The past few years have been filled with multiple disappointments for me. There was failing the bar exam multiple times. The financial strain from the exams and getting licensed took its toll. My love life had a series of false starts. I suffered through insomnia. I was depressed. I struggled with anxiety. I gained all of the weight that I had previously lost. Add that to the fact that my own family was having its own issues, and the straining of relationships with some family members, and we are left with a very disappointed young woman. I was going through my own “Great Disappointment.” In many ways, I still am.
I was hurt. I have spent many a night crying, trying to figure out how to make sense of the mess I had made of my life or the mess I found myself in. The hurt did not stem from any perception of a personal failing. I believe that I had tried. I mean, that hurt too – to know that I tried and continue to try so hard in every area of my life but still had very little, if anything, to show for my efforts. No, the real disappointment was with God.
I was disappointed with God because He can do anything, and yet He seemed content in doing nothing. I had great expectations of the Lord, and thus my disappointment was equally as great.
For most people, becoming a lawyer is about just that – becoming a lawyer. It’s about making a living and contributing to society. For me, becoming a lawyer was all of that and more. For me, my faith is intertwined with everything that I do. So becoming a lawyer was not just about becoming a lawyer – it was about fulfilling the plan God had for my life and discovering my purpose on this earth. It was about doing something with my time and effort and finding a line of work that would glorify God. I had sought the Lord at every juncture of this journey. I had prayed about law school. I had prayed about being a lawyer. I prayed to get into law school. I prayed to stay in law school. I prayed to finish law school. I asked God about why He wanted me there. I asked Him what I should do with my life. I asked Him if I had made a mistake. I only received answers to the contrary.
After applying to only one law school without having taken the LSAT, I wasn’t sure of my chances of admission. I promised God that if I got in, I would use my degree for ministry (whatever that meant. Desperation often has one bargaining with God.). I received my letter of admission shortly thereafter. I would be a law student at one of the top law schools in Canada.
I needed a summer job while in law school. I participated in the summer recruitment process and was ultimately interviewed by Legal Aid Ontario. After the second round of interviews, I waited patiently beside my phone on call back day but received no call. I was working at our Career Development Office at the time, and I remember running into one of my first interviewers during the Career Day that I had organized. She recognized me and eagerly asked, “We hired you right?” I had to reply “no.” I was so – I can’t even describe it – angry? Frustrated? Mad? Embarrassed? I (along with another colleague in law school) spent the rest of that semester organizing our first ever Christian Legal Fellowship Student Conference, uniting Christian students and lawyers across the country at the McGill Faculty of Law. Because of this, I didn’t have much time to apply to other positions. The chaplain of Christian Legal Fellowship, Rev. Reid Cooke, told me that the conference was a success and he had heard the same from others. As always, he ended his phone call with a prayer. I mentioned that I still hadn’t found a summer job and it was April at that point. He prayed for me. The next day, I received an e-mail from Legal Aid Ontario, telling me that they had received additional funding and asking if I was still interested in working with them for that summer.
I floundered through law school but decided I might as well finish the program. Despite unimpressive grades, I figured that I might as well article (legal internship required to be a lawyer). I applied to only one articling position during a time when people would apply to dozens and still be rejected. There was an articling crisis in Ontario, and hundreds of law graduates were unemployed after law school. I remember the deadline was at midnight. I started my application at 11:30 pm. I submitted it. I later found two typos in my cover letter. So I was surprised when I was not only called to an interview but selected out of hundreds of law students across Canada to be a part of the prestigious Legal Excellence Program of the Department of Justice. Only two students in the civil law program at McGill were chosen. I was one of the two.
I felt that He had led. I had testimony after testimony and story after story of the leadership and favour of God. Pages upon pages of my prayer journal recounted how God had provided again and again – of how He opened doors I never knew existed, of awards and scholarships I never applied for, of my landlord who never raised the rent and accepted my late rent payments (who I later found out was a Christian), of how I always ended up being the underdog, of how exceptions were made for me and how exceptional situations sought me out, of how, through no effort of my own, I consistently found favour with colleagues and people in authority. I had evidence of “holy hook-ups” and divine connections. I was convinced that although I wasn’t sure of where I was going, God was leading.
It seemed, however, that now I was faced with evidence of the contrary. So my issue was not so much how badly I felt about how my life had ultimately turned out, but rather whether or not God could be trusted. I needed to know that I could still follow God despite the incongruity of the latest developments and despite my cavernous disappointment.
Was God a tease? Had He brought me this far to leave me? Why go the scenic route?
Had God brought me to Montreal to die? Had he led me to Ottawa to perish? I knew it was insulting to God to act like the children of Israel. I knew better and I desperately wanted to answer “no,” but now I wasn’t so sure. I lost faith – in God, and His character, and His willingness to intervene, to help, to cheer, to direct and to guide.
I needed to know if God could be trusted. Could I continue to trust His leadership? The fact of the matter was if I could not trust God’s leadership I could not trust God. And I could not follow Someone who could not be trusted.
I could not follow Someone who could not be trusted.
I’d like to think that the Millerites were in the same position, facing the same questions.
As the movie below, Tell the World, depicts, the “Great Disappointment” happened as a result of the misplaced expectations of the Millerites. Jesus did not return as William Miller had preached and predicted and as thousands of followers had sincerely believed. Many had sold all of their belongings in faith that Christ would return on October 22, 1844. When Christ did not return, needless to say, William Miller’s followers (also known as the “Millerites”) were deeply disappointed. Many turned away from the faith. Those who didn’t continued to search the Scriptures and pray. Arguably, God rewarded their faith. With newfound understanding of the Sabbath and revelation of the Sanctuary in heaven and investigative judgment, the Seventh-day Adventist Church was born.
William Miller was a reluctant preacher. In fact, he said that he would not preach what God had shown him about Bible prophecy unless asked. In the movie, he was asked that very day to preach in the place of a pastor who had to gone out of town. There are no coincidences with God. One could argue that Miller was led. But what do you do when it seems that God has unmistakenly and powerfully led you, only for your efforts to result in disappointment?
The Bible tells us that “Those who hope in the Lord will not be disappointed” (Isaiah 49:23; Psalm 5:3). What then do you do when you have hoped in the Lord and you still find yourself battling with disappointment?
I had always (secretly) thought that the sanctuary doctrine was a great way for early Millerites to save face and cover up the errors of William Miller’s teachings and make excuses for God. I saw investigative judgment as a way to grasp at straws and save the Millerite movement and the resulting Adventist church from embarrassment.
The Great Disappointment shows us what went wrong.
You can have the date right and the wrong event.
You can be convicted about the expected event of something, and still be wrong.
You can be so sure, and yet so wrong.
You can have the right chronology. Everything can line up. But your expectation can be wrong. What is wrong are not your actions, nor the sequence of events, but your expectation.
Strong conviction and faith will not guard you against disappointment, as the movie poignantly depicts. The Adventist pioneers believed. They truly believed. They sold their houses and their possessions. They distributed tracts and pamphlets, neglected their families and sacrificed their health. No one could question the sincerity of their faith. It was not for lack of study that Jesus did not come. Nor was it lack of faith. Their faith was pure, but it was misguided. Some could argue that God did not honour their faith. But He did, just in another, unexpected way.
That’s the thing — sometimes it is our interpretation of the event that is wrong, and not the event itself. And I truly believe that God always honours sincere, childlike faith, even when such faith is misplaced or misguided.
Why didn’t God correct William Miller or Joseph Bates or Joshua Himes? Why did He allow them to persist in their wrongness – especially since Miller now contended that God was a personal God – personally concerned with the affairs of His people individually and collectively. I don’t know, but I do think that perhaps it would not matter. All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). God could have reminded Miller that “we know not the hour of the Master’s appearing” and subsequently save his children/followers much heartache, but instead God chose to use human error to reveal His supreme glory. Both methods would have achieved the same end — glory to God.
But the deep hurt of the disappointment cannot be understated. Disappointment in and of itself is not bad. I had written previously about my disappointment with God, and the truth of the matter is this: There is no disappointment where there is no great love. It only hurts because you actually cared, trusted and believed.
Disappointment often results in bitterness and hardness of heart, but sometimes, God, in His mercy, will explain the disappointment.
The movie taught me that after every disappointment, you need to pray. Pray for guidance and wisdom and direction. Trust that hitherto hath the Lord helped you (1 Sam 7:12), and that He will continue to lead you forward. Lean not unto your own understanding. This is key. Acknowledge Him and He will make your path straight (Prov. 3:5-6). These are the promises He has given us in Scripture.
What touched me was the prayer of Hiram Edson after the October 22 event. He prayed for wisdom, got up off his knees and said, “Come brothers. Surely God has not forsaken us.”
And that’s the message I cling to today. God has not forsaken us. After seeking the Lord in prayer, we too must get up and move forward. Every disappointment gives an opportunity for God to do something bigger, something greater, or simply something else.
I remember what Ellen White said in the wake of the “Great Disappointment” after receiving one of her first visions: “As long as they kept their eyes on Jesus, they were safe.”
As long as they kept their eyes on Jesus. Not on events. Not on circumstances. Not on their disappointment. As long as they kept their eyes on Jesus, they would be okay. I think that’s a message that all disappointed people can take to heart.
I will admit — my prayers, as of late, have not been very faith-filled and eloquent. On the nights I do pray, all I can force out is “Feel free to intervene Jesus. Feel free… Anytime now…” To quote 2 Chronicles 20:12, “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
My eyes are on the Lord. Your move, Jesus.