I looked out on a sea of crimson mortarboards perched atop the heads of hundreds of exuberant teenagers. The sound of, "Pomp and Circumstance" had filled the muggy high school gymnasium as one by one the graduates had entered with faces smiling. Now they sat listening - some transfixed, others restless - to the Valedictorian give her speech. I had to chuckle at its content. It was the same as all the other high school graduation speeches I had heard through the years: We can do anything! We're gonna change the world! Our dreams are possible now!
Few things compare to the bright-eyed, wonder-filled youthful faces of those who look out on the world they’ve yet to experience with hope and highest expectation. There is a glow about them; a bounce in their step, a lilt in their voice as they share their dreams and believe in the good that is to come. Whether it’s the twenty-something expecting the perfect spouse or the other twenty-something anticipating the success of their new business endeavor, nothing seems to be able to stop their starry-eyed hope. Nothing, that is, but real world experience.
At least, that’s what the others would say.
For standing in stark contrast to the bright-eyed untainted hopefuls are the battle-scared, jaded, experienced ones. It’s this group that has believed in success only to be met with utter failure. It’s this group that had anticipated good only to find evil. Yes, these are the ones who look at the expectant faces of the young and no longer find a mirror – just a black hole. They have tasted the bitterness of disappointment and it is a taste in their mouth that many cannot remove. Yes, these two groups stand in complete contrast – one on the sunny hills called the Naïve’s Lack of Experience and the other in the notorious black valley of Jaded Disappointment.But somewhere in the middle ground of naivety and jadedness is the area we incredibly call faith. It’s a faith that is rooted deep in the soil of grace because it has walked the dark paths of the real world and yet still believes. It’s a faith that soars high above the clouds of doubt because it has been beaten black and blue by the winds of bitterness and yet still spreads its wings. It’s the faith of the tested. The faith of the tried. The faith of the mature Bride of Christ.
This is the kind of faith described in Hebrews chapter 11. This chapter describes the trials and victories of the patriarchs of Judaism and Christianity and how they kept their faith rooted in the eternal unseen and not in the temporal here-and-now. It culminates in verse 36-39 stating they, “had trials of mocking and scourging, yes, of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword…they wandered about…being destitute, afflicted, tormented…they wandered in deserts and mountains…and all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise.” Did you catch that? They went through the severest forms of pain and didn’t receive the promise. If anyone had reason to be disillusioned in their faith, it was these dear men and women. And yet – they still believed in the One who had promised.
So what made the difference in these heroes of our faith? How can one group of people suffer very little and lose all hope while others suffer much and never lose faith? Although the answer is complex and can be discussed on many levels, today I will point out this one simple truth – they let the sting of disillusionment drive them towards God and not away from Him. You see, the reality of living “under the sun” as Solomon stated, is that life is painful and full of trials left and right (see Ecclesiastes). As Job said, “Man is born into trouble as sure as sparks fly upward (Job 5:7).” If there is anything life promises us, it’s that pain, disappointment, trials, and even evil are inevitable. Even the Son of God himself declared, “In this world you will have trouble. (John 16:33),” - but he didn’t leave it there - and there in lies the difference between naivety and jadedness and mature faith. For Jesus went on to say, “But rejoice! I have overcome the world.” He acknowledged that disappointment would come to every person on the globe but that we could rejoice in the face of it fully knowing that Jesus is not the source of it. The mature Bride of Christ will walk beside Him on the narrow road through the darkest place and hear his desires for good, his plan for righteousness, his remedy of hope. They will understand that “every good and perfect gift comes from” Him (James 1:17) and that when we feel disillusioned in life, we can trust that, while God didn’t cause our pain, he will cause even the worst circumstance to work out for our good (Rom. 8:28-29).
This kind of trust takes time – time to get to know God in his goodness through intimate conversation with him. Just as I spend time with my husband and get to know his likes and dislikes, his desires and dreams, so I spend time with The Bridegroom God in order to know him deeply. That way, when something arises in my life that causes me to feel the sting of disappointment, I know I can trust Him for I have learned his will and his ways. I can trust him even when I cannot feel him, even when I cannot grasp what I’ve been praying for. Yes, even then.
And here in lies the gift – the gift of disillusionment.
Disillusionment is defined as, “A feeling of disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be; the condition of being dissatisfied or defeated in expectation or hope.”
For those who live in bitterness of heart, they have wrongly placed the blame for their disappointment on God. They feel they have made the discovery that God is not as good as they believed him to be and therefore live in angry disillusionment. These are the ones who start out starry-eyed and full of hope and then when life goes wrong, they blame God for the pain and become derailed in their faith. Oh, but for those who have cultivated that intimate walk with the Lord, when disillusionment comes their way, they rejoice! Why? Because that disillusionment causes them to pause and discover that somewhere along the way, they placed their hope in the goodness of something other than God. They were looking for goodness outside of the only One that is truly good (Matt. 19:17). They discover that along their journey, they began anchoring hope in their circumstances, their livelihood, and/or their church to fulfill their desires instead of placing their source of satisfaction in the Lord. Yes, for the mature believer, disillusionment induces us to take our eyes off of the temporal realm and onto the eternal. It course corrects our heart and refocuses our vision to "life our eyes up to the hills from where our help comes from - the Maker of heaven and earth (Ps 121:1-2)." Truly, disillusionment in the heart of a believer is a gift as long as we treat it as such.
So, may we as faithful followers of Christ lean not on naive theology or on jaded doctrines, but may we in intimacy, be found leaning on the everlasting arms of the One who stands in that blessed middle ground of tested and tried faith. Here on these grounds, in the middle of the pomp and circumstances of life, may we incline our ear to the exhortation of the Valedictorian of our faith who admonishes us to rejoice, not in the troubles we endure in this life, but in the truth that he has overcome them.