I am disappointed in you. The outcome was such a disappointment. I am sure I am going to be disappointed. I am disappointed in myself.

It is a curious concept. I have failed to measure up to an expectation. I have fallen short. I should have, could have, might have done better.

Disappointment views life as a series of goals that must be achieved. There are markers along the way, standards by which all actions and outcomes are judged. When I fail to make the grade I am disappointed; I am a disappointment.

How did we come to define life by some mythical external standard? What is the source of this standard? Who set the rules? Who created the test? Who is the judge?

Perhaps most puzzling of all – what do we hope to achieve when we say someone or something is a disappointment or when we judge ourselves to be a disappointment?

When a child brings home a report card that does not measure up to parental expectation the parent says, “I am disappointed in you.” The disappointed parent may expect this statement will motivate the child to work harder, do better or achieve greater success in the future. But it seldom works. And, even if it the blunt instrument of parental disappointment does work, criticism, shame, judgment and guilt are never healthy motivators for genuine improvement. They may cause us to grit our teeth and exert enormous effort to “improve,” but at what cost?

Jesus taught his disciples for three years. They witnessed his miracles and shared an intimate connection with him. When Jesus was arrested and brutally executed, did his followers come to his defence? Did they fill the streets with the news of the terrible injustice that had been done? Did they rush to announce that Jesus who had been the embodiment of life, truth, love, and justice and was being destroyed by vicious forces of injustice?

After his death Jesus’ disciples did not boldly proclaim their allegiance to their despised leader; they hid for fear behind locked doors (John 20:19). When, following his execution, Jesus stood among his fearful, doubt-filled, insecure disciples, surely he would rebuke them for their lack of courage. Surely, Jesus would say, “I am so disappointed in you.” If anyone deserved censure it was Jesus’ desperately failed disciples. But Jesus did not resort to guilt or shame in the face of his followers failures. He did not wag his finger and say, “You should have done better.” He said only, “Peace be with you.” Then “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:21,22). Jesus understood that healthy motivation comes from the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit. And he knew that we find God’s Spirit, not by being rebuked or reprimanded, but by being forgiven and set free.

I wonder if I can let go of my disappointments and embrace myself as Jesus embraced his disciples. Can I receive the realities of my situation as they are rather than demanding I change before I deem myself acceptable? I wonder if I can accept all of life, even the difficult bits that feel like a disappointment, as a gift along the way.

Those actions I judge as failures are not my enemy. My “failures” are my friend, calling me to open more deeply to the grace that is always available to an open receptive heart. There is a gift even in the most disappointing situations when I am able to see the deep lessons that are available when I feel let down by myself, by other people or by the circumstances of my life.

Disappointment keeps me trapped and bound by external expectations. Acceptance and embrace set me free to live from the deep inner well-spring of God’s Spirit.