When You’ve Disappointed Someone

I’m sure you didn’t mean to do it. You’d take it back if you could. And yet the facts remain. You’ve disappointed someone close to you. Now what?

I seem to be in a season of disappointing others. In some cases, their frustrations with me are legit. I’ve said I would do one thing and done another. I’ve been a hard-to-reach friend or a too-busy family member or a stretched-too-thin employee, and I’ve disappointed some of my very favorite people.

In other cases, others’ disappointment in me makes less sense. I’m not exactly sure what mark I seemed to have missed, but I still get the sense that I’ve disappointed someone. In this season, I’ve had to wrestle with what to do when I’ve disappointed someone else. I’ve had to run to God’s Word, seek Him out in prayer, and ask for wise guidance about how to handle it when I’ve caused disappointment.

These are muddy waters. When emotions and relationships are involved, things are rarely as clear as we’d like them to be. But I’ve learned a lesson or two in this season of disappointing. In case someone you love is disappointed with you, I thought I’d pass them along.

No Rug Sweeping

If you know you’ve done something disappointing, fess up to it rather than sweeping it under the rug. It’s not as hard as it seems. Simply say, “I’m sorry I did x. I’m sure that was disappointing to you.”

Humility is always an act of obedient worship, because we are following Jesus’ lead.

This step often requires a megadose of humility. It forces us to see past our own schedule, demands, feelings, and circumstances and look hard at how our actions impact others. Humility is always an act of obedient worship, because we are following Jesus’ lead. You’ll feel better if your conscience is clear and your friend will know you’re sorry you caused disappointment and hurt.

There’s a Right Way (and a Zillion Wrong Ways) to Handle Disappointment

God gives us a very clear road map for how to handle it when we’ve hurt each other in Matthew 18:15–17.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

Here’s a breakdown.

When someone sins against you:

  1. Go to them and explain the offense one-on-one.
  2. If he/she listens, welcome them back gladly as you would a sister or a brother.
  3. If they do not listen, take some godly friends along and try again.
  4. If he/she listens, see Step 2.
  5. Involve your church. Ask your pastor, youth pastor, or other church leadership to get involved.
  6. If he/she listens, see Step 2.
  7. If none of this works, get some space, but be willing to welcome them back into the fold any time.

My pastor often tells us that 99 percent of conflicts can be handled with Step 1. Yet we often avoid going to the other person and instead choose less helpful ways of dealing with our hurt. (More on that in a minute.) I have found this guide for dealing with conflict to be unbelievably helpful. It works when we are the ones who have been offended, and it works when we are the offender. If you’ve disappointed someone, simply go to them, one-on-one and say you’re sorry. That’s the right way to handle it.

There are plenty of wrong ways to handle disappointment (given or received), too. Like:

  • Gossip (sometimes under the guise of seeking wise guidance or prayer).
  • The silent treatment.
  • Bitterness.
  • Posting rude things on social media.
  • Getting angry.
  • Adding a list of “buts” to your apology. As in, “I’m sorry I disappointed you, but you . . .”

Do the right thing (apologize) in the right way (one-on-one).

You Are Not Your Own Defender

What if you’ve said you’re sorry in the right way, and the other person is still disappointed in you? What can you do then?

In a word: nothing.

At least nothing that other people will see. Instead, pray like crazy, asking God to intervene in your situation.

In a different word: wait.

Wait and pray, asking the Lord to defend your reputation and bring reconciliation to your relationship. We can certainly take responsibility for our actions and try to make amends, but ultimately, we cannot change anyone’s hearts. That’s God’s job! Trust Him to defend you when others are disappointed in you.

Pray this verse often as a declaration that you trust God to set things right on your behalf.

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold (Ps. 18:2).

Avoid the Snare

Because disappointing others is an inevitable byproduct of our sin nature, our temptation is to become skittish, always worried about what others think of us. While God’s Word does call us to elevate the needs of others above our own (Phil. 2:3), that’s not the same as obsessively worrying about what others think of us. Listen to the wisdom in Proverbs 29:25:

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.

Fear of man (a.k.a. living for the approval of others) is like a snare or a trap set on the path of our lives. It entangles us. It binds us up. It keeps us from moving ahead like God calls us to.

If you’ve disappointed someone, address it, but then move on.

If you’ve disappointed someone, address it, but then move on. Don’t get tangled up worrying about what everyone thinks of you.

Pray and Bless. Repeat.

“Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:28).

These words from Jesus are radical. Because they’re familiar, we may breeze right past them, but we shouldn’t. Christ is calling us to do the total opposite of what our hearts want to do here.

When others curse, we bless.
When others hurt us, we pray.

When you’re the one who has hurt someone else, don’t you hope this is how they will respond? Don’t you want them to bless you when you’ve disappointed them and pray for you when you’ve done them wrong? I do! What a beautiful picture of grace.

Give grace by the bucketful.

Even if they don’t respond this way, you have the choice to. Don’t wait until you feel like it. Don’t sit it out until the tension is gone. Bless and pray. Bless and pray. Bless and pray. Give grace by the bucketful.

Take Stock

If the people around you are chronically disappointed about a specific pattern or behavior, listen to the truth behind the hurt.

  • Do your friends often complain that you’re too busy for them? Perhaps your schedule needs adjusted.
  • Do your parents often express disappointment in your rude and disrespectful behavior? Very likely your attitude needs adjusted.
  • Are you often late or drop the ball on commitments you’ve made to others? Perhaps your pride needs adjusted.

We will continue to disappoint and be disappointed this side of heaven, but if there are adjustments you can make to disappoint less often, ask the Lord to help you do so.

PS: If you’re feeling disappointed, be sure to check out this earlier post, “5 Ways to Cope with Disappointment.”

About Author

Erin Davis

Erin is passionate about pointing young women toward God's Truth. She is the author of several books and a frequent speaker and blogger to women of all ages. Erin lives on a small farm in the midwest with her husband and kids. When she's not writing, you can find her herding goats, chickens, and children.

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