We all know the saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” In some ways, it’s become a mantra for handling life’s disappointments. When life doesn’t go your way, make something out of it. When you are disappointed with the way things are, change them for the better. When something bad happens to you, don’t let it get you down.
But is this the best way to handle disappointments? Do we just put a smile on our face and pretend the bitterness is really sugar in disguise?
I don’t know about you, but I can’t just do that.
Shadow of the Fall
We all face disappointments at some point. Whether it’s failing to make the cheerleading squad for the second year in a row (true confession) or not getting the job you have always dreamed of, disappointment starts early and lasts until we reach the grave.
If you live long enough, you will experience disappointment in some capacity. That’s a given. But is there a way to think theologically about our disappointments? I think so.
As Christians, we see everything through this tri-focal lens: we’re made in the image of God, we live in a fallen world, and we trust in Christ for redemption. This paradigm helps us understand our disappointments. Obviously, there are varying degrees of disappointment. But I remember hearing Tim Keller say once that every day is a Leah. As in the example of Leah from the Old Testament, every day reminds us life will never turn out exactly as we hoped.
In Genesis, Leah faced grave disappointments. If living in the shadow of her sister’s beauty wasn’t enough to discourage her, being given in marriage to a man who didn’t love her would. Imagine waking up every day knowing that no amount of care, effort, or childbearing will make your husband love you any more than he did the day before.
Likewise, every day we face circumstances that shatter our expectations and plunge us into disappointment. Fellow sinners hurt us or let us down. Bodies are broken and ravaged with illness or infertility. Children confuse and overwhelm us. Spouses fail to understand us or appreciate us. Job offers fall through. Cars break down. Your roof needs to be replaced the week before Christmas.
So when you’re disappointed, do you simply make the best of circumstances and hope for something better the next time?
Thankfully, the Bible gives us another way.
Better Than Lemonade
Dealing with disappointment, whatever it may be, is more than just turning your bad into good. Try it for a little while and you will quickly understand that it’s next to impossible.
Consider the story of Joseph, another Old Testament figure whose life embodied disappointment. He was despised by his brothers and sold into slavery (Genesis 37:12-36), then misunderstood and falsely accused for following God’s law (Genesis 39). He was a stranger in a foreign land with no family to call his own. Yet when he was finally vindicated before his brothers, he exhibited great trust—not in his own ability to make something out of a bad situation, but in the God who meant every disappointment for good (Genesis 50:20). Joseph understood that God was working all along.
God is not in the business of “making the best of it” when things don’t go our way. He doesn’t just sweep in and pick up the pieces after our best-laid plans fall apart. He is always working, even in our disappointments, and using those trials for a greater purpose. So we don’t deal with disappointing circumstances by picking ourselves up by our bootstraps or turning our frown upside down. Rather, we trust in the God who is always working things out for our good (Romans 8:28).
Life most certainly hands us lemons. But we need more than sweet lemonade to replace the sourness of the circumstantial lemons. Every disappointing day reminds us that this is not our home. When the days don’t go our way, we long for a better life, where there are no more tears, disappointments, sorrows, and suffering. A life where the God who faithfully promised to keep us to the end will wipe every tear of disappointment away forever. And that, my friends, is way better than even the best lemonade.