Surviving and Thriving Through Disappointment

This article first appeared on Poets and Saints, a blog about grief, child loss, adoption, and faith.

“How are you doing?”

When people hear you’ve faced disappointment, they want to know how you are dealing with it.

Got a cup of something hot and a few minutes to spare? Because the short answer is never short.

After a few days of eating leftover Christmas chocolate (let’s hear it for great choices) and writing down all the feelings, I realized the one thing I needed to embrace to get over it:

Onward.

This word works for about any type of disappointment:

College breakup? Onward.

Flunked a test? Onward.

Lost your job? Onward.

Speeding ticket? Onward. Just not too fast.

I remember getting a taste of disappointment in high school when I auditioned for drum major of our marching band.

When I found out someone from my own woodwind section beat me for the role, I ranted to my mom that it wasn’t fair and cried all the tears of a seventeen-year-old whose life was over.

Cue my first lesson in The Rolling Stones’ Philosophy 101 Class: You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

My band teacher explained it this way: The reason I wasn’t chosen was because she needed me for a different role. The music she had picked for that year’s show included a solo — a part she wanted me to play.

She cued the music on her boom box (it was the 90’s after all), and I listened to the solo. I wouldn’t be on the drum major’s platform like I wanted, but for 20 seconds, I could play this song.

It was my first lesson in learning that even when we feel like we deserve something, even when we have worked hard, and done all the right things, we may not get what we want.

We may get something else entirely, something not quite as good or something even better. The only way to accept this new path is not questioning what’s done, but to deal with the hurt and move on.

In other words, onward.

The same is true now. I wanted the adoption to work out my way. When it didn’t, I had a pity party because my heart is sometimes more fragile than I care to admit.

But that is okay, because we need to get over it before we can move on from it.

Onward is not possible otherwise.

I’m afraid that too many Christians think our reaction to disappointment should not include the dark side of our emotions: doubt, fear, disappointment, anger, and — I’m going to say it — depression.

Too many people think that Faith = Positive Thoughts. Or vice versa.

Honey, that isn’t the Bible, that’s Oprah.

Take a look at the Psalms if you don’t believe me. A full range of human emotions are poured out onto those pages: doubt, frustration, discouragement, despair, anger. “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks” is not a pretty sentiment.

The Psalms remind me that having emotions is not a sign that we are faithless, but that we are human.

And being human means dealing with the dirt first.

It means crying the tears and doing the hard work of facing our disappointment so that we can move forward.

Onward becomes our battle cry, our way through the dark when we’re not sure what path to take.

Only then can we find that The Rolling Stones weren’t too far off about life:

You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.

Even if all we need is to move on.

Even if all we’ve got is the battle cry of the wounded.

Onward.

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