Lately, I’ve been struggling a great deal with feelings of disappointment with Jesus. I’m not entirely sure when they started, but I can see the impact they’ve had.
I start to distance myself from Jesus.
I shy away from taking risks for the sake of God’s kingdom.
I sink into my couch.
I know I’m not the first to experience disappointment with Jesus. St. Teresa of Ávila once quipped in prayer: “If this is how you treat your friends, it is no wonder you have so few.” Philip Yancey wrote an entire book titled Disappointment with God. Even Jesus’ disciples experienced disappointment with him.
But We Had Hoped . . .
There’s a story that’s found toward the end of Luke’s Gospel when a few of Jesus’ disciples encounter the resurrected Jesus but don’t recognize him (see Luke 24:13-35). As they walk along the road to Emmaus, they catch Jesus up on what’s been happening in Jerusalem, including their own significant disappointment. They had hoped that Jesus was going to be the one to liberate them from their experience of political and spiritual oppression, but he had been crucified.
Over the last several months in my ministry as a pastor and as a campus minister, I’ve heard story after story of disappointment with Jesus, with people echoing the words of the disciples on the road to Emmaus: “I had hoped that he was the one who was going to . . .”
help me figure out what to do with my life
give me a good job
heal my messed-up marriage
remove my doubts
bring me friends
change the world
Perhaps you have your own story of disappointment with Jesus. I wish I could weave brilliant words together to remove your disappointment, but I can’t even do that for myself. The best I have to offer is this: You’re not alone.
They Did Not See Jesus
A great deal of the disappointment we feel about Jesus stems from our carrying a false image of him: Jesus the genie granting wishes, Jesus the vending machine dispensing goodness, or Jesus the superstar making our world shimmer and sparkle. Jesus is none of these things.
As Jesus’ disciples walked along the road to Emmaus and talked with the risen Savior, they had no idea how close they were to the radical fulfillment of all their hopes and dreams. They didn’t recognize Jesus when he was with them. Their disappointment persisted because they couldn’t see what Jesus was actively doing in their midst.
When I say that you are not alone in your disappointment with Jesus, I don’t just mean that others have also experienced disappointment. There’s something more than that. Jesus is actually with you, present even now, at work in and around you. Your disappointment doesn’t drive Jesus away.
Jesus doesn’t grant all our wishes. He gives us the desires of our hearts by transforming and refocusing our hearts. As we learn to see him and enjoy him, we take our disappointments to him. And here’s the mystery: our disappointments don’t go away; they change.
Picture a long, dark green plant stem. Covered with thorns, the plant terrorizes gardeners out to restore order to chaos in the flowerbeds. But the gardeners—browned and bent in the sun—treat the stems with delicate care. When the time is right, roses bloom. The garden fills with beauty and fragrance.
But the thorns remain.
Stay with Jesus
As the story of the journey to Emmaus ends, the disciples—still not recognizing Jesus for who he is—beg him to stay with them for a meal. His presence has had an effect on them. Later they would say: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
How you respond to disappointment with Jesus will make a significant impact on the trajectory of your life. Withdrawing, unplugging, and collapsing onto your couch—often my pattern or response—causes you to miss out on the extraordinary work that Jesus wants to do in you in the midst of your seasons of disappointment. Don’t let the thorns keep you from the joy of the roses.
In seasons of disappointment, I’ve found these three spiritual disciplines helpful as I attempt to stay with Jesus:
Spend time reading the Gospels. They show us so clearly that Jesus is more than a superstar could ever be, and they remind us that we need more than a superstar to rescue us from our captivity and brokenness.
Spend time in prayer. Talking with Jesus directly and taking your disappointments directly to him mysteriously robs those disappointments of their power over us. His willingness to listen places our disappointments in a bigger context: smack in the middle of a relationship with a Savior who loves us.
Spend time in a healthy worshiping community. Jesus draws us together and gives us special compassion for each other. Our friends can point us to Jesus and listen to us the way he does. They can be a tangible expression of his presence and kindness.
A genie may make life more comfortable. A vending machine may make life more convenient. A superstar may make life more entertaining. But Jesus has come that we might have life itself, and that we may have it more abundantly (John 10:10).
First off, I’m a Christian. I’ve been reading the Bible since I was a kid. I’ve been trying to follow Jesus for almost 20 years. I think the Bible is the best explanation for my experience around the world, for how humans are and how to address that. We’ve recently written a book full of stories of how we’ve tried to follow Jesus overseas and now back in the U.S.