Turning Toward Disappointment

Most of my friends, family, and the entire population of Almena, Kansas, would tell you that I was grounded quite a lot in high school. I know, right? I’m such a rule follower and respecter of authority now, it’s sorta hard to believe I wasn’t then. *snort* My defense was usually that I wasn’t doing any really bad stuff. I wouldn’t drink alcohol or smoke or use any other questionable substances because I played every sport, so that was never an issue. It was usually my “creativity” around the whole idea of a curfew. What I considered an artificial limitation arbitrarily chosen that seemed to often put a damper on building relationships and memories with friends. See how that doesn’t sound dangerous or threatening? Of course, there was that time that the local deputy called my dad because I was cruising down mainstreet the wrong way. We didn’t meet anyone and had there been another car I would have had plenty of time to cross over to the other side – but I guess it was the principle of the thing. Can’t remember how long I was grounded for that deal.

Honestly? Being grounded was kind of relief in a way. For me having a direct punishment for a direct lapse in judgment (as I liked to call my impulsive decisions regarding automobiles, curfews, and fun) made complete sense. It was clear, understandable, and when it was over, it was over. What was much harder for me was when there was no direct punishment but I knew my parents were disappointed in me. I. HATED. THAT. I still hate that. It’s immeasurable, subjective, and fluid. For we who live in our heads probably way too much of the time, we hold on to the disappointment of others waaay longer than the one who was disappointed. Tell me that at 3 o’clock in the morning when you’re tossing and turning and frustrated that you can’t go back to sleep, that your mind doesn’t turn to one or two or all those moments of falling short that others have forgotten but that you hang onto almost as tightly as that safety bar on a roller coaster! It retains stark currency in us, mostly because what may have started as someone else’s disappointment we assimilate into our own being and become often more disappointed in ourselves. Sound familiar?

In his book Consolations, David Whyte says this, in part, about disappointment:

The great question in disappointment is whether we allow it to bring us to ground, to a firmer sense of our self, a surer sense of our world, and what is good and possible for us in that world, or whether we experience it only as a wound that makes us retreat from further participation. Disappointment is a friend to transformation, a call to both accuracy and generosity in the assessment of our self and others, a test of sincerity and a catalyst of resilience. Disappointment is just the initial meeting with the frontier of an evolving life, an invitation to reality, which we expected to be one particular way and turns out to be another, often something more difficult, more overwhelming and strangely, in the end, more rewarding.

Reading that has changed my life a little bit or maybe a lot of bit! If we can turn towards disappointment, even in ourselves, rather than away; if we can embrace it rather than deny it’s happening inside us, we may grow in ways we haven’t before imagined. That growth may be toward an authentic strength built on a perspective that has less to do with perfection and pleasing and more to do with living and loving. A way of living and loving which accepts that life, ours and others, often does not go as expected, planned for, projected, goal-set, and/or completed. That doesn’t mean we don’t have goals and plans and seek to do our best, it simply means that when the curve balls come, the unexpected detours caused by ourselves or outside forces, rather than “retreat from further participation,” we allow ourselves the generosity of heart and spirit and time for acceptance, adapting, and when needed, a forgiving of self that allows us to be free from that big old boulder of shame we too often carry.

To be honest, I’m disappointed in the United Methodist Church right now. I’m disappointed that I’m part of a denomination seeking to follow after Jesus that cannot decide that all persons are equally valuable and worthy of love, acceptance, and grace. I’m disappointed that I have not found a way to be stronger of voice and leadership in the midst of discriminations within our denomination based on gender, race, and sexuality. I love the local church and getting to serve and walk alongside all kinds of people in all kinds of situations whose hearts, in big ways and small ways, are directed toward the sacred call of a loving God. I’m humbled by the commitment we make together to live toward a vision we believe God has for the wider community that is inclusive and invitational. AND, I’m disappointed that I often see the world the way I want to see it rather than the way it is because that has allowed me to retreat from confronting injustice as passionately as I’m called to do.

I’m probably a little past the age of being grounded *snort* unless it’s the grounding of faith that gives me confidence to walk into new territory unafraid. I love more and more author David Whyte’s sentence: “Disappointment is a friend to transformation, a call to both accuracy and generosity in the assessment of our self and others, a test of sincerity and a catalyst of resilience.” That may simply be one of the best sentences ever written. Every word has meaning and purpose and that is the hope for every life to have as well. And if part of getting there is through an honest recognition of disappointment then I want to step forward and embrace it, learn from it, and allow it to energize and re-energize my efforts and calling to help this family, MY family that is this denomination, to face where we have and are falling short and move toward a different future… “more difficult, more overwhelming and strangely, in the end, more rewarding.”

Does it make sense that I’m learning to be gentler and kinder and more challenging to myself all at the same time? Perhaps the paradoxical parts of life are the most interesting. There is much work to be done in the world and in our faith, and there is much acceptance to be given and received of self and others at the same time. I’m glad we don’t walk this road alone. God hasn’t given up on us, on either our deep joy or our deep work for the common good. Our voices must be raised in passionate advocacy for justice, our hands and minds must be opened and extended to invite hard conversations about complex issues, and hearts must be softened to accept one another in our differences of perspectives and opinions so that love leads the way.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for loving me enough to ground me and to GROUND me. Although where that first meaning is concerned, I’m not sure that night that Beckie and I slid into the ditch in the mud and by the time her dad pulled us out I’d missed curfew was really my fault, perhaps you could make compensation for that next Christmas…