the Book of Ecclesiastes. It is realistic to acknowledge the negative nature of life here on earth because of man’s fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. But don’t allow yourself to stay there. For hidden everywhere amidst life’s many disappointments are wonderful signs of God’s grace. And this is the second thing we should do in the face of disappointment: look for signs of God’s amazing grace. We see them in the Book of Ecclesiastes: contentment in one’s work, companionship in friendship and marriage, indications of wisdom amidst the foolishness of this world. If we look for them, there are crocuses in the winter’s snow and rainbows in the storms, silver linings behind the clouds.
Despite the disappointments, if we look for them, signs of God’s grace are everywhere. It is these that will lead us to the wisdom called, the fear of the Lord. It is these signs of grace that will lead us to Christ at the very center of what the fear of the Lord is really all about. In the face of overwhelming disappointment, it’s possible to often see that God is up to something bigger and more beautiful. It is not that we should not deal realistically with disappointment, perhaps making an effort to do something about it and even to change it into something good. But we should see disappointment as an opportunity to look upon our lives again from God’s perspective, to worship Him, and to pray. It is there we will find Christ sufficient for all of our needs and disappointment turned to joy.