The Sorrow of Disappointment

Hope deferred can cause great sorrow.

Good Grief (4)

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
when the desire comes, it is a tree of life. Proverbs 13.12

Childish disappointment
To this day I can remember the disappointment I experienced one Christmas as a child, when I did not receive the specific gift I was sure would be waiting for me under the tree.

I had done everything I knew to do to make it clear to my parents what they should buy, but somehow my hints and conversation just didn’t register. That morning I felt as though someone had crushed my chest, and I must have moped and sulked for the better part of the day – being careful, of course, not to foist my disappointment on my parents.

Not getting the Christmas gift you expect is certainly a minor reason for becoming upset. But hope deferred or dashed can cause true grief, for example, when a child fails to embrace our faith, a spouse lets us down in a crucial matter, a colleague secures the promotion we hoped to receive, or a pastor falls into moral sin. At such times our hearts can truly become “sick” with negative affections ranging from betrayal to slight to hurt, anger, resentment, and sadness.

Such grief is normal, although it should be only temporary, as we look to the Lord at such times and renew our true hope in Him.

The power of hope
Hope is a powerful affection. It creates anticipation and thus guides what we think about, how we plan, and what we do. Hope lines up a variety of positive affections in our heart – eagerness, joy, delight, satisfaction, and so forth – and sets them to a slow fuse. The closer we come to realizing our hope, the brighter the fuses of those affections burn as we anticipate a bursting of each one once our hope has been achieved.

Hope affects not only how we think and feel, but how we act as well. We tend to bring our present behavior into line with our hope – at least, I did as kid, particularly as Christmas drew closer and closer each year. If we hope to get that promotion we’re going to act and work in ways that signal to the appropriate parties that we’re the right person for the job. If we hope to find just the right home and neighborhood, we will search the web, work with a realtor, and keep looking until we find what we want. In the hope that our children will grow up to love the Lord, we eagerly teach and encourage them in His ways.

In a very real way, hope lays out a scenario for our future which brings together all our strongest desires into a single focus. The more we hope, and the more our hope takes in larger chunks of our life, the more invested in that scenario we become, mind, heart, will, and life.

So, let someone pull that rug out from under us, or circumstances conspire to dash our dreams, and we can certainly experience a kind of grief that is understandable and not to be denied.

Hope deferred or dashed does indeed bring us to a kind of grief; on the other hand, how much more does hope realized cause us to know satisfaction, contentment, and joy.

The Christian hope
The Christian hope is that we may know God in His glory and, knowing Him thus, may live for His glory every day, in every area of our lives (Rom. 5.1, 2; 2 Cor. 3.12-18). This is a hope that does not disappoint because God’s Word cannot fail. We may truly enter the glory of the Lord and know that mysterious, weighty, fearful, but loving presence upon us every day of our lives.

The glory of God envelops and transforms us, so that we go forth from that hope into the further hope of living for the glory of God in our daily lives. As we live out the hope of glory, people cannot help but notice, not the sickness of our hearts, but the joy and confidence and peace that define us. And when they see that hope, many will want to know the reason for it (1 Pet. 3.15).

Hope deferred can bring us to a kind of good grief. But the Christian’s hope is never deferred. Though we may temporarily sorrow over setbacks, disappointments, and failures of one kind or another, we renew our hope by focusing on Jesus, drawing near to Him, and preparing in Him for whatever next immediate evil we may be called upon to tackle.

For reflection
1.  Explain some of the differences between hope and disappointment. How do they affect one another?

2.  What are some ways that people typically try to cope with disappointment? Are there any problems with any of these?

3.  What do we mean by saying that the Christian hope is the “hope of glory”? How does this hope help us to overcome the grief that comes with various kinds of disappointment?

Next steps – Conversation: Talk with some of your friends about “hope deferred.” Have they ever experienced the sorrow that comes from disappointment? How did they handle it? Suggest some ways that Christians can encourage those around them who are feeling heartsick over some hope deferred.

T. M. Moore

This is part 7 of a multi-part series on Keeping the Heart. To download this week’s study as a free PDF, click here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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