Despite the fact that hardship and suffering are so common in this world, they still often seem to take us by surprise. We all struggle with disappointment in various ways and to various degrees. We anticipate one thing happening, and we end up with something different, maybe completely different.
- We are disappointed with circumstances. It may be something small like when our favorite sports team loses a game, or it might be a change in the weather that spoils our plans.
- We are disappointed with other people. It may be a parent who let us down as a child or a child who does not meet our expectations as an adult. It may be an employer who doesn't recognize our potential or a friend who abandons us when we need him.
- We are disappointed with ourselves. This one may not be as common, because we often try to blame other people or circumstances for our bad choices. But when we are honest, we recognize that we are responsible for our own choices.
- We are disappointed with God. All of these other disappointments can lead to disappointment with God. We wonder why God let that happen, why God didn't stop that person, why God made us the way we are.
The Apostle Paul compares us to earthen vessels or jars of clay. We can tend to think of ourselves as just one of many interchangeable clay pots: "God doesn't really care about me because there are so many others." But I do believe that each of us is a unique individual. God is working in each of us to accomplish his purposes. And even though we face disappointment, we do not have to give in to despair.
One Woman's Story
People who lived in the past are just like us, whether they were princes or paupers. They were human beings who struggled with the same kinds of emotions and desires and disappointments that we do today. One person I've learned a bit about was Queen Anne (1665-1714).
Genealogies in the Bible are nothing compared to the complicated royal genealogies of Europe. This one shows Anne's family tree starting with her paternal great-grandfather, King James I (of KJV Bible fame), in the upper right and her mother's father, Edward Hyde, in the upper left. Her cousin George (lower right) will be important later on.
Anne's father was the son of a king, and her mother was from a family of lower standing. They had a shotgun wedding when Anne's mother, also named Anne, was several months pregnant. James and Anne, the Duke and Duchess of York, had eight children, but six of them died as children. The two who survived were Mary and Anne.
Their mother died when Anne was six, and according to the custom of royal English families, they did not live with their father. Evidence suggests that he was a good father when he was around, but he was philanderer, fathering children by another woman even while his first wife was alive.
Mary was used as a political pawn and married to her first cousin William at age 15. She had at least one miscarriage and was unable to give birth to a heir.
Anne married George, the Prince of Denmark, in 1683. She was 18. He was 30. Though their marriage was also arranged, they evidently were happy as husband and wife.
The first child of Anne and George, a daughter, was stillborn. They soon had two daughters named Mary and Anne Sophia. Both girls contracted smallpox, along with their father, George. George survived but both girls died, Mary at almost two years old and Anne Sophia at almost one.
The 1600s were a tumultuous time in England with lots of competition for the throne. Religious hostility between Catholics and Protestants magnified the political differences. Anne's grandfather Charles I had been beheaded, and her uncle Charles II had been taken the throne after the upheaval of the English Civil War. Her father became King James II in 1685.
In 1688, James II was forced out of power by his son-in-law William and daughter Mary. Anne supported her sister and brother-in-law. This is known as the Glorious Revolution in English history. Thus William and Mary became King and Queen of England.
Anne had at least fourteen more pregnancies. Nearly all of them ended in miscarriage or stillbirth. One son, George, lived for only few minutes after birth. One other son, William, was born in 1689, and he was able to survive the dangers of infancy and early childhood.
Protestants saw Prince William as the one who would keep the English throne away from the Catholics. Sadly, on his 11th birthday, the Prince became ill and died a few days later. He had already suffered in his health for several years, but the doctors treating him in his last illness likely hastened his death. Of course this was a tremendous loss for Anne and George.
One observer commented soon after William's death:
Because William and Mary had no surviving children and now Anne had no surviving children, the English Parliament passed a law naming a distant cousin in Germany as the successor to the throne after Anne. They still somehow wanted to keep the throne away from any Catholic descendents of James II.
A New Queen
Mary had died in 1694. William died in 1702, and Anne became Queen of England. Almost immediately England was drawn into the War of Spanish Succession, which lasted her entire reign. Anne pushed for the full union of Scotland and England, and she became the first official Monarch of Great Britain in 1707. Her reign saw bitter rivalry between the Tories and Whigs, the two major parties in British government.
Anne's husband, Prince George, died in 1708. He was 55, and they had been married for 25 years. This was a severe blow to the Queen, as she lost the only remaining member of her family and was left alone among the politicians who wanted to persuade her to do things their way. Anne's health had been in decline for many years, and it continued until she died in 1714 at age 49. The crown of Great Britain went to George I, who moved from Germany to England to take control.
What I Learn
I share Anne's story because it is so similar to our own. Even though she lived so long ago and had a very different life as part of a royal family, she shared the same kinds of disappointments that we go through today.
She had the great disappointments of her circumstances—losing her mother as a child, being caught up in political maneuvers, poor health, and having so many difficult pregnancies and losses.
She had disappointments in other people—her father's immorality, conflict with close advisers, and while Queen, the turbulence of competing political parties
I suspect she even struggled with disappointment in herself—feeling like a failure as a wife and mother, feeling inadequate as a Queen responsible for war and peace and all the other issues involved with running a country.
I was not able to find much about her personal faith in God. She was a devoted Anglican and was evidently sincere in trying to follow the instruction of the Church she knew. We will come back to this point in a moment.
So we all face these disappointments. Sometimes things happen that are outside our control. Other times we face the consequences of our own actions. Either way it hurts. So how do we deal with these disappointments?
- We should admit the disappointment. We should acknowledge the reality and acknowledge the pain. Pretending the pain doesn't exist or doesn't affect us is a disservice to ourselves and others.
- We should share it. Telling our story helps us to work through our emotions. It also helps others acknowledge and learn to deal with their pain.
- Third, and this is hard, we should remember the bigger picture. Though we often cannot see it at the time, God is working for our eternal good--somehow even in the midst of our deepest disappointments.
We are like earthen vessels, jars of clay. I believe that God is shaping each of our lives. And each of our lives is different from all of the others. None of us is an accident or a piece of trash. In the middle of the process, we cannot see the final result. My life has struggles and hardships. But I do not want to trade my life for that of anyone else.
The book that Anne and George read after the death of their son was written by Charles Drelincourt, a minister of the Protestant Church in Paris, France. Near the end, that author wrote these words:
I trust that this hope sustained Anne through the dark days of her life. This is the hope that I hold on to now.