How often do you give yourself permission to look back and consider how far you’ve come? Do you pay attention to the critcal voice inside your own head or do you listen to the kind voice of the Father that sees the effort, the overcoming, the faithfulness, the moving forward? Would you allow yourself to take some time right now to reflect on how well you’re doing and how much you’ve grown? Would you let Daddy God whisper to your heart about how He sees your recent comings and goings, the triumphs rather than the failures?
Self-reflection is a habit that I’ve nurtured over time to help keep my heart, mind and Spirit healthy. In recent weeks I’ve felt the joy of realising that after nine months I am finally (and it feels like ‘finally’) back to good physical health after last year’s run of miscarriages. My iron levels have returned to normal (and what an eye opener that has been into anaemia – new found respect for those who deal with it day in, day out!) and I’m back to enjoying the burn and sweat of energetic gym classes. It is such a relief to feel my body respond and fly rather than slump as I stretch and push it.
But I’ve also noticed a stirring in my heart, like the unravelling of tightly-wound ferns responding to Spring’s warmth and light; the whisper of Holy Spirit calling me to pursue a new season of revelation and lightness in my spirit. You see, I didn’t really know that was what I needed until I stopped to listen to my heart, consider how my faith was doing and how much I needed the breath of heaven to revive my daily interactions with God. Sometimes we think we’re doing more than going through the motions of our faith – until we stop to consider what more really looks like….
I’ve blogged in recent months about the steps we have been taking back towards faith and expectation; towards acceptance that a life without children will still be a blessed life with the Lord should that be our future; towards the desire to embrace pregnancy announcements and enjoy families rather than hide because it hurts. But what I hadn’t considered, until very recently, is that all of these steps have been taken against the backdrop of a disappointment so deep that it has been strangling my faith and my belief in God’s ability to move the one mountain we’re still asking Him to move: infertility. It’s not that I doubt whether He can do what feels impossible for us after all of these years, but such is my discouragement that it has led me to thinking that he simply doesn’t want to. And therein lies the battle for our faith.
For such a long time now I have considered the opposite of hope to be despair. I read an amazing blog a few years ago about how life so often demands of us that we hold hope and despair in tension – and at the time it made a huge amount of sense. But just lately I’ve come to realise that the opposite of hope is not despair – the opposite of hope is disappointment.
If you’re anything like me I suspect you will have struggled to truly work through disappointment by yourself or take it to Jesus. Sometimes I think we feel we shouldn’t need to take to God the obstacles that we can’t get past, and so we try feebly to work through them by ourselves in an attempt to present ourselves clean and spotless to God. But we’re missing the point! It’s only in Jesus that these deep aches can be healed and restored. And God’s not looking for us to be perfect before we show up in His presence either. The honest truth is, so often the only remedy for our troubles is an encounter with God’s love and presence to release us from the pain we’re carrying – and He is simply longing to reach out and touch us.
So here is what I have learnt recently about the very real struggle between hope and disappointment, and about the battleground for faith, because I believe (from personal experience) that our God does not want us to sit down in disappointment and set up camp there. The love of God, the more of God, has something so much better than that for us all…and it begins with the restoration of hope and the renewal of our spirits.
Have you noticed the heaviness of disappointment when it takes up residence in your heart? It digs deep, advancing and burrowing its obstinate tendrils as far and wide as it can across all the aspects of life that usually bring us joy. To me disappointment seems to physically pull my body downwards, sapping my energy and leaving me indifferent to my existence. It colours my perspective so darkly that soon cynicism, discouragement and doubt have joined the dinner party and I’m surrounded by dreary voices that feed my deepest fears. I feel locked in a backwards glance, looking at all that has gone wrong, unable to consider a different future.
And do you know what, the Enemy of my Spirit loves this!? His aim is to keep me trapped at this downcast dinner party for all eternity if he can. And when I start to join in, agreeing with and voicing aloud the negative misery of these persuasive guests, I suspect his glee is even greater. Let’s face it, when we’re discouraged or disappointed the words that fall out of our mouth are not usually positive, thankful or happy. And this should alert us to the state of our hearts and the number of lies based on fear that we’ve digested. If I’ve learnt anything about disappointment over the years, it’s that the minute I start doubting my amazing God and who I am in Him, the same minute my hope withers and my faith fails. And that is why this is a battleground.
I understand the weariness of the fight. After this long I’m really ready some days to settle for an easy faith life and give up on my future. But I truly believe that I’ve not reached the end of my story yet – and I think God wants me to hang onto that too! So that means I only have one option – to ask God to remind me of the tools and the treasure that He has given me and to help me put them back into use. It’s taken time to want to do this – months if I’m being honest – but I know I don’t want to carry on as I am, I know there’s another way. So here are some of the things that I’ve started to put in place again…
Encounter: For me this tool is key. Our lives are busy and when we’re hurting often we actually don’t want to quieten ourselves before God and bring our tenderised hearts to him. The truth is, the longer we put it off, the longer we’re prolonging our own agony. (And sometimes I know we feel like doing that too!). But despite a seeming lack of interest from our Creator, He remains our only source of hope (Romans 15:13) and the one we can truly trust. He is The Expert at raising dreams from the dead. He wants to fill us back up with his joy and peace. But His one request is simply that we have the faith to believe He can do it – and so often faith is reignited by time in His presence and in His word.
Worship: Is it any wonder that Christian songs are written about the decision to give God praise when we don’t really feel like it?! Being honest with ourselves, it can be a very real struggle. But putting it very simply, sometimes worship is a choice. And when we choose to take our eyes off our problems and put them on the Peace-giver, we come to find we don’t feel the same as we did. Praising God is my shortcut to rebuilding my faith and giving the Enemy the boot – and I never regret it. Whether you get out into nature in silence or with music plugged in your ears, whether you lie on the floor and weep, whether you dance like a crazy person around your kitchen whilst belting out your favourite worship song, whether you sing out the melody of your own making – give God the glory He deserves. If you can think of nothing else to praise Him for, salvation is a great place to start! He has chosen you; choose Him and not your feelings in return.
Repentance: Have you ever noticed how prolonged or repeated disappointment can leave our hearts offended at God (or at other people)? I hate to admit it but this is a really ugly part of my nature that I’ve had to give attention to again recently. I might feel totally justified in my anger, but usually it turns out that I’m not and my offence creates a fence – a barrier – between me and God. And that barrier has to come down through humility and repentance if I want to see my hope and heart renewed.
Prayer: It doesn’t matter whether it’s a careful speech or a pent-up sob, a gut-felt ramble or a groaning cry, just let God in. Whatever you have in your heart, He can take it. Be real with Him. He made you and he thinks you’re the most wonderful being he’s ever beheld, regardless of how you see yourself. Write it out, draw it, yell it, whisper it, dance it, paint it, sing it – just let your heart connect with His. He hears – even when you think He doesn’t. And if you can, find a faith-filled friend and let them pray for you too.
Thankfulness: I think the Devil hates it when we’re thankful; He’d much rather we stayed moany and dissatisfied with God. Like worship, an ‘attitude of gratitude’ can be a choice, but what an atmosphere changer! It always amazes me how the discipline of recounting a handful of blessings usually gives way to a torrent of eyes-wide-open reminders of God’s goodness in the tiny and the huge. What better place to be building faith from?!
Renewing our mind: When we’re stuck in disappointment and discouragement so often it’s a sign that we’re listening to the wrong voices and trusting the wrong things. The misery tumbling out of our mouth is usually because we’ve started believing something that is based on fear rather than fact. Reignite the desire to be disciplined. You are not called to be a woman of despair and lack; you are called to be a woman who laughs without fear of the future. Why? Because if you’re a Christian, you believe that God is who He says He is – and all that requires is a childlike, simple faith which says yes to what’s written in the Bible. We have to be intentional about the renewal of our minds. The foundation of our faith is love and love never gives up, never loses hope. Refresh your memory with what the King of love says about you, about Himself and about His promises.
Here are some key verses that are well worth meditating on as you consider your own position on the disappointments you’ve experienced in life. I pray they bring you encouragement and fresh hope.
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland”. Isaiah 43:18-19
“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit”. Romans 15:13
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen”. Ephesians 3: 16-21
“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised“. Romans 4: 18-21
There is so much more to be said on the topic of disappointment. Despite how quiet the church can seem to be on the subject, there are some fantastic sermons online, brilliant books on the subject (check my Useful Resources page for some recommendations) and a great article with some practical advice here. The battle of faith is a very real one and infertility can seem like both a barren wasteland of our dreams and a breeding ground for fear. It’s not always easy to shake off the disappointment we experience, especially when month after month our bodies fail to manifest the hope of pregnancy that we are praying for. But know this – what is being asked of you in this time of endurance is a simple question: can you agree that God is who He says He is despite what your circumstances suggest? You only need a “Yes!” the size of a tiny mustard seed to believe.
(I can’t take all the credit for the content of this post. A brilliant man called Pete Carter came and spoke on hope and disappointment recently at our church and some of the thoughts he presented are included on this page. Check out his church and their ministry here for more of his talks).