Disappointment has abounds in all our lives from time to time. For me, between periods of unemployment, health problems with no answers, not being able to take the vacations we’d like to, and being accepted into but not being able to pay for a screenwriting program I’ve been trying for years to get into, among other things, it has seemed like every way we try to go, every way we thought God was leading us, is a dead end.
Disappointment can be a pretty bitter pill to swallow, especially when we’ve been so convicted about something that doesn’t end up working out. To keep hope alive, ever ‘running the race’ with St. Paul, here are some saints who faced disappointment and how they dealt with it.
1. St. Elizabeth
St. Elizabeth was the cousin of the Blessed Virgin Mary and mother of St. John the Baptist. Elizabeth and her husband Zachariah were quite old and were unable to have any children though they tried and prayed fervently. What a major disappointment, especially in the time that they lived! Still, St. Luke recounts in his Gospel that Elizabeth was righteous and blameless. So Zachariah went to the temple to pray for a child and the angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him that Elizabeth would bear a son and they would name him John- and she did! (cf. Luke 1: 13-15). Her trust in the Lord’s goodness allowed her to bear the forerunner to the Christ (and for Zachariah’s skepticism, he was blinded until John’s birth!).
2. St. Francis of Assisi
Francis had wanted to be a great knight and started to shore up glory for himself. This was a great source of pride for his father who wanted him to be a great businessman. St. Francis finally had the opportunity to live his dream and rode out to become a knight in the Fourth Crusade. But, riding only a day away from Assisi, he had a dream in which God told him to return and so he did. He was humiliated and the townspeople mocked him, and his father was quite displeased with him, too. In the wake, Francis’ conversion happened slowly but he still turned to God.
After some time, St. Francis was praying in the Church of San Damiano and heard the Crucifix speak to him, telling him to rebuild the Church. So, Francis borrowed money from his father to buy the supplies necessary to rebuild the church, an act his father considered theft. Francis’ father dragged him in front of the bishop, furious that his son was beginning to renounce worldly glory for a much greater glory, and demanded that Francis renounce all his inheritance.
Well, St. Francis did, and also further humbled himself by stripping his clothes and giving them back to his father. The bishop then laid a simple cloak over him and Francis said, “Pietro Bernardone is no longer my father. From now on I can say with complete freedom, ‘Our Father who art in heaven.'” St. Francis had his dreams dashed and his world completely turned upside down, but recognized that God was leading him from earthly glories to heavenly glory, and humbled himself to submit to God’s greater plan for his life.
3. St. Francis Xavier
St. Francis Xavier was said to be a great scholar. He worked for the Church but wasn’t of it, and he often scoffed at St. Ignatius of Loyola and his small band of companions. Francis Xavier was very ambitious and wanted to accomplish great deeds and initially saw St. Ignatius’ life as a waste.
Slowly, but surely, St. Ignatius won him over. “What profits a man,” St. Ignatius once asked him, “if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” It was hard for St. Francis Xavier to give up his ambitions and the life he so desired to follow the call of the Lord and submit himself to the mentorship of St. Ignatius, but he did and in the end, the Lord used St. Francis Xavier’s natural talents and ambitions to accomplish great deeds for the kingdom of heaven, converting much of Asia to Christianity.
4. St. Germaine Cousin
St. Germaine’s mother died when she was an infant and her father remarried almost instantly. Germaine was an instant disappointment to her step-mother, being weak, ill, and had a deformed and paralyzed right hand. Her stepmother Hortense was very cruel to her and her father did nothing to stop the ongoing abuse. Germaine was never fed enough food, was once left in a well for three days, and had boiling water poured on her legs. She ended up developing a rare form of tuberculosis. It was only then that her stepmother became worried that her daughters would contract the disease and sent Germaine to live in the stable with the animals.
Germaine was robbed of love and safety and even pity. How disappointing for her that her life was once filled with these basic comforts and necessities only to have them replaced by hatred and cruelty when she was so vulnerable. But St. Germaine never let this taint her. She was sent to tend the sheep and in this task, found a friend in God. She always repeated the prayer, “Dear God, please don’t let me be too hungry or too thirsty. Help me to please my mother. And help me to please you.”
She still wished to please the woman who despised her! Out of simple faith and trust grew profound holiness and her trust exemplifies Christ’s promise, “I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you” (John 14:14). She eventually died in the stable she shared with the animals. Her body is incorrupt.
5. St. Jane Frances de Chantal
St. Jane Frances de Chantal met with disappointment in her life and marriage almost from the beginning. Her husband, Christophe, not only had inherited the title of baron but an enormous debt, as well. No sooner had she moved into her new home than she found out that she might lose it! Instead of becoming angry or despondent, she took control of the entire estate, getting the finances under control and winning the love of their employees.
Jane was met with more disappointment when her husband was shot and killed in a hunting accident. Heartbroken, Jane struggled to forgive the man who was responsible. So she started small: she greeted him on the street, then invited him to her house, and then eventually forgave him so completely that she became the godmother to one of his children. St. Jane used these troubles to open her heart to longing for God and drew close to Him in prayer and a deep spiritual life. With the help of her friend St. Francis de Sales, St. Jane Frances de Chantel eventually founded the Visitation order and accepted women to religious life who were denied by other orders, noting that all should be able to live out the call given to them by God despite age or health.
6. St. Clotilde
St. Clotilde is the patron saint of disappointing children, with good reason! Though she was able to convert her husband King Clovis to Christianity, she was never able to put an end to the squabblings of her sons who were disputing over their kingdom after their father’s death. Finally fed up with them, St. Clotilde moved from her home in Burgundy to Tours, France and spent the rest of her life caring for the poor and the sick. She dealt with disappointment by just moving on – literally – and finding a new way to serve the Lord. Her sons’ quarrels caused her great sorrow, but St. Clotilde didn’t let that get in her way of serving the Lord and His people. Sometimes you just have to let go and move on!
7. Bl. Chiara Luce Badano
Bl. Chiara was the long-awaited answer to her parents’ prayers. For 11 years they waited and prayed for a baby and were finally entrusted with her. Chiara was a lively girl who loved swimming, skiing, and being with friends, among many other activities. She was bright and popular and offered all of her joys to the Lord for whose Gospel she wanted to live entirely.
Her first bought of disappointment came when she had to repeat her first year of high school because of a misunderstanding with a teacher. How disappointing to have a misunderstanding hold you back! But, she felt she was finally able to give Jesus not only her joys, but her sufferings, also. She wrote to a friend, “I wasn’t able to give this suffering to Jesus right away. It took a little time to recover.” How mature!
When she was seventeen, she felt a stabbing pain in her shoulder while playing tennis and then was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an intense and painful form of bone cancer. Through all of her treatments, often very painful, she never lost sight of Christ and his love, even though she was often saddened by being unable to participate in life as she once had. But she would not turn away from the opportunity to give her entire self to our Lord: “For you, Jesus . . . if you want it, I want it, too!” Some would say that her life was ended too soon, that she was so young, but Bl. Chiara Luce used her disappointments and sufferings as a vehicle to Divine joy. She gave every bit of herself that she had to Jesus and received Him, in His joys and His sufferings, entirely into herself.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, at the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises, says “we ought not seek health rather than sickness, wealth rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, a long life rather than a short one.”
This is what he calls indifference, or detachment, from all created things. What St. Ignatius is telling us is that all things are a gift from God and we ought to look at them that way; all things are a way to become closer to Him, so we should allow them to draw us nearer, and since these things are true, we should not prefer one over another because we do not know, ultimately, which is the best for us, but God does.
Through the examples of these saints, and many others, the best thing I’ve found to do in the face of disappointment is to mourn the loss, offer it to God, and then move on. Employment has been found, a quick vacation has been taken, and I can apply to that screenwriting program again next year. No opportunity has truly been lost and no disappointment lasts forever. “Let your life be free from love of money but be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never forsake you or abandon you'”. (Hebrews 13:5) Disappointments are not God’s way of forsaking us, but rather of Him drawing us closer. “Further up and further in,” Mr. Tumnus tells Lucy at the end of The Last Battle of the Chronicles of Narnia, and this is exactly how disappointments can lead us straight to God.