I painfully waited for a letter approving me for a second semester of study abroad. It came. I went. But the semester wasn’t what I hoped. My first semester was with a group of adventurers who were serious about studying the Word of God and experiencing the culture. My second group was different. The relationships, the food, my studies, and daily life were no longer rose-colored. I saw all the flaws of the culture where I lived. To top it off, I was missing important life events back home. I was disappointed. I had everything I had wanted, and it didn’t satisfy.
During that semester, I read this quote by C.S. Lewis: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” That phrase has been transformative in my life. I’ve continually preached that truth to myself when hopes are dashed. “Why is it like this?” “Why am I sad?” The answer: “I was made for another world,” and I have a God who is kind enough to orchestrate things in my life to reorient me and to train me.
Much greater sorrows and disappointments have visited in the 15 years since that semester, but I wouldn’t trade one of them. Life in a fallen world is hard, but eternity is before me. Disappointments remind me of that reality as they reveal my true identity, display Jesus more clearly, provide a stage to proclaim a trustworthy God, and remind me that eternal bliss is real and waiting.
Reveal my true identity
The world tells us that our desires are our identity, so unfulfilled desires are crushing. If we can’t have what we want, what’s the point? Scripture, however, grounds our identity in Christ (Col. 3:1-4). I love to work, but work never fully satisfies. When it looked like I would have to walk away from a job I loved, the phrase I often repeated to myself was, “This job is my life. I’m giving up my life.” I was tempted to believe that lie. But disappointment with that job allowed me to see that Christ was my life (Col. 3:4). My true identity was not in my position, in my ministry, in my hospitality, or anything else I was tempted to place it in. My true identity was in Christ. Every disappointment, big or small, can reveal where our hope rests. Disappointment reminds us that something we hoped for isn’t ultimate and doesn’t define us.
Display Jesus more clearly
As winter points us to spring, so our disappointments can point us to our future resurrection. A cancer diagnosis, the death of a spouse, the death of a dream, or a mid-life crisis can all remind us that this world doesn’t have the last word, thanks to Jesus Christ. Death reminds us that the heinous executioner was not a part of the original order of creation. It is a part of the fall, but that’s not where the story ends. Redemption and restoration are a part of the narrative. Because of Christ, it is no longer death to die (2 Cor. 5).
Every disappointment, big or small, can reveal where our hope rests. Disappointment reminds us that something we hoped for isn’t ultimate and doesn’t define us.
God’s way is often paradoxical to man’s. If I were designing things, suffering wouldn’t be a part of the story. Man’s version of 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 might read, “For these light and momentary wins will lead to an eternal weight of glory.” But God’s Word says light and momentary afflictions lead to an eternal weight of glory. Those light and momentary afflictions don’t feel that way, but in light of eternity, in light of the place we were designed for, they are. Paul knew all about suffering (2 Cor. 11:23-28), but his disappointments and despair led him to rely on God (2 Cor. 1:9). He also knew the disappointment of a reoccuring affliction, which he described as a thorn in the flesh. This too was meant to reveal Christ (2 Cor. 12:9).
Proclaim a trustworthy God
Disappointments allow us to hope and trust in God as we experience and see suffering. We are tempted by suffering to turn inward and forget God’s promises. At the same time, suffering or disappointment can lead us to the end of ourselves and help us stand on the promises of God. Understanding that this life is not all there is allows me to respond to suffering and sorrow in my life and other’s lives with a hope that is uncommon outside of belief in Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 4:13). How we respond to blessing speaks volumes about who our God is (Prov. 30:8-9; Deut. 8), but even people without the hope of Christ typically rejoice or respond well in blessing. A watching world is more frequently led to ask for the hope within us when we respond in kindness when we are maligned, when the hopes of our dream job that seemed to be in our grasp are dashed, or as we turn to God in great tragedy.
Point to eternal bliss
Disappointments remind us that eternal bliss is waiting. Joy and delight are in store. We will be with our Lord, and we will be like him (1 John 3:2). The truth that one day every tear will be wiped away is as real as every tear-streaked face brought about by disappointment. The death of death is as real as every funeral. As painful as every unfulfilled longing is, we have hope in Jesus Christ and a glorious future with him. Tears, pain, and sorrow all have an expiration date, but joy and life for those in Christ are eternal.
Paul was in prison. He knew he would likely be executed for Christ, but he knew the truth of Lewis’ statement. Paul’s “eager expectation and hope” amidst dire circumstances was that he would not be ashamed, that the trials would turn out for his deliverance, and that Christ would be honored in his body. He knew his greatest longing would be realized and his future hope would never be disappointed.
I have a canvas on my wall that says, “Those were the days, and so are these.” It reminds me of the joys of past seasons and that God has given me good things to enjoy in this season. The truth is, those days and these days are simply preparation. Eternity—those will be the days! Those are the days we were created to know, so we should expect that these days can’t and won’t satisfy. We are simply window shopping and sampling on this earth. My disappointment when I was studying abroad, when I received the thing I had hoped and prayed for, was the recognition that window shopping and sampling doesn’t satisfy. I was made for something more. I was made for another world.