Here are a few reflections on the theme of disappointment and dissatisfaction:
How do you deal with disappointment? What does it feel like in your body?
Recently, as I have experienced the continued cuts to faculty and staff and dramatic changes at the college where I work, I have felt a deep sense of disappointment and dissatisfaction, knowing that these people don’t deserve this, the students don’t deserve it, and this college doesn’t deserve this. Add to this the sense of feeling powerlessness to change the situation or do something different and it becomes very overwhelming. I have noticed recently that the physical feeling that goes along with this experience has been for me headaches, a tight chest, and even a punch to the gut. I’m not telling you this to gain sympathy, but to help identify how the “emotion” feels physically. I have noticed that my body often knows what I am experiencing before my head knows (or admits). I’ll notice my chest is tight and then begin wondering what is going on? The first step is to recognize where this disappointment is rising up and name it as such.
Thus, can you identify times when you have experienced deep disappointment and what it feels like in your body?
What do we do with this disappointment once we notice it is there? David Whyte, the Irish poet, in his book, Consolations, says this about disappointment:
What we call disappointment may be just the first stage in our emancipation into the next greater pattern of existence. To be disappointed is to reappraise not only reality itself but our foundational relationship to the pattern of events places and people that surround us, and which, until we were properly disappointed, we had misinterpreted and misunderstood; disappointment is the first, fruitful foundation of genuine heartbreak from which we risk ourselves in a marriage, in a work, in a friendship, or with life itself.
The measure of our courage is the measure of our wiliness to embrace disappointment, to turn towards it rather than away, the understanding that every real conversation of life involves having our hearts broken somewhere along the way and that there is no sincere path we can follow where we will not be fully and immeasurably let down and brought to earth, and where what initially looks like a betrayal, eventually puts real ground under our feet.
I find it hard to admit to feeling disappointed for many reasons, but often it is rooted in this sense of “I misunderstood or misinterpreted the patterns and events.”
When I first read this section from Whyte, I thought what I was hearing in this was to give into disappointment, to just deal with it. But as I keep coming back to it, I see and hear something different. This last line about what “initially looks like a betrayal, eventually puts real ground under our feet” seems to be saying that we need to face disappointment head on. When we begin to deal within the reality of things as they are that gives us ground upon which we can move and respond. Wishful thinking and denial are bottomless floors upon which no lasting change has ever been created or sustained. It is okay to misunderstand and misinterpret but once we are aware of the “foundational relationship to the pattern of events places and people that surround us” we e can move forward.
Can I identify disappointment in my life? What would result from my embracing that disappointment? And what happens when I push it away? What is the courageous act for me in this moment?
Lastly, we get back to Stan Thornburg’s message on “Holy Dissatisfaction.”
Stan describes what he calls “holy dissatisfaction” as:
“Holy Dissatisfaction comes from a vision that you have rooted in God’s best for humanity,” and the dissonance and broken heart that comes from the church, an institution, or our society acting out of sync with that vision.
Stan and David Whyte both connect a broken heart to this kind of disappointment. Stan’s broken-heartedness comes from a vision that God desires something so much better for us that “..starts deep in your heart and moves to your soul and then it becomes part of you.” When you have this kind of vision you are lifted up by God’s presence and compelled to not back down. God asks you to say what you have been given with confidence and to stand firm in the conviction that “this is not the way things should be.” And of course, when people are faithful to this, as Stan knew well, “That’s when people get in trouble.”
In the message, Stan outlines various examples of people who shared in this holy dissatisfaction from Jesus, to early Quakers, to abolitionists, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to even those in the Northwest Yearly Meeting who pushed against the anti-LGBTQ theology of their community.
Today, those protesting against anti-poor economics in the Poor People’s Campaign, those pushing for police reform and less (or no?!) violence in our communities, those who refuse to allow racism and white supremacy to be acceptable forms of control in our country, those pushing our institutions - educational and otherwise - to live up to their real potential and to honor the community they are entrusted with, are all - I believe - motivated by a vision rooted in an understanding that God calls us to something so much better, something far more just, peaceful, and loving. We can get there if we allow that dissatisfaction rooted in God’s vision and the accompanying broken-heartedness to push us forward.