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I’ve discovered disappointment is sometimes a path to hope. Whether a relationship or a job prospect falters or fails entirely, regret can lend itself to optimism within me. How? Sometimes it’s just the possibility I need to be reminded of for my faith to be renewed. Sometimes I don’t need the actual dream to come true; I simply seek evidence that it’s not hopeless or impossible.
A disappointment can remind me that opportunities I couldn’t have previously conceived of can arise anywhere—even if I see no means before me. When I am staring into a future that seems devoid of possibilities and not even a glimmer of hope hangs on the horizon, that is when even a failure is promising.
I first learned this lesson of the disappointment-to-hope connection through matters of the heart. At some point in my mid twenties I gave up on love. It wasn’t that I stopped believing in the truth of love, I simply stopped expecting to find it for myself. I saw plenty of examples of healthy relationships around me. I had the love of my friends and family. But when I tried to imagine myself in love or being loved romantically, it seemed as impossible as finding a talking unicorn on my next trip to Narnia.
It wasn’t hard for me to give up on love. First of all, I’m an introvert. I was quite amenable to the thought of being single for life and having my own room/apartment/home indefinitely. To an introvert like me, the best part of living alone is the ability to close myself behind a door and know with certainty that no one can disturb my bubble of silence and solitude. To this day I have to periodically change the tone of my phone’s ring once I’ve become conditioned to cringe at its sound. That’s how much this introvert hates interruptions.
Giving up on love was also easy because I just couldn’t imagine it happening. Who out there in the world could possibly put up with me—let alone love me? I’m quirky. Odd things matter a lot to me. I need to surround myself with a level of organization and order that most find either unnecessary or puzzling. Even I sometimes find it exhausting (though no less necessary).
I care deeply that things be put where I think they belong. And I can’t always explain why something should go somewhere, only that it must. I cannot leave my bed unmade. I cannot do serious work in noisy conditions (and by noise I mean anything other than silence). And if there is going to be noise, I need to be in control of it or able to cover over it. To drown out disruptive ambient sounds, I’ll wear headphones and listen to minimally distracting music.
I’m also serious and goofy and mature and completely childish. I am a lover of the arts and athletics. I’m strong and sensitive as well as conceited and insecure and generous and selfish. I’m not girly, but I am feminine. Oh, and I’m always right and a bit argumentative.
I could not conceive of the man who would sign up for all of the above. And if The One did exist, could I find him? And I can’t emphasize this enough: That was a very big “if” in my book. But assuming The One was real, how would we meet? My life was pretty insular: school/work, church, volleyball, and home—not much else received my time, energy, or attention.
School: After preschool, I never again shared a classroom with boys—aside from teachers and professors. I was busy being a good student and playing volleyball, so I didn’t care then that I wasn’t exposed to much dating material. But seventeen years of all-girls education also meant I didn’t graduate with any guy friends that might become boyfriends later—or introduce me to some.
Work: Nope—even though it was coed. While my various workplace experiences were sometimes a good source of crush material, I would never date a colleague.
Volleyball: I did play on a few coed teams, but I never had so much as a crush on a teammate. Most were beyond my scope of interest (i.e., much older and/or married). Besides that, when I’m in a competitive mode, the part of my brain that processes romantic interest gets turned off. Even if “Mr. Right” walked onto the court, I’d be too busy trying to win to notice him.
Church: Seemingly my best option since I wouldn’t marry someone who wasn’t a Christian. But as I looked around my congregation, I didn’t see anyone I was interested in. (Some time and a few congregations later I ultimately did meet my husband at church. But I didn’t see that love coming at all, because we were platonic friends first.)
I say all of that to say, I had given up on love, and I had my reasons. And then one day, I met this guy. The sky seemed bluer and the sun shone twice as strong. I was sure he was The One. I kept waiting to fall in love. And just when I thought we were at the threshold of happily ever after . . . he ended our relationship. For a few days I was incredulous. When he didn’t change his mind, I felt disheartened. Eventually I let go and the regret settled down. I took a look around, and what I saw was that my disappointment had opened a door to hope. (Mercifully, I was also able to see all the reasons I was better off without him.)
Before I met the one who turned out to not be The One, I’d thought finding love would prove impossible. However, although that relationship failed, I wasn’t left empty-handed. The mere fact that it had happened gave me a renewed sense of optimism. If I could meet this guy, then I could meet another out of the blue. My faith in love grew on that truth. Hope was unlocked by my disappointment. And so when opportunity knocked with the man who would one day become my husband, even though I wasn’t expecting love, I was open to it.
I’ve had similar experiences in my professional life as well. I’ve felt discouraged. I’ve been tempted to give up in despair. Whether I was unemployed or self-employed, I have found myself wondering if I’d ever work again. And then a job prospect would appear. It would seem perfect for me—a sure thing. I’d get my hopes up, confident that it was going to work out. But then, for one reason or another, the opportunity would fall apart. First I’d feel sad and less than. But again, once the dust settled on my disappointment, I’d take a look around and see that hope was left. I’d be reminded that a job could come from anywhere—even places I hadn’t looked.
If something can arise where I saw naught before, then seeing nothing doesn’t mean that nothing will ever come. And that’s why even setbacks and failures can bring me to a hopeful place. A disappointment is simply the prologue to something real that awaits.