On Disappointment

Let me share something I often hear from friends. See if it sounds familiar: “I thought by now I’d have this figured out.” There are variations, including “I thought by now I’d be happy/have a family/be successful at something in life.” There is this idea floating around that by the time you’re in your 30s, you should have arrived … somewhere. Our 20s are for having fun, goofing off, partying and exploring and finding ourselves. But by the time you hit 30, you need to have it figured out. Settle down, start a family, have a successful career, buy a house. If you’re not there yet, you are clearly missing something and you’re probably a loser.

My first question is, where does this idea come from? I don’t know that there’s a particular source for this cultural wisdom. It’s all around us. It just seems reasonable that in 30 years of life, we should have figured out what we want, where we want to live, who we want to spend the rest of our lives with, and how we want to make a living. And yet, reality often falls far short of that idea.

I’d say about half my friends are in their 30s and seem to have things together. They’re married, they have kids, pets, houses, vocations, and vacations. Then there are the rest: whether they are single or divorced, infertile, still looking for the right career, still renting, struggling to make ends meet or get through an addiction or broken heart, they feel like they’re missing something they should have by now. They feel lost, confused, broken, and weary from carrying the burden of disappointment and unmet expectations. I’m in my 30s and I fall somewhere between these two groups. I have some of the expected things, but I also struggle with the disappointment of a life that doesn’t quite look like I’d hoped it would by now. And I know that even some of my friends who seem to have it together are struggling with things most people would never guess. Some are recovering from cancer. Some are recovering addicts. Some are trying to keep their families together when there is so much that could tear them apart.

Disappointment is defined as the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations. I think one step to dealing with disappointment is realizing that what we hoped for or expected might not have been grounded in reality. In my generation, we’ve been brought up on a steady diet of empowerment, entitlement, and positivity. We’ve accepted these ideas and now believe that if we do the right things and think the right way, we can achieve anything and gain all that we desire. We deserve the best simply because we exist. Unfortunately, as good as all that sounds, it’s simply not true. Sometimes we can do what is right and still lose everything because of another person’s actions. Diseases and disorders and infertility happen because of the environment around us and the imperfect cells inside us. And sometimes what we actually deserve is a lot worse than what we get. The truth is, we live in a world filled with beauty but marred with ugliness. No matter how hard we try to concentrate on the beauty and surround ourselves with it, the ugliness still exists, and sometimes it threatens to ruin everything we’ve worked for.

Now for the good news:

You are not the master of your destiny.

At first, this might not seem to be good news. I struggle with it sometimes. I like to be in control. When I sense that something in my life is heading in a direction I don’t like, I stop and evaluate the situation, and figure out what I can do to fix it. Then I take it upon myself to take the necessary action. I don’t think this is a bad approach to problem-solving. It suits me much better than giving up or whining about being a victim of my circumstances. But ultimately, I recognize that I am not in control. All my evaluation and all my best efforts, my successes and failures and even my disappointments, are in God’s hands. He has a plan, not just for me, but for the world, and it is good. Every experience of my life fits into it somehow, and he is using all of it to make me the person he wants me to be, for his glory.

Your view of the world may be different. You may not acknowledge or appreciate God’s role in it. And even if you do, you may think that only a cruel, capricious god would force us to endure the pain of disappointment. The idea of an all-powerful being in control of your life might bring you more terror and frustration than comfort. You might think that faith in someone you can’t see is a form of weakness, that you shouldn’t have to trust in someone stronger than you. You may even think, “he might have had a good plan for me, but surely I’ve messed it up so badly that he’s given up on me by now.” I can appreciate all of that. Throughout my life, God has showed me through various ways that he is real, that he loves me, and that I can trust him. I still have to remind myself of that, often. I have questioned every life decision I’ve ever made on more than one occasion, even the ones where I strongly sensed God’s leading. Surely he didn’t really mean for me to do that. I’ve made some bad decisions and outright mistakes that I never saw coming, and many of them have led to feelings of disappointment, frustration, and unworthiness.

I wish I could have this conversation in person with each one of you reading this right now. I would look into your eyes and tell you, “I would like to be able to look into your future and tell you it’ll be okay, that it all works out, that the bad will become good and the good will stay good and you will be happy.” I don’t know the future, and I can’t tell you that. I can tell you that I know someone who does know the future, mine and yours, and he can do amazing and wonderful with these real-life messed up lives of ours. He did it all throughout the Bible and throughout history and he can do it for me and you. I sincerely hope that what lies ahead for you is redemption and vindication and only good things. I hope that you will look back on these times of disappointment and think, “That was hard, and I hated it, but it made me who I am today and I wouldn’t change that for anything.”

Even in the midst of disappointment, these thoughts keep me going: God sees me. He knows what I am going through. He is with me. He understands the pain of living in this messed up world. He is working in the midst of all of it to bring beauty from ashes and roses from thorns. Beyond this life, he has a perfect place prepared for me for eternity, and my mission is to bring as many people with me as I can.

I know I want better for my life. I have failed so many times I’ve lost count. There are many things I thought I’d be by now, that I’m not. I thought I’d be a best-selling author. I thought I’d own a lovely home and have a few horses. I thought I would be constantly fulfilled and satisfied by mothering my children, but most of the time they wear me out. I love them, and I’m exhausted. I thought I’d be happier. I thought I’d have more money, be out of debt. I have fallen short in more areas than I thought possible. I want to look into my own future and see happiness, prosperity, success, and contentment, but I know that none of that is guaranteed. What I do know is that no matter what happens, God is with me. He understands my disappointment, my struggles, my failures and griefs. He walks through them with me and gives me the strength to deal with the unexpected. And even in those moments when the inner strength I have developed fails me, he is strong. I can lean on him, and hope in him, because he guides me steps and holds my heart. He does not disappoint.

Sometimes, in order to battle disappointment, you just need to widen your perspective. Instead of focusing on yourself, consider something good you might be able to do for someone else. Rather than wallow in your bad choices, learn from them and make better ones from now on. If you need help gaining perspective, then reach out to someone, maybe a friend, maybe a therapist, who can talk you through your disappointment into peace. Your struggles don’t make you a loser, they mean you’re human. You are not alone in this. Many people in their 30s (or other stages in life) feel the same things to various degrees. I know because I hear it so often. I feel it myself. Take some hope from all our struggles and victories. There is hope. You can be better, and so can your life. A whole new level of peace and happiness could be waiting just beyond this disappointment. Hang in there.

Image Credit: The Bible App

Have you experienced this feeling of disappointment? What are some healthy ways you have found to cope with it?

On Writing With A Plan

I’m blogging a series that I’m calling “Stop Thinking About Writing…And Just Write!” Thinking about writing is easy. When I mention that I’m a writer, people often say, “Oh, I’ve thought about writing a book.” My encouragement to anyone who has had that thought is, stop thinking that. Just do it. Writing can be difficult but it’s worth it to give it a try. So here are some of my thoughts on the process. Six thoughts, actually. The first was Write Every Day. Next…

#2: Write With a Plan

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On Doing What You Don’t Want To

Today, I did a workout I didn’t want to do. I’ve been fighting a stomach bug this weekend, nothing too dramatic but it makes me want to lay around, do nothing, and stay close to home. I’m wrapping up an exercise challenge for this month and I didn’t want to get more than a day behind, so I forced myself to do this workout. I knew it would be tough, I knew it wouldn’t feel good, and I didn’t want to do it, but I also knew I needed to do it. So I did. I got through it. I thought it would be a lot worse, than it was, actually. It’s not a long workout, only took about 12 minutes to finish, and muscle memory did most of the work. I’ve been doing these same three moves for nearly a month now so once I started my body just did what it needed to do. Now I’m not sure if my stomach feels any better, but I do feel better about myself.

Continue reading “On Doing What You Don’t Want To”

On Writing Every Day

Over the next few weeks I’m blogging a series that I’m calling “Stop Thinking About Writing…And Just Write!” Thinking about writing is easy. When I mention that I’m a writer, people often say, “Oh, I’ve thought about writing a book.” My encouragement to anyone who has had that thought is, stop thinking that. Just do it. Writing can be difficult but it’s worth it to give it a try. So here are some of my thoughts on the process. Six thoughts, actually.

#1: Write Every Day

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On Doing What You Can’t

There is a commercial that aired during the Olympics that keeps sticking in my mind. You know a commercial has a powerful message when you keep thinking of it months later. This one was a Samsung commercial but like many commercials that run during sports broadcasts recently, it only subtly featured products, instead promoting an inspirational idea. This particular commercial focused on the word “can’t” and showed a variety people failing at what they’re trying to do, only to find inspiration to try again and succeed. The tag line of the spot is “Do What You Can’t” and it embodies the spirit of the Olympics, which I love. Run faster, jump higher, be stronger, do more and be more than what anyone thought was possible before. Even you.

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On the 30 Day Plank Challenge

At the end of February, I tossed out a quick question on Facebook. I said I was thinking of doing one of those 30-Day plank challenges that have been floating around Pinterest and asked if anyone wanted to join me. To my surprise, people did. So I started a group, posted the challenge, got friend to make me some cool images for the daily posts, and invited everyone to comment once they had finished the challenge for the day. Ten people made it halfway through the challenge and three or four made it all the way to the end. I didn’t get to my goal, which was a five minute plank, but I know at least one guy did. Jamie Thurston, you are a plank hero.

Here’s what I learned by planking (almost) every day for a month:
Continue reading “On the 30 Day Plank Challenge”

On Why Weak Characters are Plot Killers

Much has been said on the subject of plot vs. characters. I’m not sure why it’s a debate. When writing fiction, you have a plot, and you have characters. Both are equally important. No one cares about the plot unless they care about the characters, and no one wants to read stories about people who never do anything.

I have heard a sage piece of writing advice, passed down from writer to writer until no one knows who first said it: “Every scene must move the plot forward.” It is true. Each scene must have a purpose, and even if the main purpose is character development or setting, it must tie to the plot somehow. It’s easy to get carried away writing a scene that has developed in my head and forget about this important truth. That’s why books are written on plot and structure and why outlines are important, to remind creative writers not to get so carried away with their creativity and their characters that they lose the plot. But it’s also possible to become so tied to your plot that you lose your characters. And when you lose your characters, you lose your readers. That, my writer friends, is a disaster.

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More On Time

Time is a concrete absolute. Minutes pass, the sun changes position in the sky, seasons change and time marches on. Lately I’ve noticed how fluid and subjective our perception of time is. We’re so familiar with this concept that it’s built into our language. Time flies when you’re having fun. That line took forever to move. I lost track of time. Continue reading “More On Time”

On Film Scores

I like to listen to film scores while I write. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. They’re dramatic and usually instrumental so they inspire dramatic thoughts without a lot of distraction from lyrics. I mean, I love lots of music and lots of artists, including Adele and Josh Groban and Pentatonix and Rend Collective, but there’s a time and a place for those. (Adele: Sad love stories. Josh Groban: Angsty love stories. Pentatonic: Fun. Rend: Spiritual thoughts. You get the idea?) Film scores are good general writing music to block out the silence of home or whatever annoying stuff they’re playing at Starbucks. Continue reading “On Film Scores”