Every child yearns to hear “I am proud of you,” not for performance but simply for being. Yet, most of us know what it’s like to feel the devouring abyss of disappointment, especially in the face and voice of others.
My father was disappointed in me—all the time. At least that is what I felt as a child and therefore what I believed. Whether or not he was, I don’t really know. We have not had that conversation yet.
There are many ways to shame a child, and sadly, many of us know this from experience. Cruel words and harsh declarations of judgment unhinge little souls from their moorings:
You are disgusting.
You’re just a slut.
You will never amount to anything.
You’re an idiot.
After all we have done for you . . .
I was happy until you came along.
I wanted a boy.
I wish you had never been born.
But there is another devastating way to shame a child, and that is through silence. The turned-away face and the little shake of the head before the door closes leave a child absolutely and utterly alone—crushed under the voiceless glance of disappointment.
For many, life itself is a series of disappointments.
Things don’t turn out the way we had wished. Circumstances seem to work against us or something comes out of nowhere and knocks down what we had worked hard to build. The unexpected washes it away as quickly as a hurricane, a flood, or a political, business, or moral decision.
As we mature, we begin to discern the difference between disappointment and grief. Grief is a healthy response to loss. In addition to grieving the loss of someone we love, we may also experience grief when a desire or hope or prayer is not fulfilled in the way we had imagined, or seemingly not at all. And sometimes our grief is expressed as regret, by which we own and understand our participation in the losses of our lives, especially the losses we inflicted on others. Grief is embedded in real life, real loss.
Disappointment largely revolves around expectations and imagination.
I expect you to act a certain way, or I expect a specific outcome, or I expected to have achieved (fill in the blank) by now, or I expected that my life would be different or that I would be working in a job that I actually like. Fueled by media images, expectations are mostly disappointments waiting to happen and almost entirely built on imagination or illusion. Now, I understand the positive power of visualization and the neurological benefits of meditation, but that is not what I am talking about. I’m talking about imagining outcomes that can’t or don’t materialize.
This is precisely why God is never disappointed in you.
God has no such imaginations or illusions. God knows you, completely, fully, and with unrelenting affection. You don’t surprise God. God delights in you, as you delight in your own children; God also grieves for and with you when you act inside your lies and darkness—but not because God expected more of you. God is a fully engaged participant, present in the deepest and most profound activities happening inside the highest of all creation— you. God knows you for who you truly are and grieves for the distance between that truth and what you believe about yourself. It is from that gap of darkness and lies that we project God’s disappointment and abandonment.
God is never disillusioned by you; God never had any illusions about you in the first place.
God is never disappointed in you; God has no expectations.
Do you remember the verses halfway through Psalm 22? That’s the psalm that begins with “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” This was the cry of Jesus when He experientially entered all of humanity’s lies and darkness, when He plunged into the shadow depths in which we projected a turned-away face of God. We believe that we are abandoned and unworthy to be face-to-face with God, and it is in that delusion that Jesus finds us. Halfway through this psalm, which Jesus knew by heart, are these words:
You do not despise the afflictions of the afflicted one,
Nor will you turn your face from him,
And when he cries, you will hear.
This God does not do abandonment. We will never be powerful enough to make God’s face turn from us. Because God knows us utterly and is with us always— you are never a disappointment.
PS) This is a portion of a chapter from my new & first non-fiction book, Lies We Believe About God. Learn more, preview it or order your copy here.