On a fall morning over a decade ago, I sat in a circle of women whose ages and stories varied. We clutched coffee cups and held in our emotions, no one wanting to be the first to share. What did we all have in common? Being part of a class at my church called “Interrupted Expectations.” I, as a counseling intern and co-facilitator, felt the pressure to say something brilliant but instead stared at the carpet.
Our leader, Jan Stockdale, pulled out a box of twenty-four crayons which she said represented our emotions. She showed us the whole range of colors but only pulled out two, black and white. “Most of us,” she said, “were only allowed to experience or express a narrow range of emotions. But what about all the rest?”
Everyone in the group had experienced some kind of loss, whether of a person, job, or dream. I was struggling with infertility. “Loss leads to grief,” Jan said, “and grief leads to messy emotions that aren’t black and white.”
I’ve been thinking of this again recently because humanity has endured a year of loss. Perhaps similar to the ones in my class, but also the loss of normalcy, routine, and a sense of security. Now it’s the holidays, which are supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year — only what if they’re not?
When I think of the crayon all of us are holding right now, that we might not know quite what to do with, it’s disappointment. Psychologist David Brandt has studied disappointment for decades, and he says, “Disappointment is unmet expectation.”
This is a relief to me. I worry sometimes that disappointment is a lack of faith. But that’s not true — it’s simply a human reaction to life not turning out the way we had hoped. It’s an emotion, a crayon in our box, that helps us make sense of loss.
How do we effectively deal with disappointment?
First, we can identify our loss by using this sentence: I hoped to ______ but ______ so I’m disappointed. For example, I hoped to be with my parents for Thanksgiving but COVID-19 kept me from traveling so I’m disappointed.
Then we can ask, “What else am I feeling that’s related to this disappointment?” Jan Stockdale says common emotions are “loneliness, helplessness, fear, jealousy, envy, rejection, depression, rage, anxiety, dread, confusion, panic, disappointment, despair, and resentment.”
We can bring all of what we’re feeling to God.
Next, we can ask, “What do I need right now?” The answer might be a nap, a conversation with a trusted friend, or making an appointment with a counselor. Choose one thing, even if it’s small, and take action.
Finally, Brandt says what helps most with disappointment is gratitude. Why? Because it shifts our focus from what could have been to what actually is.
I have a stack of paper leaves that I like to pull out at Thanksgiving. We pass them around our table and each of us record a blessing from the year. This year I want to do it differently, to set a box of twenty-four crayons on the table then write a disappointment on one side of the leaf and a gift on the other.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us.
Romans 5:3-5 NLT (emphasis mine)
God’s love is big enough to handle all of our emotions, strong enough to see us through this hard season, faithful enough to never let us go, and near to us when we need it most and beyond our expectations.
If you (or someone you love) could use a little extra encouragement right now, Holley’s book What Your Heart Needs for the Hard Days might be just what you need.
Leave a Comment
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
Gratitude, truly, is a game-changer. This Thanksgiving will not look like what I was expecting and hoping for, but I still have so many blessings for which I am grateful. Thank you for the invitation to “flip the script” on 2020 and attach a blessing to every painful emotion we can name. Have a peace-filled Thanksgiving…
Maria perez says
Bev, how have you been? My daughter wants to write letters , the other daughter is still not speaking to me , are your adult kids speaking its a hard time of year
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
Praise that your one daughter wants to write letters – that is progress! My son has stopped by my corner where I am a crossing guard and he is genuinely happy to see me – praise! He still won’t commit to coming over to the house and spending any length of time, but it’s a start. I’ve reached out several times to my daughter and absolutely nothing…yes, the holidays are hard. Lifting you in prayer sweet friend. Thanks for thinking of me!
Priscilla Shoulders says
Sweet Holly! I can’t count the times your words have been exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you for at least eight years of devotions.
Holly, your words means so much in this time of so much loss and confusion. I have very little family left and I don’t hear from them often. They are busy with trying to hold on amidst distance learning, working and keeping their family safe. I am so grateful for my husband who loves me, the terrific friends God has blessed us with, and the fur babies who have loved and purred away my sadness at being stuck at home for so long.
The list of heartaches from this pandemic just gets longer and longer. From watching my children get laid off from jobs, to my forced retirement, to seeing lines of people needing food, to not being able to go to my church does get to me some days but I have always tried to focus on gratitude. And as a retired school counselor, it was always my focus to teach others the value of being grateful. And in spite of my not being the biggest technology fan, since the virus caused us to isolate, I am so very grateful that even though I haven’t seen my son and his family since last Christmas, and will not be able to fly out to see them until this pandemic is under control, I get to see their shining faces via zoom and speak with them on the phone more than we ever have. And even though I can’t be indoors with my daughter to share a meal, we can hike together and share a meal at a picnic table at a local park. Before the virus came around, mom was not on the radar as much. So I thank God for these little blessings.
Beth Williams says
These last two or so years have been emotion filled for me. My FIl was diagnosed with stage III bladder cancer in 2018. He passed Monday before Thanksgiving last year. This Wednesday marks the 1 year anniversary of his death. This year we’ve all felt a ton of loss. Last Thursday a good preacher friend (FIL’s preacher) died from Covid. I had two patients in my unit (ICU Step down) on hospice died also. A young 9 yr old girl was shot in drive by shooting last Tuesday. So much death & dying that the holidays aren’t “wonderful” for me anymore. I’m kind of sad that we can’t have a nice Christmas service at church or go caroling to nursing homes. You are spot on about gratitude. Instead of looking at others & seeing what you don’t have-one can list ALL the many things you do have like a great hubby, good jobs, Home in Heaven & freedom. We need to change our perspective & turn our eyes upon Jesus & His love for us.
Holley, this is a great post! I’m going to do this exercise! There will just be 3 of us at our Thanksgiving celebration this year: my husband, our oldest daughter and me. Our daughter is cooking! It will be quiet but sweet. And we’ll FaceTime with the rest of the family.
Maria perez says
My daughter is estranged due to her boyfriend not liking me he blocks my # on her phone which she agrees with as long as she is with him i may never see her again i hoped for so much
Thank you for this Holley, it was just what I needed to hear today.
Barbara Eileen says
Wonderful, lots of great motivational ideas. Uppermost the theme God has got us, shines through.
Thank you Holly for sharing.
Thank you so much for putting into words what I am feeling so deeply. Such deep feelings of loss, loneliness, grief, hopelessness, and thank you for reminding us that God cares about all of these things.
Nancy Ruegg says
Gratitude impacts us in so many positive ways. These days, we can even cite research proving its benefits. No wonder Paul told us to give thanks in everything!
Linda Knox says
Thanks especially around the holidays when so many are in grief over loss of touch with others because of Covid or the loss of loved ones we need to remember that if we believe God will help us through the hard times I know He is always with me and will never leave me
Nancy Wilkinson says
Thank you Holley, for putting in words the struggle I am dealing with. Complex issues with aging parents & I , basically alone ( siblings can’t or don’t want) to help. I feel the heavy burden each day. Yet, Christ says to me, come all who are weary and burdened & I ( the King of Kings, the creator of Heaven & Earth, the God who sees you) will give YOU rest! Thank you for the reminders that Jesus cares& understands. He is my Hope & Peace. And that my battle belongs to Him….. as He is fighting for Me & for my parents! Thank you Lord that your LOVE endures forever!!
Thank you for this. It has been a breath of fresh air for me to help name the disappointment/ feelings that have controlled my thoughts for many years every Thanksgiving and Christmas. I can positvely respond and not let them gain hold of my thoughts any more.
Looking forward to writing on both sides of the leaves this year. Our thanksgiving is small as well, just three of us, but much to be thankful for!
I love this web site.
Christmas like so many of you is a difficult time for me.
I still cry and hurt on the big day
I hope that it will be different this year and if it’s not by Gods grace l shall prevail once again.
I wonder if they even think about us during this time
I pray there are testimonies of reconciliation amongst us..
Let us Surrendered our Hopes and fears onto the one who cares for us.
Who walks with us daily.
I declare we shall not be overwhelmed.
What ever happens let us look to God for the strength and grace we need sustain us.
God with us
Holley Gerth says
Thank you to all of you for being here and reading! I’m grateful you shared and I’m praying for all the concerns in these comments today.
Thank you Holley. This is such a help!
Christmas won’t be the same this year but I’m thankful for my husband & that we’re both well & we’ll be able to Skype with our kids hopefully. God is good!
Thanks Holly for your new book about introverts . I’m getting a lot out of it!
Juanita Costello says
The practice of gratitude is a life saver and a live enhancer. Eight years ago I survived a life threatening injury. I was so grateful to be alive I started to carry a small two by three inch journal in my purse. Each time I had a special experience I made a note in my journal. It could be a special person I met on the street or in a restaurant. It could be the beauty of a cloud filled sky, a gold and orange sunset or the way the leaves of a tree fall in a perfusion of color on a fall day. A phone call from a friend or relative. Whatever touched my heart and made me feel grateful was written in my books. Today there are fourteen books filled with lines of gratitude. I revisit the old ones from time to time and my gratitude is renewed once more with each line that I had written.
Blessings of peace, Jay