At some point, as it has for many of us, life confronted you with the devastating truth that it was not going to live up to your visions and dreams. You had plans for the way your daily life would look, expectations of what your church life would be, and assumptions about the trajectory your family’s life would follow. And in some way—or perhaps many ways, big and small—your life is not what you imagined it would be. It’s not what you hoped for and still long for.
Me neither. Until my mother’s schizophrenia finally reached a point where my family could no longer ignore or hide it, I thought people who follow Christ were supposed to be deeply and joyfully satisfied, no longer needing anything but a connection with God’s presence in this life. I thought Christians would go through “hard times” but without the kind of lament or loss that plagues other people.
Boy, was I wrong. In a family altered by severe mental illness, not a single day is untouched by lament, loss, and disappointment. My mother’s schizophrenia didn’t change my satisfying life into an unsatisfying one; it brought me to a place of honesty with myself and before God, where I could not overlook the fact that life was going to fall short no matter what.
You live with your own reasons for disappointment. Have you been forced into that place of honesty? Are you lonely there? Do you get the feeling that many Christians are terrified by the ways your life has not lived up to expectations? by your disappointment? your anger? Like me, perhaps you feel that many would like to keep their distance from you and your stubbornly unfixable circumstances.
You probably aren’t imagining things. Many people haven’t yet been placed in a position that irreparably undermines their illusions. And most of us put up at least a little resistance to evidence that contradicts what we really want to believe. Many people are desperate to believe life always makes sense, everything happens for a reason, and every cloud comes with a silver lining. If you acknowledge you live with not only gratitude and a gentleness born of suffering, but actual disappointment as well, you are likely to threaten someone’s carefully constructed convictions about what we should expect from life as followers of Christ.
So let me say this: It’s OK with me, and with God, if you admit you’re disappointed.
I say this on my own behalf because I’m right there with you.
There are two reasons I make this claim on behalf of God.
First, God wants your honesty more than all the good attitude, positive thinking, and false expressions of gratitude you could ever muster.
Second, an unsatisfied life is exactly what God wants for you—for all of us.
I don’t mean that God put you in difficult circumstances for fun or wants you to live in frustration. God hasn’t singled you out for a special “character-building experience” to keep you in line or punish you. God has allowed you, like everyone, else to live with both the heady delights of human freedom and the terrible consequences of using our freedom to reject and resist God. All suffering comes down to that painful bottom line.
What I do mean is that God wants more than this for you, just as you do. He wants better. He wants total and complete restoration of health, wholeness, and goodness in your life and in the world around you. He wants it so much, he bought it with his own life. And every moment in human history is bringing us closer to the time when his righteousness, justice, and powers of creation will usher us into the world we were meant for.
Every time we acknowledge just how desperately our lives and our world fall short of the one God created, we agree with God. Each time we get angry, or sad, or wrecked at seeing someone in pain, our hearts beat in time with God’s. And every single time we whisper a prayer of longing for the people and places we love to be whole and flourishing, we catch a glimpse of God’s grand vision for his creation.
There is grace in your disappointment. You have been given a tangible expression of the longing that lives in your heart and mine. And God wants you to stay with it.
In Matthew 5:12, Jesus teaches about the counterintuitive ways God blesses people, in the passage known as The Beatitudes. In Verse 6 he says God blesses people with a promise of satisfaction, and it’s not the ones who have everything; it’s the people who live with a gnawing hunger and thirst for righteousness.
This verse pronounces blessing on people who are longing not only to be righteous themselves, but to see God’s righteousness reign. They are longing for the better world we were all made for—a longing that will not be satisfied in this life.
Jesus did not trivialize our hunger and thirst any more than he trivialized the pain of mourning, purity of heart, or the work of peacemaking. He declared we are blessed if we stay hungry and thirsty—desperate for his kingdom, which is the only kingdom where we and all we love can possibly be restored.
God isn’t afraid of your disappointment. He wants you to live in awareness of the gap between your current circumstances and the ones he is leading you toward. But disappointment isn’t your only choice, and he doesn’t want to leave you there. He wants to turn your disappointment to anticipation.
Chronic disappointment is one path to dissatisfaction. Anticipation, on the other hand, comes from being temporarily unsatisfied. You can choose to be unsatisfied rather than dissatisfied.
What’s the difference?
Dissatisfied people believe God owes them something and isn’t delivering. Unsatisfied people know God has promised something he will deliver. Dissatisfied people learn to expect life to let them down. Unsatisfied people learn to live with long-term expectations. Dissatisfied people try to quell their desires with spiritual and emotional junk food, while unsatisfied people keep the coming feast in view and keep their appetites sharp for the real thing.
As I wrote in my book Blessed Are the Unsatisfied, “While dissatisfaction implies either rejection or frustrated pursuit of satisfaction, unsatisfaction is something more like acceptance combined with anticipation. It is acknowledgment of desire without the demand that it be satisfied. It is a kind of openness that doesn’t ask for closure. It is a kind of desire that can live with deferral. It is an embrace of the God-shaped vacuum in us and a commitment to stop trying to make it full. It is a healthy hunger that is content to wait for the feast.”
God is not put off by your recognition that life is not what you want it to be. He is in it with you, more than you can know. The good news is, he is in the business of redemption, restoration, and re-creation. His good plans will far exceed your wishes. So live in grief for what you have lost, and live in anticipation for what will be. You are blessed.
Amy Simpson is a life & leadership coach, speaker, and author of Blessed Are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World, Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry, and Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission (all InterVarsity Press). You can find her at AmySimpson.com and on Twitter @aresimpson.