Have you ever met someone and just from the first moment you think they are SO GREAT? They are exactly your kind of person, they’re funny, and they like to talk about the same things, and they share your opinions about everything from what makes a moment cringe worthy to what makes a great marriage to the best way to spend a vacation. You talk about this person to others, how great they are, how worthy their thoughts, how hilarious their one-liners, until everyone else in your life is rolling their eyes.
And then… the honeymoon ends. You suddenly discover your idol has feet of clay. They speak sharply to you one day. They hold a grudge when you would have thought they would have been magnanimous. They reveal flashes of selfishness or arrogance or vanity. They don’t agree with you on some issue that is hugely important to you, which you were SURE no right-minded person would disagree with. Or they dismiss as unimportant what you consider a core issue.
Now what? The temptation is to withdraw. “You! How could you, of all people, disappoint me in this way? You were supposed to be different, to be perfect, to be admirable in all matters. The betrayal is worse coming from you.” Of course we won’t say that to this person, but our attitude changes. Our trust is withdrawn. We no longer share our thoughts and feelings with as much trust and freedom as before.
Something similar happens when we grow up and discover our parents’ weaknesses, or any childhood role model. Parents are supposed to always have it together! 'If I can’t trust YOU, who can I trust?'
I have lived in a various women’s households over the last seven years, and working closely with different teams of women and men. No matter how great another volunteer is when I first meet him or her, once I start living or working very closely with them, the flaws appear. I'm sure the same thing happens to me in their eyes too. The greater the respect at the beginning, the greater the fall when it comes. “You? How could you be reluctant to help? Aren’t you one of those living saints, font of wisdom and patient love?”
It could be easy to reach a point where the only people left to respect are the ones we DON’T know too well, or have to interact with much. Perhaps a speaker, or a leader, or a writer. Is this our fate? Is no one worthy of respect and trust?
This is the secret I have learned over the years: you CAN respect someone while accepting their flaws. In almost all of my women’s households, we had to learn the same lesson over and over again with each new set of people. This person is so great! But this person is also flawed. I can’t change this person. But I can love them as they are. I HAVE to forgive again and again (as they have to forgive me) for not being the people I often want and expect them to be, and sometimes even need them to be.
The friendships that have lasted beyond the disillusionment phase are some of the strongest and best friendships I have ever had. There is a real trust there, the trust that comes from knowing we are committed even after seeing each others’ worst side, from knowing I am accepted, and not judged harshly.
Married people tell me marriage is exactly the same (hence the term ‘honeymoon phase’). But I think it goes for all human relationships. If we hold people to unrealistically high standards, and then withdraw our love when they disappoint us, we will never be able to have a truly deep, meaningful and satisfying human relationship. Neither will we be able to truly know or accept the love of Christ- because that too is dependent not on worthiness, but on acceptance and unconditional love.
Accepting people’s flaws does not mean ignoring or glossing over hurtful behaviour or refusing to address real problems. It means being willing to let someone know when they have hurt you, but also not withholding your love until they change. “I’ll love you anyway, but it hurts me when you do this.” We have a whole teaching on confronting with love in my organization. We don’t always do it well, but we all know that if we care about the health of a relationship, we must be willing to do it. The best people are the ones who are able to admit their weaknesses and work on them, but usually that only happens in an environment of acceptance and mercy.
How do we deal with people disappointing us?
1. Bring them and the situation to the Lord in prayer.
2. Remind yourself that you too have many flaws and have still been loved unconditionally by others.
3. Remind yourself of all the good you have seen in them. Make a list if you need to.
4. Talk to them if they have hurt or upset you.
5. Give them another chance.
6. Pray for healing of their wounds and insecurities and blind spots.
7. Choose to accept the quirks which are not sins, even if they are not your favourite things.
It's hard to get over being disappointed by someone. But the key may be to realize that your desires for perfection can only be met by a perfect God. He is the only one who will never disappoint you. Once you discover that, you can accept fallible and weak human beings as they are, stop expecting them to be God and form real relationships that are built on more realistic foundations.
Disclaimer: If someone knows how you feel and keeps repeating hurtful or harmful behaviour, you may need to step away from the situation, while continuing to pray for them. Also, if someone has deliberately deceived you, you can choose to forgive them without necessarily choosing to trust them.