Christian author and communicator Melanie J. Saward confronts the reality of disillusionment and how COVID-19 forced us all to confront our existing suspicions.
With such eagerness, we all waved goodbye to 2020 and invited the ‘fresh start’ that 2021 promised. But as time passes, and the familiar sounds of a Test Match on TV fill the room with some semblance of normality, there’s an unspoken sense of uncertainty, as every news break could announce the next COVID-19 lockdown.
Of course, we have fared much better than many abroad. And in some ways, we have been rather naive about the havoc wreaked by this unbiased sickness.
But I am sure, like me, you have wondered how exactly we are ever going to be completely rid of it. If I were to name the emotional condition accompanying the aura created by this illness, it would be disillusionment. It wasn’t caused by COVID-19, but it has been highlighted amidst a culture rooted in the kind of expectations impregnated with disappointment. Long before COVID-19 came along, this intimidating truth has lurked: Life doesn’t work the way we think it does. COVID-19 simply forced us to confront some suspicions that we already contended with:
Sometimes the hardest working person doesn’t get their dream
Sometimes the most loving person doesn’t keep their family together
Sometimes the best church community doesn’t survive
Long before COVID-19 came along, this intimidating truth has lurked: Life doesn’t work the way we think it does.
The only difference now is that we have something to blame: COVID. But I know from my experience, blaming COVID doesn’t meet my internal need for justice, because who can we blame for COVID? This question isn’t intended to take you down the usual rabbit hole of conspiracies. It is to demonstrate this: assigning blame doesn’t resolve the internal loose ends that can’t work out why things didn’t happen the way I thought they would, or should … the way that makes sense.
What do we do with these inevitable cracks in apparently realistic expectations? In our sense of rightness?
Well, that’s precisely the point of my latest book: Disillusioned, When You Get Lost Following Jesus.
There may be a purpose to disillusionment. But you aren’t going to find it in the courts, the media, or in a feel-good podcast. It’s found in the pages of scripture, demonstrated in the lives of biblical characters. Disillusionment is meant to give us a greater and more steadfast faith, just as our spiritual ancestors discovered in the face of exiles, oppression, injustice and even persecution.
Disillusionment is when a person perceives a conflict between their ideals and reality, that can not be unseen. The turmoil stems from the pain and frustration involved in trying to reconcile this discrepancy, particularly when this ideal has occupied an infallible foundational status.
Disillusionment is when a person perceives a conflict between their ideals and reality, that can not be unseen.
To many, disillusionment hardly warrants its own unique identity. Isn’t it essentially a more palatable version of offence? This is a common misconception. With offence, the offender is clear and obvious. The scriptural solution is also fairly straightforward: forgiveness. On the other hand, the disillusioned person often struggles to isolate the nature of the offence. And if they do find a party to hold accountable, forgiveness doesn’t dissipate the emotions because forgiveness can’t erase the discrepancy they now see. Their ideals have cracks in them, and forgiveness is only able to relieve a part of the pain associated with the disillusionment. An argument such as “humans can make mistakes” fails miserably in attempting to have the ideal and reality meet an accord.
Recently a friend told me a story about a time when she was being mentored by another Christian lady. The mentor made a very human mistake, but it clearly was unexpected and became a catalyst for a season of questioning. After dealing with the offence, she realised that she had expected Godly leadership to be able to meet her needs. It was a critical time of alignment for her belief systems, were she to continue in Christian communities. Thankfully, she was able to move forward by putting her faith completely in God, and subsequently finding grace for leaders who fall short of the mark.
This is a perfect example of disillusionment. Where a new possibility requires reconciling, and the potential to grow deeper in relationship with God.
So if you suspect that disillusionment is hanging around, here are the top 3 pieces of advice I can give you to begin your journey of healing:
1. Understand it
Consider all the various ways in which disillusionment is surrounding your thoughts and feelings. It might be permeating your marital relationship, your kids, your relationship with the church, your relationship with work or ministry, and even your relationship with money. Then endeavour to understand everything you can about disillusionment: why it happens, how it happens, what it looks like, what statements are typical of the disillusioned etc. When you are able to identify disillusionment, it frees you from simply reacting to situations and forces you to consider how disillusionment is influencing your choices.
2. Mourn it
Your pain and disappointment should not be discredited. You are disillusioned because something hard to digest forced you to take stock of your current belief system (if you have moved past the initial shock that comes with realising that you may have been incorrect). Sometimes we really do need to mourn the loss associated with our disillusionment. Maybe it’s the loss of time. Maybe it’s the loss of a relationship. Sometimes it’s just the loss of the firm foundation on which you built your life, even if that foundation had some serious holes in it. It still provided you with comfort and security for a time. And now it’s gone. So mourn it. It’s okay to be sad about what you have lost.
3. Confront it
Once you’ve had a bit of a chance to embrace your sadness, you will need to accept that your disillusionment can only be healed when you decide to take it head-on. Conflicts are resolved by the parties facing each other and confronting the situation. It’s rarely ever resolved by time or distance…although that may have helped ease the high emotions attached to a situation. Your sense of security depends on the reconciling of these loose ends.
It’s entirely possible that more lockdowns will happen. It’s also possible that 2021 will be just as difficult, maybe even more so than 2020. But this year could be the year your faith grows deeper as you face disillusionment and any other future challenge that causes you to question the gaps you see between reality and the ideal.