A friend of mine, who serves in university campus ministry, recently told me he sometimes wrestles with the feeling that he is wasting his life. He knows the reasons why this is not true with his head, but he was at a low point. This conversation was a moment of brutal transparency.
If I’m honest, I’ve felt this way before myself during moments of intense frustration or deep disappointment. (In case you’re wondering, that’s not where I’m at right now, and this blog isn’t a subtle cry for help!) Regardless of what your job or where you serve, I’m guessing you may have felt the sting of disappointment yourself.
While I can’t make all our frustrations disappear, here are a few strategies that help me to manage disappointment, maintain a healthy perspective in ministry, and keep going in what God has called me to do.
Resolve to Focus on the Good
When faced with disappointment we need to focus on areas where things are going well.
Paul gives this advice to the first century church at Philippi. He writes,
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).
Notice that the “peace” (v. 9) follows thinking about things “admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy” (v. 8). Whatever may be going wrong, there are surely some things going right. Focus on those things.
God Hasn’t Lost Control
In moments of disappointment it’s important to remember that God is still in control. While we would like to think that His plans always involve us looking, feeling, and just being awesome, that’s not how it works. He uses even our failures to accomplish His good purposes (Psalm 100:5, Acts 17:26).
When we’re feeling the sting of disappointment, we need to remind our hearts as well as our heads that “all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). We need to remember that feelings, while not to be ignored, aren’t the ultimate measure of truth.
You’re Engaged in a Spiritual Battle
You’re engaged in a spiritual battle (Ephesians 6).
You know this. You’ve probably heard it a thousand times, but you need this reminder: not everything that you feel is just a natural reaction to your circumstances. Spiritual attacks can intensify the natural effect of the circumstances on our emotional state.
Would the devil, described as a prowling lion (I Peter 5:8), like to add pressure to the disappointment we feel in our souls? I’m thinking that’s a “yes.”
Be alert and be aware. Don’t roll over. Don’t give in. Fight.
Lean Into Community
We don’t always feel the need for real friendships. Sometimes it’s just easier and faster to go without real community. But we weren’t meant to walk alone in life and ministry, and this need is most felt during low moments.
Too many of us Christians allow the shame of failure to drive us into isolation. This is the wrong move. We need friends who will help us regain perspective when we’re stuck.
Biblical accountability isn’t just having someone there to tell you what you’re doing wrong and where you need to grow. It’s having someone there who can save you from yourself when you can’t even see straight.
In times of deep disappointment we need to run to trusted friendships. We need to pursue those who will help “bear our burdens” in love (Galatians 6:2). We need to lean into community.
Let Your Pain Fuel Your Prayer
One benefit to feeling deep disappointment is that it can bring us to our knees. As a Christian, this is the most powerful place to be. By meeting with God in prayer we have a productive outlet for what could be destructive disappointment.
John Bunyan said, “Prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge for Satan.”Earnest prayers help us to protect our souls. It’s the vehicle for us to lift up our hearts to God.We can give Him all our anxiety because He cares for us (I Peter. 5:7).Through prayer we can prevent our disappointment from turning into discouragement.
Question: Do you find these strategies helpful in your own life? How do you overcome frustrations and disappointments in your life or work? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
A version of this article first appeared on CampusMinistry.org