I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that you've experienced disappointment before.
Maybe it was an audition. Maybe it was a job. Or, to dive into the personal realm, maybe it was a coworker, a crush, or a friend. Perhaps you experienced disappointment at the hands of someone you're close with, or were close with.
Regardless of who or what, why or when, experiencing disappointment is part of the human experience. More often than not, the disappointments we experience are minor: the kind we can easily overcome with a hug, time in prayer, or a good night's sleep. But at other times the disappointment is crushing. What then? What do we do when a good night's sleep doesn't erase the disappointment, or when the setbacks last for months?
I don't have the magic bullet answer. I couldn't ever pretend to have the ability to share a one-size-fits-all answer to disappoint. Dealing with heavy disappointment is difficult, and we all must grapple with it in our own ways, because we are all uniquely made. But I can share with you my own story of facing life-altering disappointment, how I handled it, and what has come of it.
I started out college as a double major in music education and flute performance, with dreams of becoming a high school band director. However, it only took a handful of observations at an inner city middle school to realize that becoming a band director wasn't the path for me. So I dropped the music ed major and threw myself entirely into flute performance, with dreams of becoming an orchestral flutist ever before me.
It only took a year and a half of pushing myself past my limits in the name of dedication and good practice habits to find myself with a carpal tunnel diagnosis and a strict, two month prescription of no flute. I'd thrown myself so wholeheartedly into becoming a professional flutist that I found myself in a severe identity crisis. It was one of the most miserable times of my life. And the only thing that got me through was Jesus.
By God's grace, I look back on that period of time and give thanks to Him for allowing it to happen. Carpal tunnel was the greatest blessing I've ever received – and I genuinely, wholeheartedly mean it when I say that.
If it hadn't been for my carpal tunnel injury (and the subsequent tendonitis I experienced upon returning to flute) I would not be doing a single thing I do today. I would not have the gift of teaching my dear flute and piano students. I wouldn't have met my beloved fiancé, found my love for studying theology, or discovered I love being a middle school youth minister on the side. And creating the Hildegard Collective certainly would never have crossed my mind.
But I didn't know any of this during that period of my life. None of us can know what the future holds, after all – we aren't God! However, I do firmly believe that disappointment allows us to grow closer to God in a way we couldn't otherwise.
So what to do when disappointment occurs? The following few points are bits and pieces of practical knowledge that I've gained over the last few years, and I'd like to share them with you:
Stay close to God. Talk to Him. Make space for Him throughout your day. Receive the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Confession often if you are able to. The Surrender novena is a particularly beautiful prayer to pray when you're struggling with disappointment. Read Sacred Scripture. Pray with the Psalms – they express the full breadth of human emotion, and chances are, there's one that at least is pretty darn close to what you're feeling. If you feel distant from God, ask the saints to pray for you. And if you can't find the words at all, the rosary is an especially good prayer to pray because of its repetition.
Be honest with God. Let Him know exactly where you're at. He wants your honesty. If you're angry, tell Him. If you're struggling to comprehend what is going on, tell Him. If you're bitterly upset, tell Him. God knows your heart, inside and out, but He sincerely wants to hear from you about how you're feeling. If someone close to you was going through a difficult time, would you not want to be present to them in their hardship? God wants to do the same, and infinitely more so. He loves you.
Let yourself grieve whatever you're disappointed about. I had to grieve the loss of my most precious dream in order to move forward in a healthy way. I still grieve it on occasion, to be completely honest. If you're dealing with a huge disappointment, it's okay to let yourself grieve the thing you're disappointed over. Grieving is often a natural part of the "letting go" process, and that can validly include something such as a precious dream or hope that you've invested in.
Actively practice gratitude. Something that helped me so much was to actively practice gratitude. Some days all I could muster was "I'm grateful for the sunshine," or "I'm grateful for having less homework than usual in my counterpoint class." But over time, gratitude became a habit, and I began to see God's Hand in the details of my life. Being persistent with gratitude was transformative. Write down three things you're grateful for each day, keep a running list in the notes app on your phone, drop pieces of scrap paper in a gratitude jar – find whatever works for you to actively practice gratitude and do it!
Do the thing in front of you. Disappointment can be overwhelming. And if you, like me, struggle with overwhelm, the thought of accomplishing other things can be too much to handle. Something that really helped me during that time – and continues to help me – is just doing the first task in front of me. And then the next one. And the next.
To finish this post, I wanted to share with you a Scripture verse that's brought me a great deal of comfort over the years.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus says to us, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you." (John 14:27 NRVSCE)
He says this to you just as much as He said it to His apostles in the Upper Room. His peace is for you, friend. It is not the peace of the world. It doesn't mean constant comfort, security, and stability. Nor does it necessarily imply an instant gratification-esque peace, where we ask for peace and are immediately granted feelings of peace. This isn't to say that doesn't happen, but "instant" and "peace" are not exclusive to each other. Christ's peace is truly a peace that only He can give. It is knowing that though this life contains trials, we may hope for eternal life upon the foundation that Christ died for our sins, opened the gates of Heaven, and rose from the dead.
Know of my prayers for you.