Life isn’t what I expected. The thought smudges away the color of our daily lives, leaving us in a world of gray. The burden of a deep disappointment leads us to the edge of despair—an unhappy marriage or singleness, an unbelieving child, years of infertility, failed ministry plans, or college degrees that never got used. It needles our hearts while we wonder if we have permission to grieve the loss of something we never had. It nags at our psyche when little things go wrong, challenging our belief in a good and sovereign God. It leads to an unsettling mistrust in God's goodness and to pockets of our lives that we want to hide from His sovereignty.
I have one such intense longing that became one massive disappointment. God gave me the good gift of an amazing relationship with my mom, and I spent my childhood planning for a daughter of my own like many little girls plan their weddings. There would be American Girl dolls lovingly saved for her delight, mother-daughter matching mani-pedis, and hours teaching her how to disciple other women and lead Bible studies the way my own mother taught me. But I never received a daughter, and unless God creates an unexpected path for me, I never will. Instead, in God's kindness, He gave me three amazing sons.
Experience God’s Kindness
It took years to recognize that God could be kind in withholding the good gift of a daughter. In the meantime, I tried to shut Him out of that corner of my heart so I could grieve alone. I still believed God was sovereign and good in my head, but my heart wanted to hide from His authority over my daughter disappointment. Finally, the Holy Spirit led my stubborn heart to the riches of Psalm 145 and wouldn't let me walk away until I understood. God did me a great kindness when He let my good desire for a daughter remain unfulfilled.
Psalm 145:17 says, “The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.” God is not only right in the paths He ordains for our lives, but He is also kind to us in them. He’s not just good but kind. There’s an intimacy to kindness. You can be a good person without being a particularly kind person, because good is generally doing right and kindness is extending an act of goodness upon a specific person. God is both good and kind. He really does care about each of us as our heavenly Father.
God’s kindness is explained further in verses 18–19: “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.” God fulfills the desire of those who fear Him, not by giving us every good gift we long for but by drawing near to us. Instead of giving us what we want, He gives us the better gift—Himself.
The Gift of Holy Discontent
Our unfulfilled longings that have developed into deep disappointment are a kindness, because every time we feel their burden, we have an opportunity to cry out to the God who both saves and satisfies. Unfortunately, we tend to settle for half-satisfied. We’re chowing down a protein bar then refusing dinner at an award-winning restaurant because we’re too full.
God may withhold a good gift so we might experience a holy discontent with the insufficient satisfaction of earthly blessings. When our hearts cannot find contentment in good things, we can be reminded to long after the greater good found in God alone. In this constant state of always wanting but never getting, we have a kind reminder that we can still live fully satisfied in Jesus. Elisabeth Elliot said, "Heaven is not here, it's There. If we were given all we wanted here, our hearts would settle for this world rather than the next.” We were never meant to be satisfied in this world. Only complete union with God brings our souls complete satisfaction.
It’s like a baby given the perfect gift and playing with the box instead. At nearly every first birthday party, someone gives a gift in a particularly shiny or colorful box, and the baby doesn’t care anything about the toy. All the baby wants is that awesome box, so the mom must sneak the box away, pull the gift out, and toss the box in the recycling. Inevitably someone cracks the joke, “Why don’t we just give kids boxes for their birthdays?” and everyone laughs, but no one would actually do that. Because as much fun as boxes can be for a short period of time, they don’t compare to the gift inside of them. The wrapping might be shiny or the illustrations might be fascinating, but they are trash in comparison to the gift they herald.
That’s how God’s blessings work, too. They can be beautiful and fascinating on their own, but their purpose is to show us something more, to give us a picture of the true Gift-Giver. Sometimes God has to throw away the box while we’re not looking. Sometimes God refuses to give us the box at all. As C.S. Lewis famously declared, “We are far too easily pleased.” If we would be so enamored by a desire that we would no longer recognize how much better it is to have our ultimate desire satisfied by Him, God is kindest to withhold it from us.
Living with Disappointment
Jesus died that we might have soul-satisfying fellowship with God. It cost Him everything to show us this great—if sometimes painful—kindness. May our disappointed dreams birth longing for complete satisfaction. May God’s kindness bind up the pain of our loss and enable us to trust Him to fulfill our desire with Himself. May living in the land of holy discontent teach us proclaim with the apostle Paul, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).