Disappointment and Trust

Posted August 11, 2008

I think it was Confucius who said, “Happiness does not consist in having what you want, but in wanting what you have.”

One frequent cause of disappointment, especially in our prayers of petition, is that God does not give us what we want, but what we need. “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Mt 6:32). In such a case, we are disappointed because our priorities may be misplaced and our value system inverted.

Occasionally we should ask ourselves what our priorities really are. To help us refocus, Jesus advises: “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:33). Attaining this holiness (“righteousness”) should leave us immune to disappointment, because when we have God and his love (manifested by his beneficence toward us), we have everything we need, spiritually. The answers to our physical needs come as an unfailing bonus.

The Israelites, during the great exodus, yearning for the luxurious pots of meat they had enjoyed in Egypt (see Ex 16:3), were disappointed because only their needs and not their wants were fulfilled. Yet they were miraculously fed for forty years by the daily bread of heaven-sent manna and life-sustaining water from a rock (see Dt 8:15-16), along with honey and oil also from a rock (see Dt 32:13), and even their clothing was miraculous preserved for forty years in the desert environment (see Dt 8:4). These are the same three needs-Jesus refers to in Matthew’s gospel (6:31, 33): “Do not worry, saying ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear? .. all these things will be given to you.” If our spiritual aspirations are prioritized-seeking first holiness and the kingship of God-then all else will be provided; but we must continually seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.

Our spiritual needs come before, not instead of, our physical needs. Thus, really trusting in God’s promised provisions for our life-needs, with spiritual goals at the top of our shopping list, will immunize us against any disappointment. When our wants are subordinate to our needs, especially our spiritual needs, the art of trusting God without disappointment is the inevitable result, and the reward that awaits us is equally inevitable. It is the one that Paul was allowed to preview: “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).

Fr. John Hampsch, CMF “Pathways of Trust”