Faith isn’t fun. In my experience, faith is full of disappointment. I say this not so much with a heavy heart, but more from a posture of eyes wide open.
One’s faith is inextricably linked and shaped by one’s experiences. While the relationship isn’t necessarily one of determinism, the influence that daily life exerts on faith cannot be denied. My faith story is one of watching my parents devote 20 years to tiny, fledgling churches that yielded far too few disciples. My faith story is praying with my classmates in elementary school for a peer who was dreadfully sick, rejoicing when he was healed, then wondering what it meant when he died several years later. In fact, my faith story has been immeasurably shaped by death.
I remember the young family that my family essentially adopted, my parents bringing their parents back from the brink of alcoholism and divorce. Then the alcohol came back and the marriage dissolved, shredding the family in the process. My faith story has been shaped by angry, smoldering clouds of smoke enveloping an African city as murderous religious riots forced my team into a mournful quarantine. And the tragically silent, empty cribs of an orphanage in a city teeming with exploited street children; all because the local government refused to grant the necessary paperwork. The orphanage never opened.
I must hasten to add that I’ve certainly been blessed: great family, all the money and things we needed, and lifelong friends. And yet, even my blessings remind me that there are others who share my faith but do not share my blessings.
Faith, I have found, is a road paved with disappointment.
This was a road the ancient ones knew well. I am amazed that they described faith not as the evidence of an answered prayer, but rather as an assurance of what was not yet seen. Their faith was not blind–their faith gave them true sight. And yet, they spoke of suffering grief in all kinds of trials even as they believed in the one person they could not see. In fact, the faith of one of the ancients in particular was described as ‘against all hope, he in hope believed.” As the story goes, he endured 100 years of disappointment.
Against all hope.
Faith requires space for disappointment. But disappointment need not be seeded in pessimism. Faith grows from an optimism that has less to do with life’s experiences and everything to do with promise. The optimism of faith can embrace disappointment precisely because the One behind the promise runs deeper than the let-down.
Faith is full of disappointment. May our faith have the courage to allow this to be so, and the strength to endure it. May disappointment give our faith sight rather than blindness.
And may we walk with gentle steps alongside those who are digesting the bitter pill of disappointment.