A while back I had an encounter with a friend that left me feeling hurt and betrayed. For several years we had enjoyed a close friendship that was a fun mix of personal and professional. We could easily shift back and forth from working together on a large project to laughing over lunch to spending time with each other’s families. Then one day my friend came in, red in the face, upset about some differences we had. He let me know that our friendship was over. The professional relationship would still be there, he said, but he was “backing off” from any contact we had beyond that. I was stunned, apologized for my part of the rift, and tried to offer a way to rebuild our friendship. His cold response let me know that wasn’t an option. I was hurt—and deeply disappointed.
I hate it when people I rely on disappoint me: when a friend promises to help me with something and then blows it off; when a babysitter backs out at the last minute; when someone’s attitude or reaction is far beneath what I had come to expect from him or her. Even worse than being disappointed is the feeling of disappointing someone else: when I realize an e-mail has gone unanswered or a call has gone unreturned for so long that someone assumes I just don’t care; when I forget someone’s special day because my life is running so fast I lose track of anyone else’s concerns but my own. I hate letting people down. And I really hate the feeling of being disappointed in myself.
In a perfect world there would be no disappointment.
There would also be no mosquitoes. No taxes. No rush-hour traffic. In a perfect world there would be no fights to get teenagers to do their homework, since there definitely would be no homework! (And possibly no teenagers.) In a perfect world our bodies wouldn’t fall apart as we get older. We wouldn’t have to say goodbye to the ones we love. Our hearts wouldn’t sting from the disappointment of broken relationships.
But we don’t live in a perfect world, do we?
We could, you know, if it weren’t for those infamous ancestors of ours: Adam and Eve. They had the perfect world, Eden, and they traded it all away for a snack that they believed would benefit them. (And it wasn’t even chocolate!)They handed over the keys to Eden because of a piece of fruit.
Genesis describes Eden as a place of wholeness, where relationships between people were without flaw. Adam and Eve are described as “naked and unashamed,” which among other things means that they had nothing to hide from one another or from God. Before they messed up, they never hurt or disappointed each other. They never experienced shame or guilt.
The moments when I long for Eden the most are the ones when brokenness is the most obvious—when sickness, pain, death, divorce, destruction, war, and even disappointment mar the landscape of this once perfect world. Sometimes I think about all that we’re missing out on because Adam and Eve felt the need to have a little bite.
But I also wonder if there’s anything we do have in this post- Eden world that we never would have known had the human race always existed inside the garden of perfection. Is there any benefit of living in this imperfect world? I think it’s this: we get to see how God deals with disappointment. If Adam and Eve had never touched that forbidden fruit (and, let’s face it, if they hadn’t, someone to come in their family line would have), then we never would have seen how God handles less than perfect lives, messy relationships, and disobedient children.
When God discovered that His children had done exactly what He told them not to do, I’m sure He experienced an immediate sinking feeling of disappointment. I mean, there were a million good choices available, but they picked the one thing that would hurt the Father who had given them everything. God’s disappointment is not like our own. Our disappointment is usually self- centered, focused on our unrealized expectations. God’s disappointment is always selfless, focused on the damage we cause to our own lives and to our relationship with Him. When God is disappointed with our actions, it is because He wants the absolute best for us. God loves us too much to let anything stand in the way of the wonderful future He envisions for us, even if that thing is something of our own choosing. God’s disappointment in Eden was with a choice that would now shift the entire future of humanity.
But I wonder if, alongside that feeling of disappointment, there was a little bit of excitement in God’s heart—a feeling of joy that He would get to show us a part of Himself we never would have known had we stuck to the straight and narrow. I wonder if God rolled up His sleeves and thought: “All right. Now I get to show them what I’m really made of.” And this is what God is made of: Grace.
When Adam and Eve rocked our world by defying God, when they tried to dethrone God and put themselves in His place as the One whose plans are best for the universe, God was deeply disappointed. And yet God responded with grace.
We call that first story of sin “the Fall” of humanity, but every generation since has fallen again on its own. If we’re honest, we must admit that we don’t usually fall into sin; we willfully throw ourselves headlong into it. Each generation has its own experience of disappointing God. And in each generation God responds with grace. He reaches out, offering Himself again and again. Even when He knows we will grieve His heart again, God still shows up full of grace.
I John 2:12 says “I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of His name.”
Some translations say that we have been forgiven “for His name’s sake.” In other words, the purpose of forgiveness is to make a name for God, to advertise that God is gracious and merciful, even when our actions are crushing. Eden may have been a perfect world, but the one thing it didn’t have was forgiveness—the ability to meet disappointment not by recoiling or lashing out but by offering grace.
I long for that perfect world sometimes. But if humanity had stayed there, we never would have known how God deals with disappointment. Just as we have a choice, God has a choice. He could choose to reject us or to offer us a cold shoulder. Instead, I believe God rolls up His sleeves with a sense of excitement: “Now I get to show them what I’m really made of.”
When my friend hurt me, I had a choice. I have to admit that it was tempting to withdraw, to lick my wounds, to pretend that our friendship never mattered to me in the first place. Instead, I am choosing daily to respond to disappointment with the same enthusiasm as Jesus. If my friend had never hurt me, I never would have had a chance to show what I’m truly made of as a child of God: grace.
When have you been deeply disappointed by someone? How did you react?
Note: Disappointing God is an exerpt from the new study, Namesake