Come Further In: Overcoming Spiritual Disappointment

I’m finite, but God’s love and character are infinite. I’ll never be able to entirely drain all my experiences with Him, like tapping a maple tree for sap.

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I tend to give too much attention to the disappointments of life. If nine out of ten things in my day are great and memorable, I’ll usually think about the one thing that’s unsatisfying or negative. I hate the feeling of not getting everything out of everything.

I visited Rome when I was eleven. I saw all of the important landmarks: the Colosseum, the ancient ruins, and the churches. The one thing I didn’t get to do was go into the Sistine Chapel. I spent the next month back home complaining about not being able to see Michelangelo’s masterpiece. The rest of the trip was spoiled for me because of one missing part.

I’m an idealist, which means if there’s one note off-key, then the whole song is ruined. If I miss one scene in a movie, then I won’t enjoy any of it. Idealism can be great when it gives me vision and hope for a better future, for the way things could be. The tough part is that my idealism strongly shapes my view of God. I have high standards for my relationship with Him, which, at times, is crushing.

In prayer, worship, and studying the Word, I feel like there’s always another green field of blessing waiting just around the corner like I was just about to get to a place of perfect harmony with the Spirit. And I always just miss it. I walk out of sermons thinking, “I know there’s just one more thing that God wants to say to me, but I can’t figure out what it is.” Or, “The mission trip was great, but I know I didn’t fully obey what the Lord wanted me to do. I guess the trip was really a failure.” These are the spiritual frustrations of an idealist.

But it’s true that God is trying to teach me one additional thing this week, or He’s giving me just a bit more direction, or He wants a little extra from me in prayer. And the only way I’ve ever known how to deal with this feeling of “just missing it” is anxiety. Anxiety doesn’t just make you feel bad and stressed out––it can eat away your hope for change. The doubtful thoughts set in: maybe I’m not tuned in enough with the Spirit. Maybe I’m holding God to too high of a standard.

Holding a standard that’s too high for God? Not a chance! If I’m disappointed with my relationship with God, that doesn’t mean He can’t handle my expectations. It’s that I can’t handle them.

I read a passage from the Christian writer Thomas Merton where he talks about “the selfish anxiety to get the most out of everything, to be a brilliant success in our own eyes and in the eyes of other men. We can only get rid of this anxiety by being content to miss something in almost everything we do. We cannot master everything, taste everything, understand everything, drain every experience to its last dregs.”

I go over that line about “being content to miss something in almost everything we do” about every week. So that means when I’m in prayer, I don’t always have to have a mystical experience, with angels dancing on the walls. It means I won’t walk away from every sermon feeling the presence of God. It means when I’m talking with a friend about his breakup, it’s okay not to know exactly what to say. It means I’m not Jesus.

Sometimes I’m more concerned about not being disappointed than I am about simply being with God and hearing what He has for me today. God isn’t focused on my spiritual standards. He doesn’t expect me to immediately understand every word He speaks or to feel 100% satisfied each time I pray. He’s concerned that I continue to press into Him. In this life, He wants to cultivate faithfulness in me, not completion.

I’m finite, but God’s love and character are infinite. I’ll never be able to entirely drain all my experiences with Him, like tapping a maple tree for its sap. There’s always something new to yearn for, but that doesn’t have to lead to discouragement. Feeling like I didn’t get everything should be motivation to press in even deeper. It’s like God’s saying, “That slight longing for a little bit more of Me, that itching for intimacy, is just My way of saying, ‘Step out into the wild world for My presence and adventure. Come further in.’”



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In-Text Image 1 by Andrew Neel
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About the Author

Forrest is a graduate student in Boston, MA, where he studies Philosophy. He's a lifelong reader of everything from ancient history to modern poetry. He thinks music is one of the most important things in life and he loves trying to cook with his family. Forrest is obsessed with ideas and loves how interesting people are.