Disappointment. We all experience it. New jobs lack luster after a few days. Family members feast on homemade meals and offer few thanks. Classes at dream colleges turn into morning alarms by September. Handwritten notes begin to sputter and eventually stall after a few months of dating. We can avoid disappointment no less than we can dodge yawns. Hiccups. Sneezing.
More than we experience disappointment, we feel it. For myself, livelihood recedes when expectations go unmet. Usually I end up crying, as my husband can attest. For others of us, dissatisfaction sets anger ablaze. Complaints abound. Less expressive folks often choose to let bitterness stew in silence.
The point is, we all experience and then feel the weight of disappointment. The way that cracks in expectations affect a person varies, and our immediate reactions do not necessarily spell s–i–n. It’s not wrong to sigh when a close friend cancels on longstanding weekend plans with nothing more than a six-word text: Hey! I can’t make it tonight.
And so the question becomes, At what point does disappointment truly drag us into sin?
The History of Disappointment
Today, the word disappointment points to external realities. Experiences outside of us “frustrate [our] expectations or desires” (Online Etymology Dictionary). This definition has less, well, definitive links to any spiritual misstep on our own part. When we are disappointed, we mostly think of that which has disappointed us: another person, poor weather, a faulty engine. We, the disappointed, tend to position ourselves as innocent. Plus, we see ourselves as deserving of lost goods and underserving of present pains.
Don’t get me wrong: when disappointment strikes, we can be guiltless — at least, at first. We don’t prod others to cancel plans that we’re looking forward to, but we do spiral into unkind, prideful thoughts about how well we ourselves keep our commitments. Innocent when disappointment touches down and then flagged for spiritual foul play immediately after.
What’s the deal? Herein, the etymology of the word disappointment comes in handy. The word disappointment comes from the fifteenth-century disappointen, which meant “dispossess of appointed office” (Online Etymology Dictionary). It also has ties to the Old French word desapointer, used to describe times when people were “remove[d] from office.” So historically, disappointment did not begin with the situations that surrounded people. It began with the self.
One Office Remains
Disappointment is the same today, even if we dislike to admit it. When I am disappointed to the point of sinful overflow, I am primarily being disappointed, as well as sinful, because of the way that I view myself. I love my appointed position (just like the old form of disappointment), and I just can’t believe that something or someone took a swing at it. So, I fight back.
What we must all realize is that, God alone appoints us to specific positions so that we may best point back to him. God bookends all “appointed offices” — wonderful identities like friend, chef, spouse, teacher, mother, student, boyfriend — so that he gets all the glory. He gives them to us. We yield them back to him.
In this way, disappointment cannot steal our joy, nor can it induce sin, for our identity does not stand upon circumstance. Our identity has sunk its feet happily into the person of Jesus: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). God appoints all things — even (and perhaps especially) disappointment — to bring his people joy (Romans 8:28; James 1:2). Joy skyrockets when God further molds us into the only identity that matters and lasts: we belong to Christ.