Here's a quirky fact tidbit about me: I have a broken inner ear bone. You remember them, the "bones of hearing," from sixth grade science, right - the anvil, hammer, and stirrup? Smallest bones in the body? Well the top of my stirrup bone clean broke off, most random thing. The doctors I was seeing couldn't figure it out for the longest time... most because they'd never seen anything like it before.
In August I had ear surgery so the doctor could look at the thing close up and try to repair it. It was my first time going under. My husband was far away; he'd already been in our new homeland of Crete for nearly two months. Our decision for me to undergo surgery pushed my kids' and my departure to join him out by nearly another month. It was all a little intense.
The post-surgery report was good; the doctor thought he'd been able to fix it. He couldn't tell for sure because, like I said, I'm pretty much the only person ever to have this kind of bizarreness in my ear. And because full healing takes time, and I was trying to hop the first plane to Crete, since our kids were already missing the beginning of school. But my symptoms were vastly improved; it seemed successful. When I flew to Crete three weeks afterwards, it was a rosy scenario. "Phew," I thought. "So glad to have gotten that dealt with before delving into this new adventure on Crete."
But then... and you saw the post title, you know where this is going. Day 5 on the ground, jet lag and glassy-eyed-stares still in full swing, the symptoms started up again. Hearing 'popping' back and forth from decent to bad, increasing ringing, muffledness in my ear. Each day was a little worse till a week later it was crystal clear: the surgery hadn't been successful after all. My uber-annoying ear was still, well, ube- annoying. Only now it was uber annoying in Crete, where I knew no one, had no resources, and don't speak the language.
I felt... disappointed. Very disappointed. Somewhat overwhelmed. And a little angry. I couldn't figure out why this had to happen.
Why do I tell you this? Everyone's got their issues, their health challenges, their difficulties. So why make a thing of it - why delve in at all?
Here's why: disappointment is real. It's everywhere. In this life it can and will take a huge toll... on all of us. The question is: what do we do when we face something that really disappoints? When we're full of dismay? When "what, now this?" makes us feel crushed?
You could ask a hundred people about how to handle disappointment and get a hundred ideas; you could read a pile of books and get dozens more. My goal here's a real-life analysis, kind of like a post-game debrief on the situation. So... without further ado.
First. Let the thing be what it is. By which I mean: This sucks. I don't feel equipped to deal with this. Pass more tissues. Floods of grumpiness, some from the symptoms and some from the sheer discouragement. You know the stuff. Christians sometimes feel the need to pretend this first step away because they think feeling this way is sinful. It's not. It's honest and central. It's probably half of what David's recorded words in the Bible consist of. That makes it downright holy.
But you say, what about, "Rejoice always; give thanks in all circumstances?". I say: sitting honestly with something hard, wrestling with God over it, feeling your feelings - these actually are a form of rejoicing and giving thanks. Because they're steps on the road toward that destination, and because God wants our REAL selves. Joy and thanksgiving aren't switches we flip in our soul. They're the arc of our lives (hopefully) as we pace out our days and our circumstances with the Lord.
Another pretending-away method is talking ourselves out of the disappointment: minimizing the thing we're going through, comparing it to the worse things that others face. And they do face worse things, some MUCH worse. But someone else's intensely hard thing doesn't make your hard thing less hard. God doesn't treat us this way, and he doesn't ask us to either. Self "pep-talks" of this type amount to unkindness to ourselves. Since he gives comfort to those struggling with difficulties, we get to do this too. Even to ourselves.
Second. Let the "sitting-with" and "angst-pouring-out" processes yield, when time and prayer are mixed in, some quiet space in the heart. Not perfect quiet, mind you, but breathing room. This is the time to begin reflecting on the fact that the disappointment won't define you or your trajectory. It's transcendable.
The way I see it, there's a sweet spot for getting to the this-doesn't-define-me stage after the disappointing thing happens. Some people try to rush to it right off the bat, and some take their sweeeeet time getting there. The rushers-in gloss over the sitting-with, get fixated on problem-solving, and become intense and reactive. The sweet-time-takers sit so long with the initial disappointment and All the Feelings, maybe, that they stagnate there and risk becoming wallowers.
Me, I'm a rusher-in. One day after it became clear to me that my ear dilemma was back, I was neck deep in thinking through how I should handle it. Who can I call? Maybe I could try this...What should I do with the kids if I go back for another surgery? Cue increased overwhelm. Oh, and feelings of helplessness. And all the while, my boxes aren't even unpacked and the team needs dinner.
Wait a bit till the quiet heart space. There you can exhale. You can come to know, without pep-talking yourself, that God is still God and isn't surprised. That his love and provision didn't falter here, despite this Thing. That he's still leading you, still has a good plan. He's good like that.
Last. Allow the quiet(er) place to beget a non-reactive "How do we handle this?" question. In a way, I see the posing of this question and the working it through as a collaboration between us and the Lord.
Because your mind's turning now and your fingers are googling and you're on the phone... but with God beside. And before, and within - keeping you calm and oriented. It's a two-pronged thing - he directing, and you undertaking, slowly and step by step. And there's peace in it. The peace doesn't take away the 'I'd prefer not to be dealing with this' or the 'these symptoms suck.' But it tempers them. And it leaves a gap for wider vision, for authentic wonderings about what might be happening in the unseen picture, for steps toward thanksgiving. <Phew.>
All this makes me think about adventure. We all want a fulfilling life, a well-lived life, a life that tells a meaningful, hope-filled story. A life that makes our God, our parents, ourselves proud. But we want it easy. Without the unpleasant and uncertain and lonely parts.
Take me. I want to get to Greece, have my ear work properly (the way I hoped it would, thought God was organising for me before I left the states), have a fulfilling fall learning Greek quickly, engage seamlessly with the culture, and be happy as a clam. That's not my reality this fall. It's not a bad fall, and in fact some parts are exciting and fun, but it's a continual soul-wrestle. And that makes it a hard fall.
Hard's not bad. And disappointment's ultimately not bad either. When it leads us into depth and faith, it's actually good. (Never fun though; I think I can that say that with certainty.) And without disappointment, there is no adventure - or fulfilment or wonder either. It all goes together.
When it comes to my whacky ear... I think I'm most of the way to the surrender I need, the surrender that warms. My reactivity's down, and I can plod forward with intentionality. I can know the quiet reality of Philippians 4:7 without trying to jam it down my own throat... Disappointment and all.