Dealing with Disillusionment

Ours is a world filled with false belief and unrealistic expectations.  Even our own minds can embrace erroneous ideals and ill-founded anticipation about how things are supposed to be and how people are supposed to act.  The result is disillusionment.  It seems to be everywhere these days. (Social experts actually dubbed the time period from the end of WWII to the year 2000 as the “age of disillusionment”.)  Even devout Christ-followers struggle to sort out their broken aspirations in a way that leads to higher ground rather than a “slough of despond.”

Every Christian on this earthly journey has known the struggle of shattered dreams, the burden of betrayed friendships, the heartache of a hurting home life, and the letdown of love unrequited.  Don’t get me wrong.  In so many ways we can look around and sing with Louis Armstrong, “What a wonderful world.” The globe is radiant with the beauty of God’s creation, fascinating people, and countless opportunities for enjoyment.  Yet, the world is spiritually fallen and relationally broken.  Our journey is as worrisome as it is wonderful, as disappointing as it is delightful.  This leaves us with some important choices.

Disillusionment is the state of being “free of illusion.”  False beliefs are at the core of illusion.  Yet, we hold these things deeply and embrace them emotionally.  They become a subconscious part of our very existence.  Events that tear away our illusions are often hard to navigate.  Even as you read this you can identify the struggle in your own life, whether in the past or imbedded in the events of this day.  Here are some keys to dealing with disillusionment.

Accept your misguided (even sinful) illusions

The Bible is clear about the propensity of the heart to fixate on a path that turns out to be wrong (Proverbs 12:15, 14:12, 16:25, 30:12).  We are warned about overblown ideas of our own importance (Proverbs 26:12; Romans 12:3 & 16; Galatians 6:3).  The Scriptures challenge us to evaluate the degree to which we are truly embracing and applying truth to our hearts (Luke 6:46-48; Romans 2:13; James 1:22).  In other words, we all have some illusions about ourselves, our world, and the way things ought to be. 

The best way to navigate disillusionment is to hold our false ideas loosely, distinguish them quickly, and surrender them to the Lord completely.  Lies are lethal to the soul.  False expectations may seem reasonable and justified – but they remain false.  We need the Lord’s perfect wisdom to recognize and release them.

Acknowledge that people are going to disappoint you

A realistic review of some of the greatest souls who ever lived reveals the painful fact that people are going to let us down.  Job suffered wave upon wave of misunderstanding and ridicule from his friends (Job 6:21, 19:13).  David wrote often of rejection and loneliness (Psalm 27:10, 31:11-13, 69:20, 142:4).  The Apostle Paul once noted that among his array of associates, only Timothy was likeminded and reliable because the others sought selfish interests over the interests of Christ (Philippians 1:20-21).  The final strokes of ink on the parchment from Paul’s pen reveal the pain of friends that had forsaken him and failed to stand with him in his most urgent moments of need (2 Timothy 1:15, 4:9-16).

Even the perfect Friend of Sinners and selfless Savior was abandoned by His closest friends in His hour of greatest need: “Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled” (Matthew 26:56).  When we are slighted, dishonored, or let down, these realities can bring needed perspective.

Affirm the reliability and reward of your Lord

Some of these same examples inspire us to give up the illusions with humble grace and relentless trust.

  • In the face of losing family, health, friends, and the expectation of even a tolerable life, Job declared, “The Lord gave, and the Lord took away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
  • When friends turned to enemies and the calm waters of life turned to storms, David exclaimed, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take care of me” (Psalm 27:10).
  • In the final days of his life and ministry when enemies had hurt him, friends had deserted him, and no one stood with him during his trials, Paul declared, “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me…and the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom.  To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!” (2 Timothy 4:17-18).
  • Our Lord Jesus, prior to His mock trial and excruciating crucifixion, acknowledged that His disciples would leave Him alone, but immediately affirmed, “Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” (John 16:32).  In an unbelievable act of trust and mercy, our suffering Savior on the cross looked on the crowd whose cries turned from “Hosanna” to “Crucify Him” and declared, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

So when our best-laid plans do not materialize, our ego is not stroked as we expected, our true friends are fickle and few, and our loneliness and letdowns linger – we must remember that most of our “disappointments” are “His appointments.”  Our kind Father is gently removing the illusions from our self-centered grip.  He is conforming us to His image and nurturing our appetites for an eternally significant life.  In all of this He is faithful and kind and will give us the grace to grow as we trust Him to guide us into truth and maturity.  Then our hearts can sing the message of the old hymn,

Friends may fail me, foes assail me,
He, my Savior, makes me whole.

Hallelujah! what a Savior!
Hallelujah! what a Friend!
Saving, helping, keeping, loving,
He is with me to the end.

Copyright © 2013 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.