I have always hated disappointment. I live as if man’s chief end is to avoid disappointment at all costs. My intuitive belief is that joy and disappointment are completely at odds with one another, and thus I am compelled to develop robust systems of defense against disappointment. For example, the devil prowls the earth like a bloodthirsty lion, and it would be extremely disappointing to fall victim to his ambush. So I subscribe to the conservative system of the Pharisees, for they have created fences and firewalls to protect against the possibility of sinning, stumbling, and suffering the sifting of Satan’s schemes. But what if this conservative safety-system is actually the trap of Satan! What if the disappointment defense system developed by the Pharisees is actually making me twice as much a child of hell!? (Matthew 23:4,15). What if the perfectionistic rules and regiments promising to protect me from ever getting near sin, are actually plunging me into sin!? What if Jesus said to me, “You will fall away. Failure is part of life. I’m not telling you to celebrate it, but the chief end of your life cannot be ‘avoiding failure and disappointment.’ The chief end of your life is to enJOY God!” And what if I said to Jesus, “Though everyone else might fail, I will never fail!” And what if Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, this very day, before the rooster crows, you will fail numerous times.” And what if I said, “No! I won’t! I will be ultra on-guard. I will be extra conservative and cautious. I will NOT fail, for I could not live with myself if I were to fail!”
Jesus would say, “That is why you must fail. You must not live with your fearful self. Your conservative quest for safety is fueled by fear; and you were not made to live by fear, so your fearful self must die, so that your joyful self may live! Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Satan has demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, and I will perfect my power through your failure, and I will make your faith and joy strong and firm through your failure (2 Corinthians 1:24), and after you have been strengthened through failure you will then be able to strengthen others rather than making them twice-over sons of hell.”
What if joy and disappointment aren’t at odds. What if disappointment weren’t a devastating reality, but rather an inescapable dimension of discovering new themes, textures, and realities of joy. What if God consigned us to certain episodes and experiences of disappointment in order to marinate our lives in His mercy and develop our capacity for joy (Romans 11:32)?
Pause and consider for a moment something that you REALLY LOVE! A mother loves her children, a culinary artist loves cooking good food, an athlete loves to play a particular sport. Now, realize how much HARD WORK is involved in motherhood, cooking, and sports. Realize how regularly setbacks, failure, and disappointments occur. Realize how much perseverance, problem-solving, and painstaking effort is involved in these endeavors. Notice how all of the hard work, disappointment, and perseverance proves, deepens, and strengthens the participant’s love! WHY? …Joy. The driving force is not fear, it is not “be safe”, it is not “never fail” or “avoid disappointment at all costs.” The driving force is JOY! Joy is what drives Jesus to “break the rules” of the Sabbath (in the eyes of His rabbinic peers). Joy is what drives Jesus to shatter the barrier between Jews and Samaritans (Jesus rejects the ‘law’ forbidding Him to feast in Samaria [John 4:4], for His food/joy is to do His Father’s will [John 4:34]). Joy triumphs over fear, and it compels us to take risks, to work with extreme rigor and passion, and it plunges us into painstaking perseverance, and an ever-increasing delight amidst the indispensable discovers made amidst disappointments.
I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. [John 15:11]