Coping with Disappointment

How do you cope with disappointment?

Disappointment is a common human experience. I would be surprised if you could honestly say you have never experienced it. Not unless you have never done anything, never tried anything new, never supported a football team, never loved anyone, never had any dreams or hopes. Disappointment is a normal response to failure, either your own or someone else's.

You can be disappointed in yourself.

You failed an exam, to get the job, reach work targets or achieve the desired promotion. You broke a promise. You let down your colleagues, friend or relative. You are disappointed in yourself. You know something of how Peter felt after denying he knew Jesus.

You can be disappointed in other people.

You may blame others for your disappointment. “They” did not do what you wanted. “They” did not do what they should have done or promised. “They” have failed. You are disappointed in them, reluctant to trust them again. You know something of how Jesus felt when his disciples misunderstood or deserted him.

You can be disappointed in God.

You may blame God. Being disappointed in God is much more common than many Christians are willing to admit. You prayed for someone you love to be healed but he/she dies. You pray for reconciliation with someone but the problem gets worse. You feel disappointed in God. You know just a little of how Jesus felt on the cross - abandoned and let down by God.

What is a Christian response to disappointment with ourselves, others or God?

How can we be encouraged in hope, even in disappointment and failure? Here are some 1st thoughts from the gospel story in John 21: 1 – 14:

  • It can help to name the disappointment to ourselves, to others (if involved) and to God. After fruitless all-night fishing the disciples admitted to Jesus they had no fish.
  • It can help to ask God, ‘what next?’ The disciples listened to Jesus and followed his instructions to try again, but differently.
  • It can help to take time to be refreshed. The disciples stopped work after hauling in the miraculous catch and let Jesus feed them with a barbecue breakfast and resurrection hope.

What if nothing seems to help?

Disappointment can be extremely hard to cope with. Even a minor disappointment can feel like a major catastrophe if it comes on top of a series of personal failures or experiences of being let down by others. It can be a small step from saying, "I am disappointed" to "I'm a disappointment" or from "I have failed in this task" to "I'm a failure" or from "God didn't answer my prayer" to "God doesn't love me". When we get stuck in this mode for any length of time we need others to help us. It may have become a feature of an illness like depression, in which case medical help may be needed.

If not stuck in depression then it may help to search our hearts deeply, examine
  • what were the desires or hopes that have been disappointed?
  • whether those dreams and hopes might have been misplaced?
  • did I hope for the wrong thing? (See Standing outside the door.)
  • where is hope best placed? (See Looking for hope.)
  • in what or whom do you trust? (See Psalm 31: 1 -5)

Over to you.

What has helped you to cope with disappointment?
What has not helped?


  1. I suspect that the greatest disappointment of my whole life was being given a NOT at BAP. I'm sure that I'm in this boat with many others. The issue is what do you do when the whole reason for your being at that moment is swept away by one word (with lots of supporting reasons), but that word entered my vocabulary in a hurtful, harmful way at the time, and I suspect that I'm still getting over it's aftermath, 18 months later.

    The Church certainly wasn't any real help in getting over with it or even dealing with it. In fact, apart from a few, the church seems determined to keep the wound open by not allowing any discernment or training or preparation for the alternatives, which the BAP report pointed me towards.

    Now, I've decided to go in a different direction, in a different place, with a new diocese. Perhaps this renewal of vocation and purpose will assuage the hurt.

    So, no fancy answers from me. Just plain perseverance and a determination not to allow one incident to turn me away from church completely.

    1. Thanks for your comment 'UKViewer'. A 'Bishops Advisory Panel (BAP) outcome of 'not recommendated' for ordination training is a tough message to receive. As you indicate it hits you at the core of who you are and that hurts. Even if you understand and accept rationally the reasons that were given, the emotional disappointment is another matter altogether and the spiritual confusion can't be underestimated. The experience is more significant I think than merely "one incident". Most people in your position need a great deal of support and it's sad when the church does not provide that, especially if you live in an area where training and preparation for alternative 'ministries' are lacking. You seem to have honesty and determination to persevere in whatever shape your Christian calling is taking. As someone once said to me, "keep looking up" - if that makes sense..


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