“I’ll visit you when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while I’m passing through. And I hope you will send me on my way there, after I have first been reenergized by some time in your company.”
Romans 15:24 (Common English Bible)
I once knew a woman whose romance had gone on the rocks. She made a grand announcement to her work colleagues that she was never going to permit herself to fall in love again. “You only get hurt,” she said. I was a young graduate student struggling in the romance department myself so I remained silent. Fortunately, an older and wiser woman who was our supervisor made the observation, “If you deal with each disappointment that way, you don’t live.” I don’t recall how many work associates where present at that moment but each of us became silent as those few words sunk deeply into our hearts. The supervisor continued, “Reassess that relationship. Take something useful from it. Make it fruitful for the next.”
The Apostle Paul wanted to go to Spain. He had his heart set on it. Paul’s zeal for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ compelled him to reach the outermost rim of the world. What Paul got was a prison cell in Rome. Like my work colleague, Paul was disappointed. Life’s unexpected turns and twist never permitted Paul to take that journey to Spain. That one historical fact dispels the notion that those who follow Christ are never disappointed, never experience disruptions in their own life journey. Paul wanted Spain. Paul got a prison cell. How Paul responded is instructive for us. Paul used that time in prison to reassess God’s claim upon him, Paul wrestled something useful from his disappointment. Imprisonment provided quiet time to penetrate deeply into the mysteries of Christ.
Psychologists tell us that suicide, addictions, and some forms of nervous breakdowns is evidence that people are ill equipped to manage disappointment. Loss and disappointment, regardless of the magnitude, deprive us of our ability to think and act beyond ourselves. Our focus on the disappointment becomes so sharp that we are unable to see what remains that is positive in our lives. Consequently, loss and disappointment shrinks our life to the exact size of our desire that is unmet. Popular speaker and author, John Maxwell, encourages us along a different path – encourages us to embrace failure and disappointments, extracting from them lessons that results in us “failing forward.” It is then that mistakes, failures, and disappointments become stepping-stones to something so much more.
Few people have the opportunity to live life on the basis of their first choice – whether that be a choice in career, a spouse that “checks all the boxes,” or some other longing. Paul wanted to go to Spain. He got a prison cell. A large majority of us will find that life moves in directions not of our choosing. That is precisely when the Christian faith tells us that we should get something out of every experience, every new direction, even out of disappointment. The bulk of the New Testament is letters written by Paul – many of them written while in prison! After twenty-some years as an iterant preacher, Paul gets a prison cell. At last, Paul found the quiet time to think deeply about what he had learned of Jesus Christ and pour those thoughts out in written form that would be Paul’s greatest contribution to the Christian Church.