Nobody gets through life without experiencing disappointment. American psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, says, “Life is difficult. This is a great truth; one of the greatest truths.”
And we say “amen” to that.
But how a person responds to disappointment can determine whether they sink or swim in their spiritual lives.
In the Book of Ruth, we see three different ladies from the same family responding to tragedy in different ways. The patriarch of the family, Elimelech, died only a few years before both of his sons passed away -- leaving Naomi, the matriarch, and her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, as widows.
After initially staying with her mother-in-law, Orpah decides to go back to her homeland in Moab and her old way of life. She sees following the true God of Israel as being too risky. She'd given God a chance -- and look where it got her! She wanted to go back to a way of life that was a little more predictable.
Many Christians can relate to those feelings. When times get hard, we are often tempted to go back to our old, familiar gods. Whether it's pleasure, power, wealth, or even people, we sometimes believe we are better off being subservient to these earthly gods than a God we can’t see or touch.
The second response we see is bitterness. Many people think that when they are going through a trial, God has it out for them. In the book of Ruth, Naomi is that person. She believes that God has brought tragedy into her life -- that God is punishing her. Naomi sees herself as the defendant on the stand, and God is the key witness who delivers the testimony that seals her fate.
If a person has this view of God, it's hard to be anything but bitter.
I recently had a similar conversation with a young man. When he looked at his life, all he could see were the negative, painful things that had happened to him. Like Naomi, he had experienced tragedy -- but God had also been very gracious to him, steering him away from a path that was leading to certain death. But he didn’t see this. All he could see were the things that had gone wrong.
If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, God is not out to get you! The wrath that God had for your sins fell onto Jesus’ shoulders when He died on the cross. Yes, God does discipline us at times. And Hebrews 12:7 says, “Endure hardship as discipline." But God only allows this because He loves us.
Sometimes in tragic situations, people allow their disappointment to take them to a deeper place with God. When our story begins, Ruth had just lost her husband, and her prospects for living a good life were slim. But rather than go back to her old gods or become bitter, she went to a more positive place. She stayed with Naomi even when her mother-in-law tried to turn her away, and pledged to follow her to a new land and hold onto her faith. Ruth believed that God was good and that He would take care of her, no matter what the future held.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if we had this same response when we face disappointment?
Over the years, I’ve seen fellow believers lose dream jobs, young mothers diagnosed with terminal cancer, even parents who lose their children in accidents. The one common denominator in how these people were able to go on -- and not just go on, but thrive -- was that they believed God is faithful. They believed that in spite of the fact God was allowing them to experience disappointment, He was still loving. And somehow, in His greater plan, he would use this tragedy for good.
How about you? How will you respond to the inevitable disappointments life brings your way? You can harden your heart and choose to desert God, going back to your old idols. You can listen to Satan and believe that God doesn’t care about you, which leads to bitterness. Or you can choose to trust God even when you don’t understand what He’s doing, and know that somehow, He has a bigger picture in mind.
If you choose to submit to God’s will, it will lead to an expanded faith and a deeper relationship with God. I hope you choose the latter, because it will determine whether you sink or swim.