Disappointment is a force that moves in all of our lives. Left unprocessed, it can cause a lot of damage. It can also be a powerful experience that strengthens our identity and our self-confidence. It can point us back to a God who loves us and builds our faith for bigger things to come. It can prove the existence of a benevolent God. It can prove you are worth fighting for.

If we can get through the process of disappointment, we can get through anything — I am convinced of this. I know this because my husband and I have been walking through it. We’re not in the clear just yet, but I can already see the good growing. I’m more confident than ever in my marriage and in my faith. I can say with honesty, I now know as long as I have Jesus and my husband, we can withstand anything. I know we are growing things in the middle of this barren season in our lives that will withstand anything else that comes at us.

By trial and error, we’ve found ways to stay engaged during our disappointment and not come away empty-handed. It’s possible to experience disappointment and survive it — without cutting off parts of yourself or losing faith in God. It’s possible to come out on the other side stronger than before, with greater confidence in yourself and more fire for your life than you could imagine.

Hold on to your heart

I spent years of my life learning how to shut down my heart. Painful things would happen, and I would shove it down. I wouldn’t let myself feel it. After years of doing this, everything I tried to shove down spilled out as depression. It colored everything I did in gray. It put a bell jar over my life — I could not hear, I could not breathe, I could not connect with anyone outside. Trying to ignore disappointment and avoiding further disappointment dictated a lot of my decisions.

Disappointment hurts. And when it comes, we will often do whatever we can to not really feel how sad it is — we escape with drinking and partying, we numb out with Netflix, we binge on food — anything that will fill the empty, aching place of pain. Or we cover it up with platitudes; sling Bible verses like band-aids over what hurts — creating a new level of shame when we can’t feel grateful to the good God we know exists. Rushing our hearts from “hurt” to “okay” is as damaging as shoving down feelings.

Time heals all wounds not because ignoring something long enough makes it go away, but because processing our pain takes time. Taking care of our hearts is not a quick and easy business. It is uncomfortable. It is painful. It requires us to remember and experience, all over again, things that suck. But it is worth it. You are worth it.

Hold on to yourself

Before any solutions or relief came, I found peace and empowerment amidst a season of loss and frustration. A great lie my disappointment told me was that I wouldn’t be okay again until those circumstances changed. For a while, it convinced me I wasn’t powerful and couldn’t live how I wanted.

But I began to see my circumstances for what they were: temporary. Real, yes. Difficult, very. But I was still me — still strong, brave, and free. When my circumstances told me I was one way, I could respond with confidence about who I was. No matter what happened in my life, my destiny and what makes me who I am wasn’t going anywhere. If I were to take the bait and believe my life was irreparable, that I was weak or stupid or incapable — I would begin to act like that person. I would grow passive and apathetic. I would grow angry and bitter — I would seek to blame someone for the situation I was in.

Nothing quiets lying voices quite like the defiance of someone convinced of their identity. One of the most powerful experiences of my life has been hearing the sound of my voice rising to defend me. Through these difficult seasons, the Lord has allowed me to cultivate love, compassion, and appreciation for myself. I’ve learned to love and fight for myself in the face of deferred hope, and delayed dreams. When circumstances have yelled loudly of my failures, I’ve learned to strengthen my small voice counting out the ways God has still been faithful to me.

Disappointment may come, but rising in anger and bitterness is the hallmark of a victim. Rising in power and joy is the hallmark of a child of God. We can’t wait for anyone else to step in and say we are important enough to fight for — God has already done that. He sent Jesus to the cross. We matter. We have to act as though we matter — and when we do, disappointment loses power over our feelings, behaviors, and minds.

Look for what is growing

When disappointment comes, we switch into a two-dimensional paradigm: success or failure, right or wrong, good or bad. But nothing in life is one of the other. When there is a God who works all things together for good, one whose mysteries are beyond our understanding — anything and everything can have a place in our destiny. Anything and everything can be useful, significant, and a blessing.

We don’t see it this way because it’s easier to see a failure as just a failure. It’s easier to compartmentalize, but that’s just shame. “I didn’t do good enough. I messed it up. I just have to deal with the consequences.” It sounds reasonable. But it means I’m too embarrassed by my perceived failure to spend time letting God or anyone else give me a better narrative.

In the midst of seasons that feel barren of everything we hoped for, things still can grow. But we’ll miss it if we are consumed by what is lacking or hurting us.

Even when almost every other area in my life was empty or failing, somehow my marriage was getting stronger. Our life felt barren, but our love was growing. In the midst of hardship, I discovered an abundance within myself: the ability to love and to make choices, regardless of circumstances. I discovered I was strong enough to deal with the pain, and God was kind enough to go through it with me. Despite frustration and anger, my husband and I chose to worship and connect with God. All of this was a triumph.

We continue to build the abundant things in seasons of lack and pain because things that can grow in the desert — those things can withstand anything. But we have to look to find them. We have to believe it is possible for them to exist. And when we do see them, even if they’re small, it proves that there is life in the middle of what feels like death.

This pain, this season—it will come to an end. But what we take from it is entirely up to us. Bitterness, regret, isolation, loss of faith—or hope, confidence, and unshakeable joy.