(Don’t) get used to disappointment

Inigo Montoya: Who are you?
Westley: No one of consequence.
Inigo Montoya: I must know.
Westley: Get used to disappointment. —The Princess Bride

saturn2In less than 10 hours from now, the Huygens probe will plunge into the atmosphere of Titan, one of Saturn’s most interesting moons. Huygens has been piggy-backing on the Cassini spacecraft since they were launched into space in 1997. The science and engineering behind this mission started 20 years ago. Tomorrow, Huygens will either work as planned, sending back the first-ever close-up data and photographs of Titan, or it will plunge into the icy darkness like a brick and simply vanish.

Disappointment will not adequately describe the grief the Cassini-Huygens team will feel if all of these years of planning and waiting ends in silence. Jubilation will not adequately describe their joy if the probe works as planned.

Planetary exploration is one of the most important endeavors in science today. Titan is a weird moon circling a remarkable planet. If it succeeds, Cassini-Huygens will add to our knowledge of the solar system and how it was created. I’m rooting for success—I want to be able to look at close-up photos of a moon that is a billion miles away.

The Mars Rover exploration project has exceeded even the most optimistic hopes of its planners. Spirit and Opportunity are still rolling across the surface of Mars today, a full year after landing, having far-outlived their original 3-month missions.

Sometimes, hope is rewarded. Sometimes, not.

When I was young and my excitement about some future possibility grew out of control, my mother would sometimes say, “Don’t get your hopes up.” She wasn’t suggesting that I embrace pessimism, just caution. Life has a way of biting back.

In his honest and heart-rending look at how faith, hope and joy can be shattered by disappointment (Disappointment with God: Three questions no one asks aloud, Zondervan, 1988), Philip Yancey claims there are three questions “lodged somewhere inside all of us. Yet few people ask them aloud, for they seem at best impolite, at worst heretical.”

  • Is God unfair?
  • Is God silent?
  • Is God hidden?

Sound familiar?

Jimmie Wallet lost his wife and daughters in the La Conchita, California mudslide. Wallet and his family were preparing to leave the area, worried that the heavy rains would weaken the hill behind their home. Wallet went to buy his children some ice cream and was on his way home when he saw the hillside give way.

I was going ‘NOOOO.’ I was running as hard as I could. That mud was heavy and like a faucet on. Water that quick. I saw houses, trailers, cars aiming mud straight to the house. (It) hit the back of the house. It hit a room, fill up and boom! Fill up and boom! Just explosions like there was dynamite in there.

A space craft failing in a big mission is a disappointment. Losing most of your family in a single moment is disappointment to the power of ten. Not getting that hoped-for promotion is a disappointment. Being diagnosed with cancer is something else altogether.

If “get used to disappointment” became our mantra for defending against the hammer-blows of life, it would mean that we’d have to give up on hope, love, kindness, joy, generosity and all of those wonders that soften and soothe disappointment, that somehow manage to flower in the midst of disaster. If we want to “get used to disappointment,” we have to climb in bed with bitterness and cynicism.

Some let go of hope. Some give up on joy. Some grow angry at God’s apparent impotence, and in their rage over the unfairness of life, they reject faith. They reject God. They let themselves sink into the abyss of disappointment, and they refuse to be rescued.

The short answers to Yancey’s questions are “no, no, and no,” in that order. The more complete answer is that we experience God’s justice and fairness, God’s living presence, God’s guiding voice and God’s healing embrace by seeking him with all of our strength, by worshiping him with all of our devotion, and by humbling ourselves before his sovereign majesty, come what may.

God himself is the only possible remedy for disappointment.

And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
My only hope is in you. —Psalm 39:7, NLT

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  1. Blimfark Smith says

    “God himself is the only possible remedy for disappointment.”

    I think that’s a bit of an overstatement. It’s trivial to demonstrate that there are many remedies for disappointment – the most common is our ability to turn our attention to new possibilities. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that God may be the *final* remedy.

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