Dealing with Disappointments
Being asked to write an article called “Dealing with Disappointment” wouldn’t naturally be up there as something that I would love, and choose, to write. It would be preferable to write the article “How I Dealt with Disappointment” as if I had gone through all the disappointment and come out the other side – “It’s in the past; just peace and joy from here on in.” Unfortunately, I would not be able to write that with much integrity.
I shared at the 2019 TFT National Conference about the intentional form of community that I have been part of, and trying to build. There are great examples of community and friendship in the Bible, whether the early church, in Acts, shared their possessions among one another, or the closeness of David and Jonathan in the books of Samuel. Navigating how to do community and friendship in our own lives is challenging. Amongst the joys and many blessings of being part of this community, there have also been disappointments: people moving on, individuals choosing a different path, or just different expectations of what friendship and community looks like. All of which I struggle to navigate, as my default position is to carry every friend that I have all the way to the end - “You will all be my friends forever, please.” Disappointment has been a frequent visitor at my door, and it still is. The wrestle between disappointment and hope is a past and present one, and likely to be so in the future.
Below are some thoughts about what I have learnt along the way. Obviously this is not an exhaustive list, but I hope it gives you something to think about as you reflect on the community you have around you.
1. Be Present - The grass is often not greener. Be present with those who are already in your community, family and friendship groups. It can be easy to mourn the friendships we once had, or continually look for new or less complicated relationships in the new people we meet. However, being aware of those in your life right at this moment is important. Spend a moment being thankful for the blessings they bring you, and consider how you can be a blessing to them.
2. Traditions old and new - Marking friendships can be really significant and can help communicate value. Whether this is celebrating Christmas, Thanksgiving, ‘friendiversaries’ or making up new traditions to celebrate with your friends, it can all be a great deal of fun, and meaningful too. Even marking the time you have journeyed with that friend in some meaningful way. I have Polaroid pictures hanging in my hallway of all my previous housemates that I take when they move out, and on, from living in my house. Initially, it can feel sad, but when I look back on the pictures, I feel blessed to have known them and been part of their journey. God seems to know that we need traditions to remind us of things: the Sabbath or sharing the Lord’s Supper together are just two examples that many of us follow.
3. Reframe or reshape the relationship - If a friend moves away or gets married, or any other change, and you feel it’s a friendship that is mutually life-giving, then have a conversation with them about this. Work out how the bond can be maintained despite the change in circumstances. Could you go for breakfast once a month with your newly married friend, or go on holiday once a year with the friend who has moved to a different city? I have a couple of friends that I am very thankful I had these conversations with before they moved on; these friendships have continued to grow despite a change in circumstance.
4. Seasons are normal - This is the point I like the least, and have been torn about whether to include or not. However, my experience tells me that some friendships can be for a season. It can be natural for a friendship or community to ‘run its course.’ Wisdom is needed to know when to let these go, or when work needs to be done to rebuild/repair/renew.
5. One person is not the answer - Look to build a range of balanced friendships so that your community is not based around one or two specific people. One sole person cannot be the answer to our intimacy and connection issues. Invest in a range of people. Remember, married people need others too, so a friendship with someone or a few people who are married can be a blessing to you both.
6. Friendships don’t always have to be deep - I am at risk of wanting every friendship to be super intense and meaningful. However, I have found that it is good and life-giving to have friends that I purely play squash with, or go paddle-boarding with.
7. It’s ok to feel sad - The default position when a positive thing happens in life, such as marriages or a new job/house move, is to feel all the emotions surrounding it needs to be positive. The reality is that these changes can feel sad too. I think it is good to voice this sadness, although consider carefully with whom you confide.
8. We all need a cheerleader - Paul reminds the Thessalonians (1 Thess 5:11) to encourage one another and build each other up. Sharing sadness and disappointment with trusted friends is vital. When our eyes may be introspective and unable to see past the pain, sharing gives a friend the ability to speak truth and positivity into your life. Hopefully, at another point in time, you are able to be their cheerleader too.
9. Don’t squeeze too hard - Charles Spurgeon said, “Hold everything earthly with a loose hand; but grasp eternal things with a death-like grip.” The outlook or posture I am walking towards is an attitude of grateful balance. I hope to keep my arms out to embrace friendship and community, and to positively invest in it. However, my challenge is not to tighten my grip on it, to attempt to control it, or allow it to become my primary pursuit or focus. Good things can become idols or coping mechanisms too, and on reflection there are times when I have spent more time and energy seeking a better community than pursuing a deeper relationship with Jesus.
For the past ten years, I have intentionally had conversations about community and friendship with anyone that would listen. My desire to be connected and have a sense of belonging has spurred me also to be intentional about actively building community. I have felt I have been banging the drum for community for a long time now. However, I have learnt that main drum that we are banging, or rhythm that we are living to, shouldn’t be one of community or relationship or career or whatever good and fulfilling thing in our life we are drawn towards. These things are important, and we do need them to thrive. However, the overriding rhythm or beat we need to be listening to is seeking Jesus. If we continue the analogy further, community could be the melody in a band; the guitar or piano or saxophone will only be sweet and tuneful if played along to the rhythm of the drum, to Jesus’ rhythm. His voice, His guidance and His path.
On reflection, learning the above things has helped me navigate a single life. I have been blessed immensely by those around me whom I am journeying with. However, even these things and people have not removed the disappointments and trials life can bring. I often have looked at King David’s friendship with Jonathan and desired a similar friendship; however, it was to God that David wrote many psalms of isolation and struggle but also of thankfulness and praise. He turns to God as he knows that ultimately God is the only one who can truly sustain him. David reminds us that God has walked the path with His people before, and he will continue to do so. I will end with verses 1 and 2 from Psalm 62 for us to reflect on: “Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”
This article was originally published in the Spring 2021 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the Spring 2021 edition of Ascend
A conversation with the author...
Articles in Ascend often need to be ruthlessly edited down to fit within the required word count. To give space to discuss certain articles in greater depth, the TFT staff team record occasional podcasts under the banner “Ascend Higher”, covering the issues raised in a more conversational style. To hear it for yourself, you can use the audio player below