When disappointment reigns
By Charles Qualls
I hate to call up such a time, but try to fix in your mind what might have been the greatest disappointment of your life. It could have been a love that did not work out. Or a person you were colossally wrong about, as it turned out. That could have been a job you tried but just wasn’t for you. Maybe something you believed, but later found out differently. A family member or business partner may have done you wrong. The test results at the doctor that you hoped would be better, instead were your worst fear.
If you’ve lived for very long, you’ve experienced disappointment. You’ve probably expanded your understanding of just how badly life can hurt, from some of the more superficial hurts of childhood. You’ve seen that there’s more, and more serious sometimes, out there. If you’ve been hurt badly enough, or often enough, you may have even narrowed by a good bit that which you are truly willing to trust.
Milton Hershey failed three times at candy making. That is, he lost three businesses in three different cities before he finally succeeded in his chocolate making. No one can seem to peg the right number of failures that Thomas Edison had at developing just the right filament before he finally succeeded with the light bulb. Legend is that he had a thousand tries, but no one can substantiate the real number. Suffice it to say, the one that worked was nowhere near his first.
Moses suffered a severe disappointment in our text from Deuteronomy 34:1-12. If you are familiar with Moses’ story, I don’t have to tell you that this was nowhere near his first disappointment. It may very well have been his worst, though.
He had been raised in Egypt, but in sticking up for a Jew he ended up killing an Egyptian and had to flee the country. He had been raised by royalty, but he was never destined to be royalty. Then, later in life when he asked the Pharaoh to do what was right, the leader resisted. They come off looking like just a few moments or days of time, in our Scripture. But to Moses, pleading the case and then wading through a series of plagues had to have been a drawn out, wrenching and disappointing exercise in trust and patience. Only to hear the word “no” every single time up to the last.
He got out into the wilderness with the Children of Israel, only to discover just how fickle, whiny and rebellious a people he had come back to deliver. Don’t you bet there were many times he had to have been tempted to walk away, or else take them back to Egypt and just drop them off for the Pharaoh to do whatever he pleased with them?
Then, his own siblings started talking about him behind his back. We don’t teach or preach this one very often. They flat-out got jealous of his accomplishments and his elevated status with God. God called them all out, but did so within Moses’ presence. How heart-breaking would that be, to know that your closest loved-ones had turned on you? Disappointment was Moses’ constant companion. This wasn’t his first.
We all stare out into the distance now and then. Christians try to tell each other to not worry. But I’ve noticed that the only people who’ll say that to you are people who just aren’t worried at the moment. When you stare out into the distance, it’s all in what you allow yourself to see.
It’s just that when it’s my own disappointment I am wallowing in, it seems like it’s the only thing around. When my disappointment reigns, it’s hard for me to see what all I still have to be grateful for. When my disappointment reigns, my bitterness could become what everyone around me sees in me. When my disappointment reigns, I’m stuck where I am. Finally, when my disappointment reigns, I’m really not a whole lot of use.
What if Moses’ greatest bravery was the gratefulness he showed in his very last days? Standing on Mt. Pisgah with his God and looking out across all that he wouldn’t get to experience. But being satisfied that his descendants would. When life forces us to participate in the Discipline of Disappointment, we could forget everything else. But God’s kingdom, and our own world, are bigger than our most disappointing moment.
THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is the pastor of Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.