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Great Disappointments: How to Cope With Them

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I think one of the severest disappointments I ever had took place during my junior year in academy.

Our English teacher always gave an A+ to the student with the highest score in any sixweek grading period. I was racing neck and neck with my roommate for the grade. She got it—by three points.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t given everything I had to get the grade. But I had, and that time my best wasn’t good enough. It was a crushing blow.

There have been other disappointments in my life: not getting a job I really wanted; breaking up with a guy I liked and admired; not going on a trip I had my heart set on. A friend told me that one of her worst disappointments came when she wasn’t accepted to the graduate school she particularly wanted to attend.

We aren’t the only ones who suffer disappointments. People we consider to be giants of faith have also suffered them. When John the Baptist was in prison awaiting execution, he began to wonder whether his entire life had been a failure. Mary and Martha had sent for Christ, confident that He would heal their brother, Lazarus, and it was with almost overwhelming disappointment that they watched him die.

The early pioneers of our church met with trial and disappointment time after time. In fact, today is the anniversary of one of their huge disappointments. Ellen White wrote this: “We acknowledge with humility of soul and with repentance that our faith and courage have been severely tried and that we have sometimes failed to trust wholly in Him who has appointed us our work. When we gather courage again, after sore disappointment and trials, we deeply regret that we ever distrusted God, gave way to human weaknesses, and permitted discouragement to cloud our faith and lessen our confidence in God. I have been shown that God’s ancient servants suffered disappointments and discouragements as well as we poor mortals. We were in good company; nevertheless this did not excuse us.”1

Handle it
Disappointments come in varying degrees of intensity, from minor to the crushing-blow variety. Maybe the disappointment with which you must cope right now is not having a date to the fall school picnic, not being able to go to the school of your choice, or not being able to go home for an upcoming school leave. Whatever it is, the disappointment itself won’t affect your life nearly as much as the way you handle it. The right way can turn the whole incident into a positive experience. The wrong way can affect your life negatively for a long while. Here, then, are some suggestions for coping with disappointment:

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. This, rather than being a way to cope, is a way to avoid disappointment. If you have made all your plans revolve around one person or being accepted by one school, you multiply your chances of being disappointed. Keep alternatives in mind; they may come in handy.

Look for alternatives. My friend who wasn’t accepted to the first school of her choice had applied to another and also planned to go as a student missionary if neither school worked out. If your family can’t go on a vacation this year, maybe you could plan several activities that you can do right at home: plan an all-day picnic, go to free activities offered in your city, have a yard-cleaning party, spend the day at the zoo.

Don’t bottle up your disappointment. If we deny ourselves the honest expression of hurt, we can do ourselves great emotional damage. If you feel like crying, cry. If you feel like raging, go for a jog.

Talk to a friend. Choose someone you can trust with your innermost feelings. I have teachers I can talk to even years after being in their classes. A friend, besides sympathizing, can help you to analyze what you can do to improve your disappointing situation.

Don’t dwell on the disappointment. There is a point after which honest sorrow and the expression of disappointment become self-pity and destructive to your mental health. It is possible to turn the incident over and over in your mind until you are so discouraged that any positive action is impossible.

Get a time perspective. Ask yourself how important this disappointment will be five years from now. Think back five years and try to remember a great disappointment you had then. If you can remember any, you may laugh to see how little it mattered over a longer period of time.

Try to change a disappointment into a growth opportunity. I am ashamed to admit that when I missed the A+ by three points, I decided that such a disappointment would never happen to me again. The only way I could make sure it wouldn’t happen was never to try that hard again. Then I had an excuse. This attitude scarcely helped me grow. It would have been infinitely better to have told myself that I had done my best and that as I continued to do my best, my best would get better. I could have decided to spend five more minutes each day studying English, or checked my papers three times instead of twice to catch my mistakes.

Remember that God is in charge. It is through God’s care and sustaining power that the entire universe is run. This is the idea that Christ was illustrating when He said: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29–31).

Ellen White wrote: “Instead of thinking of your discouragements, think of the power you can claim in Christ’s name. Let your imagination take hold upon things unseen. Let your thoughts be directed to the evidences of the great love of God for you. Faith can endure trial, resist temptation, and bear up under disappointment.”2

Our problem is that we do not fully believe that God is in charge; we have not fully proved His love and care for us. If we would believe in Him and prove Him, we could simply leave our problems and disappointments, both great and small, in His hands, confident that He would show us a solution or give us the strength to bear what was happening to us.


1 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 3 (Mountain View, Calif.: Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 260, 261. 2 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), 488.

This article originally appeared in the October 22, 1974, issue of Insight. At that time Aileen Andres Sox was a secretary for the Adventist Review, and she later became assistant editor. Then for 28 years she served as editor of Our Little Friend and Primary Treasure at Pacific Press Publishing Association. She’s now retired in Boise, Idaho.

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