Disappointment Privelage

27 Feb

“I am too down to do Lent this year” was the comment of one of my students. Disappointment, losing, sin, failure are the very realities all of us avoid.  It is our nature to avoid deeply exploring our disappointments and failures, as students, campus ministers, or for that matter as human beings.  Yet the season of Lent invites and necessitates such dark exploration.  Does promoting a forty day reflection of failures and disappointments among college students create a burden?

After all depression is on the rise on college campuses!  In 2005, the National College Health Assessment (NCHA) surveyed 17,000 college students. Twenty-five percent of the students reported they have “felt so depressed it was difficult to function” three to eight times in the past 12 months. Twenty one percent of the students reported that they “seriously considered suicide.”  Also, according to a 2011 National Survey of Counseling Center Directors by the University of Pittsburgh, 50% of (college campus counseling) centers participated in Depression Screening Day, screened 9,500 students, and referred 2,500 (27%) for internal or external treatment.  To add to the gloom, the second leading cause of death among college students is suicide.

Perhaps our avoidance of failure, sin and disappointment by those who profess faith has left young adults especially unable to view human failing anything other than the dreaded first step in a self-help program.  I must with clenched teeth, steely bravery and Eastwood-like determination confront this dark reality or I risk further disappointment.

My own recent efforts to avoid inspection of my disappointments bring me to the core of following Christ.   I must trust beyond myself for grace and encouragement to abound!   Embracing our failures requires a novel understanding of the privilege of disappointment.  The act of naming my failures and disappointments liberates me to let them go in order to experience the grace of God.  In hoarding my failures I cling to my self-reliance, instead of relying on God.  Here is a gift, a treasure to cherish – the privilege of disappointment.  “We were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself.   Why,” Paul continues, “we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God…”  (2Cor. 1:8,9)

Eliza Tabor Stephenson writes, “Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.”   Like singing the blues was long a reminder to not be destroyed but to move in and beyond sufferings to hope.

Looking around my library, I rediscovered Robert Hudnut’s 20 year old book Meeting God in the Darkness.  This remarkable book is a great resource for Lent.  He shares various gifts from anxiety; fear; alienation; illness to despair as treasures to salvation.

Here is the core of the Lenten journey the discovery of hope thru sin, disappointment and failure.  The privilege of disappointment is a gift to share with my students. It is a vital treasure alongside psychotherapy and medication.  When I as a campus minister embrace this gift then I can invite them to travel the journey toward resurrection.


Bill Campbell is the United Methodist campus minister at the Wesley Foundation at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN.   He has hung around the college campus for many years hoping some youth would rub off and somebody, out of sympathy, would throw a degree his way.   When the weather is nice Bill can be found driving around with the top down on his Miata, teaching his daughter Eryn to drive a stick shift.  Other times, his wife Trinace, has him working on projects around the house,  while his son-in-law, John, patiently teaches him to fly fish.   Bill received a B.S. in Social Work & Psychology from Lambuth University, and a Master of Theology from Southern Methodist University.  A D.Min from Wesley Theological Seminary awaits a project (when it is finally safe to write) on General Conference and campus ministry.


One Response to “Disappointment Privelage”

  1. Barbara Heck February 28, 2012 at 8:38 am #

    Wonderful article, terrific perspective. Thanks, Bill!

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