Did your friends just ditch you when you needed them the most? Just find out someone else got that job promotion you were hoping for? Did you want to help win the big game, but your coach left you sitting on the bench? Maybe you discovered your child is taking illegal drugs or having sex outside of marriage. Perhaps you learned that your spouse betrayed your trust in a small or even earth-shattering way. Maybe a person seriously hurt you (or someone close to you) physically and/or emotionally.
If you’ll pardon the expression, sometimes life sucks. Here are three things to remember when people disappoint you:
1. God is in control – and at work.
God is sovereign, and there is nothing—that’s right, nothing—that happens without his assent. In his sermon series, “The Crook in the Lot,” the Scottish theologian Thomas Boston (1676–1732) points out the important truth that while God is not the author of sinful acts, he nevertheless permits them for his own good purposes. Boston gives us three important aspects about God’s work in the difficult circumstances we face in life:
- “He holily permits them.” When Satan wanted to tempt Job to sin against God, he could only proceed with God’s permission (Job 1:9–12).
- “He powerfully binds them.” If God did not restrain evil in the world, our hurts and disappointments would be far worse than they are presently (Job 1:12; 38:8–11).
- “He wisely overrules them to some good purpose.” It can be hard to believe that God has an ultimate good purpose when he allows bad things to happen, but we do not have full access to the whole story. God does assure us this is the case for all believers (Rom. 8:28).
Right now we are in the middle of the storyline of God’s rescue mission to save the world from sin, misery, death, and the devil, but at least we live on the other side of the cross. While we don’t know why everything happens, we can know that Christ has won the victory, and his kingdom has been inaugurated. One day Christ will return, and his kingdom will be fully consummated to God’s glory.
Our will and God’s will are not always the same; his ways are not our ways (Isa. 55:8–9). Instead of being angry toward God for allowing someone to disappoint us, we must humbly trust him and seek his will in all things (Matt. 6:10). Even Jesus prayed to his Father in the garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
2. You need to forgive the person – but trust must be rebuilt.
Jesus instructed his disciples to forgive others as their heavenly Father forgives them (Matt. 6:12). It has been said that a person only needs to forgive someone if the offender asks for forgiveness, but this cannot possibly be the case. We have our Savior as the perfect example of how we should act when people disappoint us. When Jesus was on the cross, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). If Jesus forgave those who did not understand that they were putting God’s innocent Son to death on a cross, how much more should we forgive those who let us down, regardless of whether they ask for forgiveness?
Forgiving people, however, does not mean that they deserve our immediate trust. When trust is breached in a relationship, it takes time and work to build it up again, and hopefully the trust will be even stronger. Sometimes, however, trust can never be rebuilt. Sometimes it will be the case that we must never again risk placing ourselves in certain situations due to even the remote possibility of being harmed. Still, we can—and should—forgive those who have harmed us as Jesus commands us to do.
3. Keep in mind that you have disappointed people too.
Perhaps you expected something from a certain person that he or she didn’t give you. This does not necessarily mean the person has sinned against you. We all have expectations of the people in our lives, and this goes both ways. Maybe people close to you—your spouse, children, parents, friends—hoped you would treat them in a certain way, but you failed to do it. As much as it hurts when people disappoint us, it is important to remember that all of us have disappointed people as well. We cannot possibly live up to all the expectations people have of us, and likewise we shouldn’t expect people to live up to all our expectations of them.
At the very least, our disappointments prod us to die to our own flesh and live unto God, seeking to honor him in all our comportment along the way in this pilgrim journey called the Christian life. As Thomas Boston reminds us, though our circumstances are often perplexing, those who trust in Christ as their Savior shall one day stand “on the shore and looking back to what they have passed through, they will be made to say, ‘He has done all things well’” (Mark 7:37). Always seek to love God and your neighbor, keep standing up for what is right, and have grace for people who disappoint you (including yourself!). Remember that God loves you, he has a plan he is bringing to completion, and it is good.