If you are a writer or artist of any stripe, chances are you know a thing or two about disappointment. Perhaps, like me, you have found yourself blinded with false visions of breakthrough—publishing deal, critical acclaim, virality—only to stub your pride on the doorframe of reality. I’m an avid dreamer, so I hobble around with serious bruises thanks to my artistic ambitions. Writing, like other crafts, is not an easy vocation to pursue.
But today, I don’t want to throw a pity party for writers—I think there are enough of those already and I am partied out. Instead, I’d like to offer writers and artists of the church a reminder: we have a responsibility to steward our disappointments.
Disappointment is a norm in the post-fall world, not just for writers and artists. When Adam and Eve reached out and made their sinful choice, they planted the seed of disappointment in each of our hearts to grow and bear fruit for ages to come. Disappointment is now sown into the soil of our reality; it has perverted our nature. To neglect this is to cave into one of the most fundamental lies that the enemy tries to convince us of, that we live in the garden today, that our world is as it should be. Believe this, and you are bound to slip into a spiritual passivity that will corrupt your soul and further poison the ground around you.
When I talk about “stewarding disappointment,” I do not have a mind to denigrate or minimize our grief in any way. Grief is grief. Our sorrows do not always have to be justified, explained away, or made use of. There are moments when we should simply take grief for what it is, to cry and experience the weight of our sadness. Jesus himself, when standing before the tomb of Lazarus, bent down and wept. Are we too proud to weep with him? This is one of the most powerful ways to steward our grief—to simply experience it rather than flee, hide from, or neglect it.
But there are other ways to steward it too, ways that we might not always have the strength to muster. Sometimes God orders our disappointments in ways that meet others in their disappointments. If I, in my pain and isolation, could reach out and grab hold of the hand of a neighbor who is also enduring their own form of grief, could this perhaps partly remedy what is ailing both of us? One of my dearest friendships was formed and given its depth during a time we were both experiencing the pain of heartbreak and our paths collided. I sat with him in his confusion and loss just as he sat with me in mine. Those who have strength amid their troubles should strive to keep their eyes open for whom God might ask them to share their disappointments. Deep community forms not in the absence of troubles, but when individuals, in the midst of their troubles, band together to bear each other’s burdens.
The world doesn’t need people who live without disappointment. The world idolizes such individuals—celebrities, self-help gurus, spiritual sages. These people hide their disappointments by putting on masks; they conceal the truth, calling evil “good” and good “evil.” In doing so, they lead their flocks blindly into ditches. What our society needs instead are people who stand boldly and honestly in their brokenness because they understand that the power and grace of God are most clearly demonstrated there. For us, disappointment is no longer our defining reality.
Imagine this scene: The disciples hide in an upper room. The other Jews hold them in contempt. They have brought shame to their families. The words they spoke and the lives they led the last few years have proven empty all because their Messiah has been crucified on a tree, utterly humiliated. To say they are disappointed would be an understatement.
Isn’t it remarkable that God would use one grievous disappointment as a means of liberating us from the disappointment that characterizes our lives? Jesus’ death frees us from sin; Jesus’ resurrection gives us the hope of new life. In Christ, all our disappointments can be redeemed. That is not to say they will not leave their mark, but even the holes in Jesus’ hand demonstrated the legitimacy of his new body. Indeed, the resurrected Christ demonstrates how we ought to properly steward our disappointments. We are wounded and killed, but by God’s power, we rise again.
So we do not have to lose heart when a manuscript gets rejected, when our hearts get broken, or when we face the death of a dream. When Jesus said, “Behold, I am making all things new,” He meant all things. He intends to incorporate every sad and stinging disappointment into the great melody that our lives will sing in Christ. When we submit our disappointments to Him and steward them for His glory, we can trust that He is fulfilling His purposes for us, both in us and through us. He alone is our hope.