On Disappointment and Hope

And hope does not disappoint us . . . – Romans 5:5 (NIV)

In his book Disappointment with God Philip Yancey tells the story of two men: a young seminary student named Richard who burns his Bible, his textbooks and all his Christian books after an intense struggle with disappointment; and Douglas, a psychologist who turned down a lucrative career to launch an urban ministry and faced a life of trial after his wife was diagnosed with cancer and a car accident left him nearly blind. I bought this book more than 20 years ago in an out-of-the-way bookstore while on a visit to my brother during a time when I, too, was struggling with disappointment. It was probably the lowest time in my life, when the future was a big question mark and everything that meant anything to me, from faith to family to career, seemed to be slipping away. A time when God was silent and I wondered if He even cared to stop my fall into a hole that seemed to have no bottom.

On that getaway trip, though, God was so real that everything I touched, read, and experienced had GOD written all over it—including Yancey’s book. Because the disappointment I was feeling was bitter, deep, painful, and hope-sucking, that book was a lifeline.

A dozen years later, I endured another period during which God was silent, the questions were plenty, the problems were getting deeper, and no answers were on the horizon. I prayed to get perspective, but I remained in a fogbank. Once again, disappointment tainted my days.

But I wasn’t having a crisis of faith. My faith was sure, firm—then and now. It’s my backstop against the wild pitches life hurls at me.

What I experience during these times is a crisis of hope. I don’t want to hope. I don’t trust it. Hope leads to disappointment. Wouldn’t it be better, I reason, to hope for nothing, expect nothing, and deal with whatever comes when it comes, whether it’s a delightful surprise or a discouraging setback?

Perhaps I hope too much, put too much stock in the future, in plans and dreams. Maybe I haven’t really learned to live. Perhaps life is like going on a trip, with the destination known but the route and the time it takes unknown – watching the scenery, enjoying the detours, stopping at a scenic overlook, or buying fresh fruit from a roadside vendor; not being concerned about the gas mileage, whether or not I’m making good time, where I’ll stay the night, what I’ll eat, or how much cash I have left in my wallet.

Just lifting each moment as it comes and holding it close to my heart, gently pressing out the love and joy.

As I reread the story of Richard, I thought, “How sad! He didn’t give it enough time.” After years of professing Christianity and experiencing one bitter disappointment after another, he spent a night in prayer, asking God to reveal Himself. When morning came and heaven was still silent, he burned his faith.

Douglas, on the other hand, responded to his crises in a most unexpected way.

“To tell you the truth,” he told Yancey, “I didn’t feel any disappointment with God.”

What? He didn’t blame God or feel betrayed after being obedient and giving up money for ministry, only to have his wife get cancer and a drunk driver ruin his health? Wasn’t disappointed that God didn’t stop it or at least protect them?

“I learned,” Douglas explained, “not to confuse God with life. . . .We tend to think, ‘Life should be fair because God is fair.’ But God is not life. And if I confuse God with the physical reality of life—by expecting constant good health, for example – then I set myself up for a crashing disappointment.”

So where is hope in all this – in the unfairness and disappointments of life?

Perhaps, like faith and trust, hope is a choice.

Will I be a Richard or a Douglas?

Dear God, when disappointment dries up my dreams, give me the hope I need to plant new ones. Amen.

Read and meditate on Psalm 42

(c) 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.


The Greatest Commandment

For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. – 1 Samuel 16:7 (NKJ)

According to The Merck Manual, an online source of medical information, vascular disease is a leading cause of death in the Western world. Arteriosclerosis, commonly known as hardening of the arteries, is a silent killer, as gradually the walls of the arteries, which carry the blood to vital body organs such as the brain and the heart, become hardened and thick with plaque, restricting the flow of blood. When blood can’t get to the brain, a person suffers a stroke. When it can’t get to the heart, a heart attack occurs.

Most of the time, a person doesn’t know his arteries are becoming blocked until physical symptoms, such as chest pain, occur. Often there is no warning. A person may appear healthy and strong until suddenly a heart attack or stroke takes his or her life.

Life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:14), and what pumps this life-giving liquid throughout the body? The heart. Our hearts, however, are only as healthy as our blood vessels.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve delved into the Ten Commandments, exploring how these 3,450-year-old laws apply to us today. But which of the ten is the most important?

One of the rulers during Jesus’ day asked Him the same question. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” He replied (Mark 12:30). Heart, soul, mind, and strength represent the total person: emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical.

Is that possible? Can we finite human beings love anyone or anything so completely?

I know I struggle with loving God the way He demands to be loved. Too much of myself gets in the way. Like the rich young man who came to Jesus and asked, “What must I do to be saved?” (Mark 10:17–30), I, too, struggle with “one thing you lack.” There always seems to be something that gets in the way of total surrender. It might be feelings and attitudes of envy, self-pity, smoldering anger, or resentment. Perhaps it’s a bad habit I refuse to give up or wanting my own way rather than God’s way.

These unhealthy feelings and attitudes, also known as “sin,” are the plaque that builds up in my spiritual blood vessels, restricting the flow of life-giving blood to my heart. Sin is the leading – and only – cause of spiritual death.

According to the Bible, our hearts have been giving us trouble since the beginning.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure,” the prophet Jeremiah wrote, “Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me,” God said through the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 29:13).

What is the cure for our sin-plagued, hardened hearts?

“Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed,” God commands in Ezekiel 18:31, “and get a new heart and a new spirit.”

But how? We are powerless to cleanse and purify our own hearts. We must turn to the Great Physician, the Healer of our hearts.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God,” David wrote in Psalm 51:10, “and renew a right spirit within me.”

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” the apostle John wrote (1 John 1:9).

“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them,” God promises through Ezekiel (11:19). “I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.”

Only when my heart has been softened, cleansed, and renewed by the hand of God – only when the sin-plaque is carved out of my stubborn will – only when my heart has been changed can I truly love Him as He demands to be loved. Then and only then, with a changed heart, will I find the Ten Commandments – all ten of them – easy to obey.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.

Read and meditate on Mark 12:28–34; Psalm 119:161–176

(c) 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved. All images in public domain.