It has been a rough couple of weeks for me. There have been numerous disappointments over the past month. Things that I took for granted would happen, and then they didn’t.
Things that were a pretty big hit to my confidence and self-esteem. Things that were a hit to my faith.
I’m not talking about your casual, run-of-the-mill disappointment. I’m talking about the devastating feeling of being punched in the gut when you learned the news. I’m talking about the kind of disappointment that requires a mental health day (or two) off of work. The kind of disappointment that makes you think, “what’s the point!?”
Why would God let this happen? Why did he keep ignoring my prayers? Did he just forget about me, or did he not care about me anymore?
It’s been interesting because this season of disappointment and doubt has corresponded amazingly well with the season of Lent, which began on March 2 this year: Ash Wednesday.
I went to my first Ash Wednesday service this year. In the faith tradition I grew up in, we just didn’t observe Lent. I had never even heard of it until I went to college, when suddenly people were talking about giving up caffeine or chocolate for the 40 days before Easter.
I think some people feel very uncomfortable stepping outside of their own faith traditions, but I have found it beneficial to keep an open mind, and see if there is a potential spiritual benefit in partaking in other faith traditions. Lent is not even that far of a stretch for me, it’s still a Christian tradition, just not the brand of Christianity I was used to.
At our Ash Wednesday service, we sang hymns together and had a time of private and public confession of sin. It was a time to focus on our mortality, and our thankfulness that Jesus died for our sins. It was a time to be grateful for the grace of God.
I thought about giving up something for Lent, but nothing seemed right. I started out the season of Lent with a lot of hope, but found myself unfortunately collecting disappointment after disappointment. Our church had created a podcast especially for Lent, where members of our church shared prayers and Scripture and recited the Lord’s Prayer together. Many people talked about how much they loved the podcast, and how uplifting and meaningful it was for them to listen to it each morning.
But I found myself less and less able to listen to it as the weeks went by. I felt like my faith was failing as I watched and waited (and waited some more) for my prayers to be answered. And then they weren’t.
I’m thankful to say I have many great spiritual mentors in my life that I can lean on. I spoke with one of them during this time and said I felt like my faith was extremely weak. I didn’t feel thankful. I didn’t feel grateful. I just felt disappointed and forgotten by God. After listening to my plight, this mentor told me, “I don’t think you have weak faith at all. I think you are just really angry at God, and you want him to know about it.”
That changed my entire perspective. I was so disappointed with life because I had built up so much hope. I had expected God to act, and he didn’t act how I thought he would. And I was mad about it. Why couldn’t he just let one thing go right? Why did everything have to be a learning and growing opportunity? I was tired of learning and growing. I felt like Jonah, mad at God for choosing him for a mission, mad at God for being seemingly unfair through his mercy to others… But I also felt relieved. I wasn’t having a faith crisis – I was just mad at God. And he and I could work through that.
As I continued to be immersed in my own disappointment, I thought about how Jesus felt as the time got closer and closer for him to be sacrificed on the cross. I thought about how maybe he felt mad at God for calling him to that mission. If not mad, at least scared, or anxious. Jesus prayed that he wouldn’t have to do it, and God didn’t answer his prayer.
I have a friend who sincerely believes that God never says “no” to a prayer. He either says “yes” or “something better.” (Better meaning something to better further his will and his kingdom.)
I didn’t intentionally choose to give up something for Lent this year, but I was given an opportunity to continue to try to trust God and wrestle with my faith during the time that he withheld things from me. And maybe that’s really the lesson I needed to learn – to not let my faith and happiness be so dependent on my circumstances all the time. To not assume that God’s love is only experienced during times of “blessing” or answered prayers.
I was hopeful that by the time Easter came, just as Lent was ending and the time to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection was near, that something in my own life would also be worth celebrating. I’m not sure I’m there yet. But there has (slowly) been a sense of peace that has been coming back to me over the past week, and I am thankful for that.
I’m hopeful that as time goes on, in hindsight, I will see how God chose the “something better” for me. That I was not at all forgotten or unloved. But quite the opposite.
Thanks for reading. Happy (late) Easter.
P.S. If you are in a season of disappointment, where perhaps you feel like a huge failure, maybe this quote from Brené Brown will encourage you as it did me when I walked into my office after a particularly disappointing day:
I want to keep choosing COURAGE – to keep being brave enough to fail, despite the risk of heartbreak and disappointment.