Handling Disappointment and Discouragement

A young son illustrates a loving way to deal with disappointment.

By Amy Sparkman

Categories: Christmas, Gratitude, Gratitude (Thanksgiving), Love, Love

I well remember a gift my oldest son opened when he was six…

His whole face lit up even before he knew what was beneath the wrapping paper. His grandparents were watching with equal anticipation—it was a gift from them. My son flung off the last layer of paper…and stood there in complete bafflement.

His grandmother instantly said, “It’s a store! Look—it has a credit card swiper that really works! I even got you extra groceries!” In fact, there were three more gifts related to the store.

My son didn’t move or blink his big gray eyes. I knew he was working out in his mind how to respond to this utter disappointment. After a long moment of silence, he smiled confidently and said, “You meant to give this to my brother. He loves to pretend!” Then he turned to his two-years-younger brother and said, “This is for you! Here, I’ll show you how it works.”

But their grandmother insisted, “No, it’s for you. See this?” She was rapidly moving the credit card swiper back and forth."It’s just like the one in Stop&Shop!”

My oldest son nodded and calmly replied, “My brother will love this.” (And he did.)

This oft-repeated family story was first retold as the tale of the mismarked present. But it quickly became the “go-to” story whenever one of us was really disappointed or discouraged.

How do we handle what feels like overwhelming disappointment or discouragement?

  • Do we fall apart when we don’t get what we want or what we are certain we should have?
  • Do we rant and rave?
  • Do we get depressed?
  • Do we blame the other guy?
  • Do we feel like the victim?
  • Are we convinced that “nobody loves me”?
  • Do we ruminate, replaying a particular scene over and over, trying to figure it out, and feeling progressively more and more sorry for ourselves?

OR… Do we stand perfectly still…”and know that I am God”? Do we silence the yammering voices—both inside our head and from those around us—and listen for that still small voice within that is always right there and ready to quiet our emotions so that God (rather than emotion-powered human will) can lead the way forward?

In the Bible, the story of Joseph epitomizes the blessings that come from working through disappointment and discouragement. His life included some pretty grim situations! He was:

  • sold into slavery by his jealous brothers
  • accused of inappropriate behavior by the deceitful wife of his boss
  • imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit
  • separated from his parents and siblings for years (decades?) without them knowing what had become of him or he of them.

Joseph had good reason to feel disappointed and discouraged as well as angry, bitter, and resentful.

But none of those emotions appear in Joseph’s story. Instead, we hear about the favor he found with everyone he worked for, the leadership role he was given in each job he held, the positions he filled at the highest levels of power, and the integrity, honesty, and compassion he expressed in the face of his accusers and his victimizers.

Joseph had to grow into these positions of respect and responsibility—and he had to overcome the temptation to give in to disappointment and discouragement. He must have prayed daily something like these beautiful biblical words: “Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.” Joseph turned to and leaned on God.

The events of his life and the ultimate reunion with his family demonstrate the consistency and completeness of God’s ever-present, loving guidance. Joseph didn’t just barely make it through his life experiences; he (and those with whom he lived and worked) thrived in every situation. Each scenario was an opportunity to respond rather than react—to be still and let God lead the way forward.

My eldest son quickly helped his younger brother master card-swiping and construct the tiny boxes of groceries. He even enjoyed playing “pretend store,” much to the younger boy’s delight.

It never crossed my son’s mind that he lost out on the biggest present that year. What mattered to his big-hearted, innocent thought was that the right person received it. Later that day, he opened a challenging Sopwith Camel biplane Lego kit. With a knowing nod and a mile-wide grin, he said, “Now, this is for me!”

No matter how disappointing or discouraging the circumstances might be, Joseph was never separated from God’s love. Neither was my son. Neither are we.