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Facing disappointment

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

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It was 6:45 on a Sunday morning, and the sun and my three-year-old grandson were both peeping just over the covers of my bed. "Grammy, it's time to get up."

"Oh, sweetie, Grammy needs just five more minutes to sleep, then I'll get up."

A pause of contemplative quiet from the little guy, then this eye-opener: "Grammy, I'm not disappointed – I'm just hungry." It was said with calm and utter reasonableness. In two seconds I was out of bed, had my robe on, and was headed down the stairs to fix a bowl of cereal for this precious one.

I've thought about my grandson's statement since then. At first I thought that he didn't really mean "disappointed." But as I thought about it, it seemed exactly the right word. He was telling me that he wasn't being fussy, willful, or unreasonable; he had a need and was certain that I would want to fulfill it. And I did.

This gave me a new perspective on disappointment and changed my approach to dealing with it. It's easy to think of disappointment as an involuntary response to an outward circumstance or situation – one of those things you almost have tofeel initially but then can master through reasoning, passage of time, or a change of circumstances. But what if we could see up front that disappointment is the result of willfulness? We want circumstances to turn out in a certain way, and when they don't, we feel unhappy. But the insisting on how we want things to turn out does not happen involuntarily, and this preconceived outcome is at the heart of disappointment.

Jesus struggled with disappointment in the garden of Gethsemane. It was after a poignant supper with his disciples, during which he poured out in symbolic gestures and tender words his hope that they would take up his lifework and carry the torch of healing.

He knew already that Judas would betray him, and I think he must have felt heavy with sadness as the time approached for his crucifixion. He went into the garden to pray. Twice he went back to the disciples and found them asleep. He woke them and expressed disappointment that they weren't praying with him. But they did not live up to his expectations. And after the third trip back from the garden, Jesus prayed, "... not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:42). Trusting God's will didn't result in the failure of his mission but in the triumph of his resurrection and ultimately his ascension.

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