There is a breath we all take right before we know we are going to hear bad news. It is almost like that deep breath you take as you head under water. It is an instinctual breath of self-preservation. It is like your body doesn’t know when, or if, you will breathe again. I sometimes think if I can hold my breath, I won’t have to endure what I think is about to come. I am petrified of disappointment and I will do anything to avoid being disappointed. Sometimes I go as far as not allowing myself to dream too big, because that might lead to disappointment. The illusion of this control is wishful thinking; the reality is that whatever news someone is about to share can be good or bad, and the air I have sucked in has no baring on which way the conversation will turn out.
I have had some really disappointing conversations lately, and every time I have braced myself for what I am about to hear. Things I was hoping for didn’t turn out, and in some cases people made decisions to turn back to old ways. The news comes like the cool of the pacific. Here in California, there is nothing quite as shocking as the first time you jump in the pacific. I say jump because to ease your way into it is usually not an option; the waves make it next to impossible to avoid a full-submersion pacific baptism. I love the ocean and being in it, but even I dread those first cool moments – they are such a shock to the system. In the same way, disappointment is a shock to the system.
We as Christians don’t talk enough about disappointment. I think we are afraid of what it says about the sovereignty of God or about our connection to God’s will. We often allow ourselves to believe that we were hoping for the wrong thing if we are disappointed. I have actually heard people counsel other believers by saying things like, “well it must not have been in God’s will.” The theology seems to suggest that God has favorites, and I am not sure that is the case. Do some live a life of disappointment and others live a seemingly charmed life? Do some never have to have the waves of disappointment crash over them?
I recently wrote a draft of a book. I never thought I would write a book. I didn’t imagine there was anything profound or needed about my stories or what I would share with the world. A dinner party with friends, and friends of friends, began to change my mind. As we sat around the table, people asked me what my life was like as a female pastor. I started relaying my stories, and before I knew it, people had pulled up chairs and more and more questions were being asked. One woman yelled out, “you NEED to write a book.” Another one yelled out, “I would read that and buy one for all of my friends.” It took me off guard: these weren’t churchy people, why would anyone outside of the church want to read a story about a lady pastor? As I later reflected on the evening, I realized that there is a part of my story that is relatable to everyone… disappointment. When I was thinking of a working title for the book, the title that popped into my head was “Always the pastor never the bride, a spiritual memoir for the disappointed.”
I started scuba diving when I was 12 (I promise this relates). The dive shop where my family took classes wasn’t sure that a 12-year old girl could be strong enough to take the adult diving classes. They asked my dad to have me come by and pick up a tank to show my strength. I rolled into the dive shop and showed them that I may be small, but when it comes to determination and spunk, I can lift almost anything. Scuba diving is risky and a little surreal. I loved being under the water and breathing. I remember the first moment when I realized that I was breathing underwater and that you cannot just grab more air should something go wrong with your tank. The idea both thrilled and terrified me. But there is something beautiful about that risk and knowing that you are seeing things you would never see if you weren’t under water. The plant and animal life down below are like nothing you see up top. Why do I tell you all of this: I think because I have been afraid of disappointment in my everyday life. I have been afraid of losing the air of affirmation and people-pleasing. As with scuba diving, I believe the potential for the remarkable happens just when I think I have lost my air. I must be willing to be disappointed in order to dream big. I must be willing to be disappointed in order to engage people in vulnerable, real relationships. The shock of the pacific is no reason to stop daring to jump in those waves.
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”- Martin Luther King, Jr