Some of this disappointment is trivial. I wouldn’t have minded getting a more muscular physique. I can’t do basic home repairs. So far I haven’t shown much financial wizardry.
Some of this disappointment is neurotic. Sometimes I am too concerned about what others think of me, even people I don’t know.
Some of this disappointment, I know, is worse than trivial; it is simply the sour fruit of self-absorption. I attend a high school reunion and can’t choke back the desire to stand out by looking more attractive or having achieved more impressive accomplishments than my classmates. I speak to someone with whom I want to be charming, and my words come out awkward and pedestrian. I am disappointed in my ordinariness. I want to be, in the words of Garrison Keillor, named “Sun-God, King of America, Idol of Millions, Bringer of Fire, The Great Haji, Thun-Dar the Boy Giant.”
But some of this disappointment in myself runs deeper. When I look in on my children as they sleep at night, I think of the kind of father I want to be. I want to create moments of magic, I want them to remember laughing until the tears flow, I want to read to them and make the books come alive so they love to read, I want to have slow, sweet talks with them as they’re getting ready to close their eyes, I want to sing them awake in the morning. I want to chase fireflies with them, teach them to play tennis, have food fights, and hold them and pray for them in a way that makes them feel cherished.
I look in on them as they sleep at night, and I remember how the day really went: I remember how they were trapped in a fight over checkers and I walked out of the room because I didn’t want to spend the energy needed to teach them how to resolve conflict. I remember how my daughter spilled cherry punch at dinner and I yelled at her about being careful as if she’d revealed some deep character flaw; I yelled at her even though I spill things all the time and no one yells at me; I yelled at her—to tell the truth—simply because I’m big and she’s little and I can get away with it. And then I saw that look of hurt and confusion in her eyes, and I knew there was a tiny wound on her heart that I had put there, and I wished I could have taken those sixty seconds back. I remember how at night I didn’t have slow, sweet talks, but merely rushed the children to bed so I could have more time to myself. I’m disappointed.
And it’s not just my life as a father. I am disappointed also for my life as a husband, friend, neighbor, and human being in general. I think of the day I was born, when I carried the gift of promise, the gift given to all babies. I think of that little baby and what might have been: the ways I might have developed mind and body and spirit, the thoughts I might have had, the joy I might have created.
I am disappointed that I still love God so little and sin so much. I always had the idea as a child that adults were pretty much the people they wanted to be. Yet the truth is, I am embarrassingly sinful. I am capable of dismaying amounts of jealousy if someone succeeds more visibly than I do. I am disappointed at my capacity to be small and petty. I cannot pray for very long without my mind drifting into a fantasy of angry revenge over some past slight I thought I had long since forgiven or some grandiose fantasy of achievement. I can convince people I’m busy and productive and yet waste large amounts of time watching television.
These are just some of the disappointments. I have other ones, darker ones, that I’m not ready to commit to paper. The truth is, even to write these words is a little misleading, because it makes me sound more sensitive to my fallenness than I really am. Sometimes, although I am aware of how far I fall short, it doesn’t even bother me very much. And I am disappointed at my lack of disappointment.
Where does this disappointment come from? A common answer in our day is that it is a lack of self-esteem, a failure to accept oneself. That may be part of the answer, but it is not the whole of it, not by a long shot. The older and wiser answer is that the feeling of disappointment is not the problem, but a reflection of a deeper problem—my failure to be the person God had in mind when he created me. It is the “pearly ache” in my heart to be at home with the Father.
Ortberg, John. 2009. The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
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