When the Path Disappoints


At the middle of my life I’ve found moments of panicky hesitance I didn’t know I would – a sense of anxious disappointment I didn’t expect. If I’m honest, facing forty has left me skidding my feet against the pavement at times, trying to hold back time — not quite ready for the mid-way point.

I’m not sure what I imagined life would look like here, but my resistance tells me it is somehow different than I anticipated. When the years behind are full of questions, it’s hard to run full stride into the future. Isn’t the midpoint supposed to be a highpoint? Where’s the mountain scaled? Where’s the victory won?

In the wake of disappointment, my real wrestle is with the Lord. When the unmet expectations I didn’t know I had get exposed, the accusations begin to pop to the surface, like balls I can no longer keep under water.

Why, Lord? Why isn’t it different? Have I missed it or have You left me here, sidelined? Why would You allow this loss? 

When life doesn’t play out as we’d expected, when a set of disappointing circumstances turns into a set of disappointing years, when the relationships are harder, the finances are lesser, or the success seems smaller, we feel the loss of it all and our disappointment can skew our perspective. Yet Jesus wants to speak to us here:

Look at My path. Look at its curve. And the path of My friends. Look where it goes.

And as we do, we see what we tend to forget. Jesus did what none of us think to do. He chose to begin low and then to voluntarily go lower still. He laid aside His glory, took on the form of a bondservant and then did the most unthinkable: He gave His life in death for us (Phil. 2:6-8).

And I turn to see the bondservant Paul, his own words echoing in my mind and heart like a lost song, now clear:

Whatever gain I had, I counted it as loss for the sake of Christ…I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Phil. 3:7-11).

Paul’s eyes tell the story. You find no losses there. As the line of his life went from success before men’s eyes down into the imprisonments and beatings and accusations, he called it gain instead of loss. What was the graph of Paul’s life? By worldy standards, he went from high attainment to total waste and failure. He couldn’t have ended lower and more abased. Discredited. Disgraced. Despised.

And the same for John, for Peter, and for all the others.

And Jesus steps forward here, bringing nothing but Himself. He spreads His arms wide to us as though to ask:

Am I enough? Even when the path goes downward and it costs more or looks different than you anticipated, am I enough?

He uses the struggles and the disappointments to expose our holdings of all the other things — even good things — until we’re left grasping for just One Thing: Him. He’s the all in all. He’s the gain. He’s the treasure. He’s the outcome. He’s the everything (Col. 1:17; Phil. 3:8; Matt. 6:21; Ps. 16:5-6).

As He leads our lives, He’s not after the American Dream, the pressure of our “calling”, or success by the standards of men. He’s after friends that will follow Him low and follow Him narrow, those who may lose everything yet have eyes clear of any disappointment. He wants us to be able to join Paul in saying, I count all else as loss for the excellence of knowing Christ Jesus.

And I look back to those years behind that didn’t play out as planned. I weigh the disappointment with this remembrance that my life is hidden in His. When He appears, I will appear with Him in glory. The culmination is sure but it is yet ahead (Col. 3:3-4). I remember the worth of the One I love and the path that He called back, “Follow Me!” upon.

Disappointments are real and He did not belittle their sting (Lk. 9:23; Lk. 14:28). But He opens His arms wide to help me see that there is no cost in light of Him. When years are spent with Him along that path, no matter how many twists and turns unexpected, no matter if the line of our lives goes low and fades into what the world would term “waste”, in Him we know only gain.

Today, I don’t know what the future holds. I still can’t make sense of all of the past.  Yet as I look into the eyes of Jesus and He spreads wide His arms to ask me this question, I find my heart returning to the narrowness and the simplicity of responding not to circumstances but to the Person. And my prayer changes:

You are my culmination. You are my high point. Come what may, I know no loss. Only gain. 

And Jesus, I just want to say, You’re enough.