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Posts Tagged ‘disappointment’

In the mid-nineteen nineties a documentary film called, “Hoop Dreams” achieved a high level of critical acclaim and a notable level of financial success for a film of its genre. It told the story of two very talented, young basketball players (William Gates and Arthur Agee), from the housing projects of Chicago, who were recruited to play for the prestigious private high school “St. Joseph’s” (alma mater of basketball star – Isaiah Thomas) in nearby Westchester, Illinois.

 

As the story begins there are many reasons to believe that these young men will get the opportunity to fulfill their dream of one day playing in the NBA. Their talent is evident, their confidence is high, and they are both supported by strong, loving families, who are fully committed to them.  To say that expectations were high would be somewhat of an understatement; yet as the story unfolds the harsh realities of life begin to take their toll.  Financial struggles, academic struggles, and injuries create unexpected detours.  As the film ends, though the dream remains alive, the outlook for the future seems greatly diminished.

 

More than 20 years after the release of this film we now know that neither of these men had notable college basketball careers, nor did they go on to play in the NBA. Though both men overcame numerous obstacles and emerged from the mean streets that eventually took William’s brother (murdered in 2001) and Arthur’s father (murdered in 2004), it is hard not to feel a sense of disappointment at how this story turned out.  But shouldn’t the fact that these two young men got the opportunity to attend college, and build legitimate careers for themselves (Gates in real estate and Agee as a teacher) be cause for celebration; shouldn’t the fact that their basketball talent was sufficient enough to break them out of the destructive pattern, that consumed so many of the young men that they grew up with, warrant at least a cheer?

 

If we could view their story, apart from the expectation that they would one day play in the NBA, it would undoubtedly make it easier to see that their lives are in fact a success story. It is not really the outcome of their lives that seems so sad, it is this unfulfilled expectation that creates the sense of disappointment?

 

While we generally attribute our disappointment to bad outcomes, I would suggest that more often than not, it is really rooted in faulty expectations. While it was certainly not wrong to recognize their potential or to encourage them to pursue their lofty goals, when you factor in the odds of any high school athlete making it to the pro’s, was it really reasonable to “expect” that to happen?

 

There are few emotions in life that are as crushing as disappointment, and it is not only our own disappointments that affect us. As a husband I am acutely aware of my wife’s disappointment, and as a father I am also painfully aware of the things that cause my children to feel disappointed.  For me, their disappointment is almost harder to endure than my own.

 

As a parent I’ve found myself deflecting some of my children’s expectations by using my parent’s old favorite line, “We’ll see”. I always hated that answer when I was a kid, and I’m sure that my children don’t like it any better.  But having experienced their disappointment, I can’t help but think that at times it is wise to temper their expectations, which often seem to escalate without warning.  It’s amazing how quickly the vague hope of “maybe we can try to get to the amusement park sometime this summer” becomes the tearful disappointment of “but you promised we would go to the amusement park!”

 

While many parents would likely agree with this tempering approach, the danger in taking that too far is that it would discourage them from expecting anything and a life that is lived without some sense of expectancy is a life devoid of hope. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to understand that hope is just as essential to our souls as water is to our bodies.  Lowering expectations just for the sake of avoiding disappointment is a lot like forfeiting a game to avoid losing.

 

As a man with a failed marriage behind me, I can understand the impulse that says, “I’m never going to let myself get hurt like that again”, but the cost of such a decision is to allow the pain of the past to dictate the future. Of course blindly repeating the same pattern and expecting the results to be different is just an alternate form of insanity.  Ultimately I think it is necessary to take a hard look at our expectations, and the way that they were formed.

 

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, our expectations are driven by the things we’ve invested our hope in. When my first marriage ended I did a lot of soul-searching, and I realized that I had invested too much of my identity and hope in that relationship, which is why when it ended I was so confused about who I really was, and whether I had a viable future.  I began to realize that a lot of the devastation that I felt inside was because of my own faulty expectations about what marriage was and what it would bring to my life.

 

The popular cultural portrayal of relationships had conveyed the message that if I could just find the right person they would make me happy; but in the aftermath of a dozen years of marriage, I could see that no other person could genuinely be responsible for my happiness, and that putting that kind of burden on a relationship is a great way to destroy it. When I chose to remarry a couple of years later, that revelation alone made a huge difference in how I viewed marriage, which has ultimately made all the difference in the almost twenty years that have passed since then.

 

It can be difficult to discern what we’ve actually invested our hope in, because often what we tell ourselves (and other people) isn’t really the truth of our hearts. I believe that one of the best ways to find that deeper truth is to examine our moments of greatest disappointment, and our times of greatest anxiety about the future.  To be truly disappointed one would had to have expected some different outcome; while anxiety about the future is generally rooted in the sense of lacking something that will be essential down the road.  If we can get a clear picture of what is behind our expectations and/or what we view as “essential” for the future, we can begin to see what we’ve truly invested our hope and sense of security in.

 

As I’ve watched the value of my 401K fluctuate wildly with stock market swings, it has been tempting to be anxious about the future, but I have to ask myself – is that really what I’ve invested my security in for the future. If the answer to that question is “yes”, than the revelation of this hour is that I’ve made a bad investment (of my hope).

 

While it’s not wrong to save for the future, God never intended for our security to be wrapped up in our investment portfolio; nor did He intend for our identity to be wrapped up in our job; nor did He intend for our sense of value to come from how we look, or what others might be thinking about us. Ultimately our sense of purpose, provision, value, well-being, fulfillment, and security are all things that He’s reserved for Himself.  To the degree that we have invested those things in something other than Him, we are sure to be disappointed.  Though it doesn’t feel like a blessing, it is a measure of His grace when circumstances come along which reveal the counterfeit nature of these things.

 

It is easy enough to tell whether we’ve invested ourselves in the things of this world, because our lives will be a continuous rollercoaster of highs and lows. Like little children, we’ll be overly excited about new things and then crushingly disappointed when they don’t live up to our inflated expectations.

 

The scripture teaches that we prepare the way of the Lord by making straight pathways; bringing the valleys up and the mountains low. I would suggest that this is a picture of someone who has invested their whole being in the person of Jesus Christ; who is never changing and everlasting.  Investing in anything else is precarious at best, and in this case, diversification isn’t a viable hedge against loss.

 

In the era we live in, we’re seeing things, we once thought of as cornerstones, crumble before our eyes (e.g. the institution of marriage), as the darkness seems to be on the offensive. It is a people who are fully invested in Christ that carry the hope of His Glory being manifest on the earth, and thus, all of creation continues to wait in the eager expectation of those children being revealed.

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In my nearly half a century on the planet I’ve found that life rarely unfolds in the way that we imagine it will.  God, in His sovereignty, has His own unique way of making things happen and I’ve learned just to yield when I sense His hand at work.  In those moments it is best to be as a little child, who simply trusts the direction of his father, regardless of whether he really understands the purpose of it all.  And so it was one evening, a few years ago.  As I walked through the living room and saw about 15 seconds of a commercial for a new reality show about children’s pageants and the people who participate in them.  Within that snippet I saw a young girl (maybe 4 or 5 years old) sobbing, and her mother angrily venting her disapproval and bellowing, “I’m doing all of this for you!”  Rightly or wrongly, my immediate sense was that this woman was deceiving herself and no doubt doing untold damage to her child.

As a father of four (two boys and two girls) I was sickened at the thought of a parent who would be willing to crush their child under the weight of their own unfulfilled expectations.  Though I’d seen fathers do this to their sons on countless ball fields/courts, it was somehow even more startling to watch a mother do it to her daughter.  As my own heart grieved I sensed the grief of heaven join in and I quickly became overwhelmed with emotion.  As I closed my eyes to pray I began to feel the broken heart of this girl.  Strangely, it was not her heart in the instant that I had witnessed, but her heart years later, as she stood at the threshold of adulthood.  As I lingered in that moment, words began to flow and the following verses emerged.

Pageant Girl

Want you to know that I don’t blame you

You just wanted “the best” for me

You sacrificed so much to make me a winner

You deserved better

If I just could’ve stood a little straighter

If my hair wasn’t so stringy

All those cute little outfits

To you, sexy just meant playful

But playful meant something different to them

Anything you serve like an hors d’oeurve is bound to be devoured

If only I had been a better singer

If I just had fuller lips

I tried to smile for the camera

It’s what happened when the camera was off that made it hard

Thank God for makeup

The bruises & scars never showed

Maybe if I had been smarter

If I wasn’t so clumsy

You always said there was a price to pay

And I’ve tried hard to “live the dream”

Guess I must not have wanted it bad enough

You deserved better

If only I had been taller

If I wasn’t so flat-chested

Always in the court, but never the Queen

At nineteen, it’s already too late for me

The “1st Alternate” to the winner is still just a loser

Who could want me now?

If only I could have lost more weight

If my eyes weren’t so close together

I’m sorry for letting you down

For leaving the stage before the show is really over

I’m sorry about all of this blood on the floor

But as it weeps from my wrists, I feel strangely free

If only I could have been a daughter you could be proud of

 

It is hard to describe the profound nature of experiencing these emotions as though they were my own and maybe even harder to explain why God would allow me (a forty something year old man) to have such an experience.  The one thing I felt sure of was that I should try to legitimately speak from the heart of this precious child, and, in as much as I knew how, that is what this piece was about for me.  But after the emotion of the moment ebbed, I was faced with the daunting question of what to do with all this.  While I hoped that people might be touched by the devastating consequences of the unrealistic expectations that are so often heaped upon our children, I couldn’t help but wonder how I might answer the practical questions of where this writing came from and what made me credible to be its author.

Like a coward, I thought about sticking it into one of my many notebooks, where no one but God and I could find it.  But a dear friend reminded me that if God had indeed facilitated this experience, it must be for someone.  So I said a little prayer and posted it on my blog www.bryancorbin.com where someone might stumble upon it.  Within minutes, I received a response from a young woman, half way around the world, who said that she felt as though it had been written specifically for her.  She shared her own heartbreaking poem with me, where she cries out to a father who’d made her feel like a disappointment.  While I tried to share some uplifting words with her, our exchange was brief.  But knowing that someone had profoundly connected with it was all I needed to validate that there had been some purpose behind the whole experience.

Until recently, it has remained tucked away in the archives of my website and frankly, I had no plans to do anything more with it.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have plans of His own.  Like fresh leaves in springtime, there seems to be new life emerging from these roots and hopefully the branches will reach even further in this season.  Upon reflection, I can see that this was about more than just girls who’ve suffered through the pageant circuit.  It is really for any child who’s been made to feel like they are less than what they were created to be.  And now, instead of simply being a stark picture of the pain that comes with that, a counterpoint of hope has been set upon the horizon.  With the benefit of hindsight, I realize that all I had was a single piece of the puzzle and that it wasn’t until that was combined with other pieces that a clearer, more beautiful picture emerged.  Such is the patience of God.  I pray that all of this will be a seed of hope and healing to those who would receive it.

Please go to http://pageantgirl.org/ to watch the video put together by our dear friends Vincent Wigh and Jose Bosque, and featuring the beautiful song, “You Know Me” by Steffany Frizzell.  If this touches you, please share it with others.  God bless.

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