Last month I applied for a job I desperately wanted for a third time.
The first time I didn’t know I wanted it.
Second time, I narrowly lost out to my best friend, a worthy winner.
Third time round, I didn’t know what I’d do if I failed again.
On the second occasion, the night before the interviews, I read this sentence in my Bible…
“And this hope will not lead to disappointment.” (Romans 5:5 NLT)
‘But,’ I railed at God, ‘it might well lead to disappointment. There is no guarantee.’
Two weeks later, I didn’t get the job, and it wasn’t just disappointing, it was crushing.
Alongside my recent application, England’s World Cup chances have had me back to this. I’m sorry to say I’ve long been an England football cynic, convinced they’ll mess it up, probably at the last minute, which is exactly what I feared I’d do too.
Holding onto hope when you know, realistically, you could be disappointed is incredibly difficult. Actively choosing to hope and be positive about the chances is even harder. I’ve seen England crash out more than win. I’ve failed to get the job many times more than I’ve got it. Why then would I hope? Surely hope will result in disappointment. Just because we have hope doesn’t mean we won’t be disappointed.
So instead of holding onto hope, I began to anticipate disappointment and to steel myself for its inevitable blow. I didn’t just do this for the job and for England‘s World Cup chances, oh no, I went full throttle on disappointment anticipation. I morosely assumed any hope would be met with disappointment and let down. When plans cancelled, my expectation was vindicated. When my reality didn’t match with ideas, I’d known it would be the case. Yet even with this attitude, even though you’re expecting it, still you’re crushed by the disappointment – it’s hardly a winning perspective.
But it’s hard to drag yourself out of it. Because hope requires optimism and the potential for things to work out, and anticipating disappointment means quite the opposite. I began to feel as though hope simply went hand in hand with being disappointed.
But where I’d gone wrong in my original thinking is that the hope in that verse is specific.
It’s not a hope; it’s this hope. It’s the hope anyone who wants to can hold onto – that Jesus died and came alive again to conquer death, meaning death can’t hold us apart from God.
That’s the ultimate in hope: eternal hope.
Yet this hope we can hold onto is encapsulated in a chapter about disappointment and trouble. I wasn’t wrong. We can expect disappointment. We should expect disappointment. This chapter of the Bible acknowledges bad things will happen, just that we’ll grow through it. Instead of holding onto a long lasting hope, I began to assume all hopes were the same. I assumed I’d remain crushed rather than come through changed and that all hope was only going to be, inevitably, disappointed.
The Bible doesn’t promise having general hope will stop disappointment. It doesn’t even promise that being someone with hope in Jesus will stop disappointment. But it does promise that this hope is different. It’s past, present and future hope rolled into one. It’s hope beyond what we can anticipate or expect. It’s wiped out the ultimate disappointment of death. It’s hope in the conquering of life over death.
Two things have started to change my outlook. One is that I began to recognise my anticipation of disappointment. I began to try and anticipate the bland and the non-eventful instead and be pleasantly surprised by the joy of an over-met expectation. Then I heard God telling me something positive. I couldn’t fully believe it, but I held onto it, clutching this idea that life might yield a win. When it did, I began to trust my instincts again to hear what God had to say. Because my hope was realised, my anticipation of disappointment had to give way. My disappointment had itself been disappointed.
Having seen England win a penalty shoot-out and a quarter final, it feels like anything could now be possible. Who knows what might happen in the semi-final, and dare I say it, beyond. Yet even if we win, and all those footballing hopes are realised; even though I got the job third time round (oh, the relief!), disappointment might come my way again. And when it does, ultimately I need to remember, not every hope in my life will be disappointing, but there is only one hope that will never disappoint.