Disappointed? Remind Yourself of this Instead

One of the aphorisms with which we try to reassure ourselves when we’re feeling things we don’t want to feel is this: “into every life some rain shall fall.” In other words, at some point, you’re going to feel disappointed.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find that any too amazingly comforting. I don’t want rain to fall in my life! I don’t want to feel hurt, or anger, or disappointment. Reminding me that those feelings are part of the human condition is about as helpful as telling someone who’s upset to calm down. Never in the history of calming down has the injunction to “calm down!” worked.

So I’m not going to write any of those neat little aphorisms here. I don’t have to: today’s readings convey the same message far more eloquently—and more forcefully—than any tidy fortune-cookie message ever could.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus is clearly doing something that, these days, we would call venting. He is exasperated, frustrated. He just arrived in Jerusalem, cured a crippled man at a healing pool, and now everyone around him is freaking out—not because he did it, but because he did it on the Sabbath. It must have been very clear to Jesus that people weren’t yet “getting it,” that their minds were still fixated on petty things, that their hearts weren’t yet engaged. He points out—again—as clearly as he ever does, precisely who he is and why he is there. He assures his listeners that anything he does comes from his Father. Imagine him, looking around at the faces surrounding him, faces that are incredulous, baffled, stupid, angry, self-righteous. No wonder he needs to vent! How many miracles does he have to perform before these people understand? How disappointing can they be?

That kind of frustration can’t be encapsulated in a neat saying or a fortune-cookie message. That is real anguish. God sent him to these people because God loved them so very much, and this is how they respond?

The Rev. Martin Luther King wrote, “there can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love,” and that, too, is clear from this passage. Jesus loves these people. He wants them to understand, to respond, to love. He’s feeling a very human emotion that we’re all familiar with. Any parent reading this passage, in particular, is nodding in agreement: if there is one truth every parent shares, it’s that our children will inevitably in some way disappoint us. (The flip side to that, of course, is that it’s just as certain that we as parents will disappoint our children.) Humanity stumbles through life, making mistakes, exhibiting poor judgment, going for the quick win, even when we’re trying to do our best.

As a species, in fact, we’re a pretty disappointing lot.

This is especially clear in today’s first reading. Yahweh has taken the children of Israel out of bondage. He has freed them, given them a home and a life, and what did they do in return? Started worshipping a patently false god, a metal calf of their own creation. How disappointing is that?

Yahweh is apparently ready to do something drastic, but Moses—the consummate diplomat—intervenes. Moses doesn’t pretend there’s nothing disappointing in what is happening. He doesn’t try to justify anyone’s bad behavior. He knows there’s nothing he can say to defend the indefensible. What he does, instead, is remind Yahweh of his love for his people, of the promises made to his people. He reminds Yahweh to remember the bigger picture.

In other words, Moses—who has more reason than others to understand this—knows that, given the opportunity to disappoint, people will do it. That as a species we tend to take the easy way out, to be lazy and self-serving. We coddle ourselves and make excuses for our bad behavior. But just as the parent continues to love the child who isn’t living up to his or her promise, so has God engaged to love us, no matter what. He has promised love to a species intent on self-destruction, on waging wars, on oppressing the weak and glorifying cruelty and greed. Sit with that thought for a moment. What greater love could there be? Jesus didn’t come to earth to live and die because we’re all such perfect people. He came because of the tremendous love his Father has for us.

Martin Luther King was right: we can only be disappointed by those we love. And we can only disappoint those who love us. So instead of clinging to our outrage, our disappointment, our self-righteousness, and judgment of others, perhaps we can remember what Moses reminded Yahweh: that in the end, it is always (and perhaps only) love that matters.


Contact the Author

Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at http://www.pauline.org.