Negotiating Disappoinment

Bridge to the other side

Have you ever stepped out in faith across a narrow bridge and then been deeply disappointed to find the access to the other side had been closed? Has Life ever invited you to step through an open door and then shut it in your face? I know that sting of disillusionment, loss of direction, and disappointment. If you have walked the path of human life for even a little while you have known such disappointment too. How do we negotiate such challenges?

David Whyte has some wise guidance about negotiating disappointment in his book: Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. I am including extensive quotes here because his views are unusual, and almost shockingly true.

What we call disappointment may be just the first stage of our emancipation into the next greater pattern of existence…The measure of our courage is the measure of our willingness to embrace our disappointment, to turn towards it rather than away, the understanding that every real conversation of life involves having our hearts broken along the way and that there is no sincere path we can follow where we will not be fully and immeasurably let down and brought to earth, and where what initially looks like a betrayal, eventually puts real ground under our feet…The great question is…whether we experience it only as a wound that makes us retreat from further participation.*

Whyte has outed my issues and called me to live from my higher Self in these passages. Lord knows I have experienced the hurt of feeling wounded, rejected, and the desire to withdraw into self-protection. But that is no way to live. I choose rather to let the wounding happen, to experience the disorientation, and to return to the place of oneness with the One in which I will once again find solid ground under my feet. Have you been here too? I know you have! So listen closely to the rest of God’s call into your own heartache as David Whyte’s words become a vessel for the divine Voice.

Disappointment is a friend to transformation…a test of sincerity and a catalyst of resilience. Disappointment is just the initial meeting with the frontier of an evolving life, an invitation to reality, which we expected to be one particular way and turns out to be another, often something more difficult, more overwhelming and strangely, in the end, more rewarding.

So today I am like a kid with a loved one in the middle of a bridge who has been disappointed to find we cannot walk to the other side. Will I stay in the game? Will I forge ahead into ongoing transformation with sincerity and resilience? Will I meet this unexpected frontier of an evolving life and stay the course?

No. Not unless I return to the ground of being in the presence of God. Not unless I sit in the company of companions who will seek wise guidance with me. I will not be able to move forward until I have come to the inner stillness in community. From there, when the time comes, I will get up and take next steps into an unknown future.

The Way of Unknowing is a fundamental part of the classical Christian contemplative tradition. I wish it was not a requirement for following the invisible Spirit. I wish each next step was laid out with absolute clarity in this life. (Lots of self-help books have made millions by promising such). But it seems this has been the Way for thousands of years.

In times of great disappointment I am so grateful to be gathering with contemplatives across the New Orleans region every week. We sit in silence. We open our hearts to the divine presence. We hold our own unfolding lives in loving awareness. We vulnerably share these lives and trust that we will be met with acceptance, never judgment or advice. In fact, there is nowhere I would really rather be, as life takes unexpected turns, than on the Way of Unknowing in the company of contemplatives.

If you are negotiating disappointment, which is to say if you are alive and awake on the human journey, I commend to you the invaluable importance of finding a home in contemplative community. From the inner stillness of God’s presence may we all find our sure way on “the frontier of an evolving life.”

*See pages 63-65 of his text.


About soulcare4u

I am the author of Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic World, published by Wipf & Stock and available through; and of a blog on, "A Contemplative Path." I serve as the founding spiritual director of The School for Contemplative Living (, adjunct faculty of Loyola University, and as a pastoral counselor and spiritual director in private practice.
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