It was not a day for disappointment. Anybody could see that. Spring boldly announced its arrival with a cloudless sky and a temperature both warm and yet cool with the breeze. The air was fragrant with the distinct combination of greenery coming to life and moist dirt. It felt energizing to breathe fresh air after a long, cloistered winter, so I went for a walk.
Originally intending to keep the outing short, I passed the turn-back point in full stride to take full advantage of the glorious day.
I turned a corner and up ahead saw a family getting ready for a bike ride. Youthful, athletic parents already helmeted and straddling their bikes, a son about seven years old, riding in circles while waiting for everyone to organize, and a little girl about five years old atop a small two wheeler fitted with training wheels. Her blond hair was in a loose braid resting on her shoulder, tendrils escaping her helmet.
How perfect they look, was my first thought, and I felt a pang of envy for the idyllic scene of a family outing on such a picture-postcard day.
But as I drew closer, I could see, and hear, a different story. Dad was trying to encourage and soothe the daughter, whose death grip on her handlebars matched her bright pink face and wide, frantic eyes.
“I’m tipping! I’m tipping!” she repeated in an increasingly panicked voice.
Dad was quiet and calm. “No you’re not. You’re fine. I’m RIGHT here. I won’t let you fall.”
“No! I’m tipping I’m tipping!” Like a mantra, she heard nothing but her own repetitions.
And that’s when I noticed the mother.
With fingertips pressed to her forehead, shoulders slumped and eyes that looked away from the scene, she was clearly not happy.
I’ve been there. Haven’t you?
I imagined the mother woke early and made breakfast with great anticipation and excitement for the family bike ride she’d dreamed about since the children were toddlers. Finally possible now that their daughter graduated to a bicycle, today seemed like the day.
“Seemed” is the operative word here. When we approach a situation with our hopes and expectations, is sometimes a recipe for disaster. Complications, and the needs of others, sometimes derail our vision from becoming reality.
In other words, we feel disappointment with a capital D.
I’ve certainly felt its sting for dinners that didn’t turn out well even though I meticulously followed the recipe, for celebrations that lacked gaiety despite all the checks on the to-do and to-buy lists, for relationships that turned difficult in unforeseen ways.
My walk took me past the drama so I never saw whether the daughter regained her composure and confidence, and if the family ultimately enjoyed their planned outing. But what if they couldn’t? I’m curious how the mother would have handled her disappointment.
I know sometimes I don’t handle mine well. Like most people, I like things to turn out the way I plan or expect. But life often doesn’t cooperate with our carefully orchestrated scripts.
As I’ve gotten older, I have nurtured resilience. Or rather, in trial-by-fire situations, with as much grace as I can muster, I’ve learned to navigate the twists and turns in the road that looked straight at the outset.
Instead of becoming frustrated or withdrawn, I’ve learned to be more flexible. More accommodating. More compassionate. More patient.
Yes, disappointment has matured me.
Do I manage disappointment well every time? Absolutely not.
But I try to see the bigger picture. That the company I’m with is more important than the meal that didn’t turn out well or the party that lacked energy. That all relationships require effort, compromise and forgiveness.
And not to sound too Pollyanna about it, but sometimes there’s actually a good view from the detours we’re forced to take. While feeling the heaviness of a deep disappointment, that one may be hard to believe, but in hindsight it’s often true.
Relationships that have ended in disappointment opened the door for better ones. The commitments that ended prematurely left time that was filled with new and rewarding endeavors.
And in another twist, sometimes the unexpected becomes a memory that is shared for years to come.
Like the time my daughter’s grandparents picked her up from preschool in their new car. I mean, picked-it-up-that-morning new. They looked forward to taking her to an amusement park, but hadn’t even driven out of the parking lot before she projectile vomited from her car seat in the back all over the dashboard! Yes, that happened. I’m sure my in-laws experienced a multi-layered disappointment, but it became part of family lore that we laugh about to this day.
I have a go-to favorite quote by Rumi that has comforted me in recent years over disappointments large and small:
Do not grieve for what doesn’t come.
Some things that don’t happen
Keep disasters from happening.
So because something didn’t occur as planned, a disaster was averted? I can live with that.
Here are some other ways I’ve managed disappointment:
- I trust God. Sometimes our plans are not God’s. I choose to trust that He is in control.
- I check my expectations. Were they realistic? Did I communicate them? Or did I hope people would read my mind?
- Is there another opportunity to try again? It helps mitigate disappointment when I realize an event is not an all-or-nothing situation. Then, instead of a disappointment, it becomes a dream deferred.
- Is there an opportunity in the disappointment? This one is sometimes tough and requires an open mind as well as a good dose of flexibility. But the disappointment could be presenting a different experience or an opportunity to learn something.
- Is there any humor in the disappointment? If I can find it, laughing is a great way to lift my spirits and move on.
- Can I extend grace and forgiveness to whoever got in the way of my plans coming to fruition? Practicing compassion, and then tending to another’s more immediate need, can help relieve disappointment as well.
And sometimes, despite my best efforts to go with the flow and see a situation in a more positive light, I am still disappointed. Sometimes reality simply puts a weighted finger on one side of the scales, and all my expectations and hopes are left dangling.
So from now on, when I reach that tipping point, I’m going to think of the wonderful and patient father, comforting his daughter with reassuring words:
“You’re fine. I’m RIGHT here. I won’t let you fall.”
And I’ll remember those words were originally spoken by our Heavenly Father when He said:
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
How do you move past disappointment? Any strategies I should add to my arsenal? Share your thoughts!