By Mary Abrahamson
The trouble with others (and ourselves)… is that we are all sinful humans bumbling through a sinful world
Have you ever been deeply disappointed or hurt by something someone did or said to you? Or even simply by how events played out? I know I have.
And I also know that I’ve been the cause of disappointment for others. Parents. Teachers. Friends. Husband. In-laws. Perhaps sometimes the members of my husband’s churches. And even my own children.
We all have been disappointed. We all disappoint.
In my own life, I have noticed three primary sources of such disappointments. Firstly, I tend to place my trust on things that are not God. It’s a harsh but true reality that when I do this, I make idols of other people, things, ideas, plans, etc.
Secondly, I simply want things my way. It’s often hard to humble myself before God’s will.
And lastly, I demand of others a perfection which is not possible in this world. I set the bar for the actions and behavior of others beyond their ability to fulfill. And in so doing, I forget that I am sinful, and that I also let others down in word and deed.
When we learn the First Commandment we say, “You shall have no other gods.” It’s easy to think, “I don’t worship idols.”
But it’s harder to follow the meaning we when recite, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Do you ever trust the plans, actions, and attitudes of others over and above your trust in God. When you experience deep disappointment, take a moment to see whether part of the source of that disappointment is a misplaced trust in something temporal.
Other times, or even together at the same time, we sometimes place our confidence in our own wisdom or ability. We often get so caught up in our own plans that we know what is best. It’s easy to know something so firmly that we forget to approach life with the humble attitude of, “according to Your will and timing, Lord.”
We also know from the second table of the Law that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. My kids have often twisted this one around to enable them to treat others badly, “Well, she did it to me first, so she must want me to treat her this way.” Yet a different twist of that same kind of attitude can be seen when others let us down. Our love toward others, theirs toward us, and also the standards we demand of them and them of us, will always be infected by the common stain of sin. And so disappointments come.
We sometimes expect and demand from those around us some exact behavior or attitude or ability, without allowing them to be fallible or even to just have their own unique personalities. And when they fail, our sinful hearts perceive it to be some intentional slight toward us. Or we read it as some sort of gauge that shows how little they love us. When really it’s just a result of life with others in a sinful world.
All three of these sources of disappointment play together in our lives to twist our hearts and injure our relationships with others.
Let me give some examples.
Perhaps you have a non-Christian friend. You have been sharing God’s Word with this friend, but with little or no recognizable result. Finally she agrees to spend a day with you and your Christian girlfriends. “Now,” you think, “Now she will see Christ in our lives and words, and will get it.” You may or may not have acknowledged even to yourself that you are placing great import on this occasion.
During the day, one of your Christian girlfriends has, … let’s call it, … “a moment.” A regular old moment that we all have sometimes. Maybe it’s cruel gossip. Perhaps it’s an angry or unkind outburst. Maybe she confesses to some grave sin.
Your non-Christian friend sees all this.
You end the day disappointed.
What you might not realize is that you had placed your trust on these fallible sinful friends to provide some “just right” example or wisdom or whatever, to nudge your non-Christian friend toward Jesus.
You had idolized your friends. And since they are but humans tainted as you are by original sin, you ended up disappointed.
You had also forgotten to humble yourself to God’s will. God in His infinite wisdom may have something better yet planned for this friend. Or He may know that such “a moment” and the way the rest of you reacted to it is the very thing that your friend needed to see. Or harder yet to accept, perhaps this friend will never come to faith. God knows. You do not. His will be done.
Maybe a disappointment in your life is less directly the result of a certain specific behavior from a specific person, but more simply a matter of how something turned out. Did you want an outing or occasion to turn out “just so,” and it did not? Had you anticipated the project or program or even your daily or weekly schedule to play out a certain way and it did not? You might feel angry and disappointed. “It would have been better this way!” you might feel like screaming.
Again, we can see a trust that was placed in yourself and your own wisdom rather than that of God. Your loving Heavenly Father has all things in His hands. He knows all things, whereas you know just a fragment. His wisdom and timing are always best.
Sometimes disappointment comes from a more direct interpersonal interaction. Someone might speak sharply to you at a time when you are already feeling the burden of your sin. Ooh, wrongful use of the law on that one.
Maybe a friend fails to do something she has agreed to do for you. This is inconvenient. Sometimes you need to scramble to fix things. Other times things cannot be fixed. You end up frustrated, angry and disappointed in the behavior of your friend.
Have you ever let someone down in a similar fashion? Most of us have. Remembering that can make it easier to forgive such a failure in another.
But what if you’re one of those super organized people who can keep all your plates spinning. You might then be able to answer, “No, I don’t think I have let someone down like this.” Even so, God demands that we forgive those who sin against us. And love. You may not have let someone down in a similar fashion, but you are still sinful. You have your own failings. And God forgives you over and over. His love never ends. Remember the unmerciful servant, who was forgiven so much, but could not pass that forgiveness on to a small time debtor. So too, must you forgive. And love.
What about your unwritten expectations of others, your underlying assumptions. “I thought you were going to do this for me, but you did that instead?” Hmmm, whose fault is this one, really? Yep, pretty much yours. That same old problem of wanting things your own way, combined with an inability to accept the differences of others.
Maybe someone in your life is simply not the person you wish them to be. Do you ever wish your parents or children or close friends were a different sort of people? Do you see the blaring flaws in their characters and want to fix them? Well, guess what. You can’t make them different simply by wanting them to be different.
It seems almost silly to put it like that, but we all think that way sometimes about some people. And it can hurt. And disappoint.
Again, it can help at such times to remember your own sin. Your own shortcomings. Even yes, your own character flaws. These things might be an equally sore spot to those same people whose personalities you want to “fix.” But we are exhorted to love as God loves us.
The sad reality is that life in this sinful world will never cease to let us down. We will constantly catch ourselves trusting in people or things more than God Himself. Family and friends and coworkers will forever be doing things we don’t like. Sometimes this will be in an obviously sinful way. Other times it’s simply in a way we don’t like or prefer. And we, in our own sin, will never cease to let down those who put their faith and hope in us.
So where can we go from here? It’s easy to see the ways others have wronged us. And to be mad about things that turned out differently than we expected. But God doesn’t want us to spend our lives focused on the sins and shortcomings of others.
Think instead, each of us, in any disappointment, needs to consider, “What is my role in this?”
Are you guilty of misplaced trust? Confess that sin. Remember God’s Words. He knows your needs (Matt 6:8). All things work for good (Romans 8:28).
Did you forget that God’s will is best? Confess that, too, before your gracious Father. And remember God’s Words. Man plans the course, but God directs the way (Proverbs 16:9). Accept God’s plans for you with humble submission to His will (James 4:15).
Are you impatient with the sins and shortcomings of others? Confess your sin. And remember God’s Words. Bear with one another in gentleness and love (Ephesians 4:2). Forgive others on account of the great debt God has forgiven you (Matthew 18:21-35).
And do not despair, your Father loves you and forgives you. Hear the comforting Words of our Lord.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. John 3:16-17
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). Ephesians 2:4-5
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. Romans 5:8-9