There are lots of glaring deal-breakers that wreak havoc in relationships. I’m sure you know what I mean, things like betrayal, abandonment, or the complete avoidance of problems. Though, today I want to address a less likely culprit. This enemy of relationships isn’t as overt or flashy as adultery or gossip, though perhaps that’s why it’s even more oppressive. Instead, this relationship killer is often silent, slowly but surely eating away at intimacy.
I’m describing disappointment.
The reason that disappointment is so dangerous is that it leads to withdrawal. Often little by little over time as we experience disappointment in relationships, we pull away. We pull back parts of our lives or stop sharing pieces of our hearts. We spend less time with friends or keep the conversations lighter. We even do this with the Lord. Unanswered prayers and difficult circumstances can billow into nebulous disappointments. At times subconsciously, we pull away; we withdraw. Something feels unsafe or untrustworthy, so we withdraw as an instinctual act of self-protection.
Disappointment can occur in relationships in the tiniest of ways. Often, disappointment is rooted in emotional safety more than logistics. Perhaps a friend makes a hurtful comment, and we sense shame. Or, a spouse doesn’t come through for us in the way we really needed him to. Often with no poor intentions or malice, simply in the complexity of life, balls get dropped, and less-than-thoughtful comments uttered. That’s precisely why disappointment silently eats away at relationships.
We tell ourselves, this isn’t a big deal- I know she didn’t mean anything by it; he is doing the best he can; I know their intentions are good. Nonetheless, below the cognitive thoughts trying to right the disappointing wrong, we feel hurt. That’s the thing about disappointment, it’s really about being hurt and as a result feeling unsafe. That’s why we withdraw. It’s such a natural response. Somethings feels unsafe, and so we pull back a bit. Or, quite a bit. Either way, we withdraw.
This nasty dynamic finds its way outside of relationships, too. Things like pursuing dreams, taking risks, and efforts to invest in our personal growth are easy targets. Perhaps we get some traction, some courage, and we start running after a goal. Two steps forward, one back, sometimes the little disappointments or bumps in the road add up, and we simply stop trying to push forward. We assume it wasn’t meant to be and we need to settle for a smaller picture.
Disappointment can quickly lead to withdrawal. This is true across the board, in relationships, and in life. Though, it doesn’t have to. We always have a choice.
The enemy desires to steal, kill, and destroy precisely what God desires we experience. God intended for rich, meaningful, covenant relationships; relationships defined by trust and commitment. The alternative is to allow relationships to slip away when things get messy. God has a destiny, a specific purpose and beautiful plans for each one of us! Though, little disappointments oppose all that God intended.
Withdrawal is the opposite of the abundant life. Withdrawal is pulling away, removing oneself, or eliminating part of what we are willing to risk. Withdrawal is diminishing His intention. Walking with God, and others in meaningful relationships, will involve disappointment and pain and grief and well, life. Though, God invites us to press in further when we experience disappointment instead of pulling away. Of course, I do not mean to engage in unsafe relationships.* I do mean choosing brave communication in trusted relationships, even in the face of disappointment. For example, with God, my husband, and my closest friends- even if I get hurt, I believe God desires I move towards the person instead of pulling away. This sounds great, we all know it in our head, though in the moment of pain it’s easier to pull away!
That’s just it, I think. The twisted lie is that it is safer to pull away than press in. Withdrawing, withholding, and slowly disconnecting when we feel hurt are reasonable responses. Though, they never lead to the abundant life!
There are seasons in life when everything we see with our natural senses seems to oppose God’s word. There are times in every relationship when pain triggers us to pull back. Choosing to withdraw in light of unanswered prayers or confusing circumstances is natural. Although, not always helpful. Ironically, pressing in while reminding ourselves of truth is often the safer choice.
The opposite of withdrawal is moving towards.
What would happen in our relationships, in our connection with God, and with our desires, if we chose to put one foot in front of the other instead of retreating in the face of disappointment? What would we accomplish, what richness would we find, and what freedom would be ours if we hold tightly and press in through the momentary pain? Withdrawal is a natural response to disappointment. Though, supernatural gifts lie on the other side of that coin. Will you choose to press in or slowly drift away?
*P.S. Healthy relationships always involve boundaries. Boundaries help distinguish where we start and where we stop, what parts of ourselves we open up to others and what parts are not for everyone. In this blog post I speak of relationships we have already established as safe. If you feel unsafe in any way (emotionally, physically, or otherwise), that is not likely the type of relationship I suggest pressing into in the face of disappointment. If you are curious about this or want to explore this dynamic, contact me, and I’d love to help!