Dealing with Disappointment: Holiday Edition

December 15, 2021 · by Julie Ouellette

Things don’t go as planned for your holiday event and you find yourself teetering on the edge of depression. Certainly, you’re disappointed, discontent and sad that the holiday didn’t live up to your expectation. What happened? And more importantly, what do we do to restore our sense of peace and joy?

I just lived through this during Thanksgiving. My son got sick, and in the blink of an eye, everything about our holiday plans was completely upended!

My normal, habitual response to a deep disappointment is to become frustrated and sad and to wallow and ruminate about my misfortune. By God’s help, however, this time, I didn’t let disappointment win! It was such an emotional victory that I almost still can’t believe it! Following are a few helpful ways that I was able to deal with disappointment in a healthy, God-honoring way.

1. Accept That Things will be Different than Originally Planned.

And it’s okay. This phase was a quick one, but in enlisting my husband’s help, we together made the decision to stay at home for the holiday. I had to get to a painful point of letting go of what was going to be and to come to terms with the “new plan.” I just had to realize, okay, we’re doing  this  instead of our normal tradition.

In a broader scope, it’s helpful to remember that any plans that we make are just that: our plans. The heart of the matter, though, is always to be thinking about God’s plans for us. This is such a mental game-changer, and it helps us to put changed plans into the proper perspective. The well-loved scripture in Jeremiah 29:11 says:

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

2. Focus on Any Advantages.

Once we’ve realized and accepted that our plans will be different, we immediately have to start being vigilant about controlling our thoughts. We have to change the focus from “what I’m missing out on.” I had to try very hard to think about the possible benefits of staying at home. The most obvious benefits were not exposing family members to possible sickness (and worrying about that), sleeping in our own beds, in our own home, and having a more relaxing week. Traveling can be exciting but it’s also tiring. I often feel like there’s a “travel hangover” whenever returning from a trip, and it takes a day or two to get back to “normal.”

It’s helpful to meditate on the message of Romans 8:28:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

3. Pivot and Make a New Plan

We have to turn our energy towards the possibilities with a positive outlook. If we’re dead set on mourning the old plan that isn’t going to work out, we rob ourselves of the possible valuable energy to put toward making a new plan.

This was tough for me. My brain felt a little fuzzy because I just wasn’t sure what to do. It seemed like it happened so fast, and I wasn’t mentally ready to come up with a whole new plan! However, we somehow decided on a few things to get at the grocery store and just kind of started there. Okay. So, we at least wouldn’t starve on the holiday!

I also knew that my son was disappointed, and so I kind of got into the spirit of “making the best of it.” He and I sat down and brainstormed possible fun things that we could look forward to doing in place of our usual holiday tradition. We then kind of made a loose schedule – at least for just the next day – and went with it. We didn’t do everything on our list nor did we follow our schedule precisely. However, just making the list and making the schedule was another huge emotional shift because it gave us some fun things to look forward to!

4. Focus on Others

Most often, when we are disappointed, if we dig down to the deepest roots, we find self-centeredness is causing the sad feelings. I was so looking forward to this...I made this plan...This is what I wanted the holiday to look like...We are selfish creatures by nature and it takes energy and focus to change that.

I knew that the way I handled my deep disappointment would really affect my son and my husband. We know that most often it’s the wife/mom who is setting the tone! Again, it was not a natural instinct to remove myself from my disappointment to create joy for my 9-year-old. It took determination and God’s help.

But when I was able to see how much my attitude would “make or break” the holiday, I really had to shift my focus to serving my family. My inclination was to wallow in my disappointment; that would have served no one – not even myself – and would have made the holiday a disaster. I didn’t want that, and I knew it was up to me to choose differently.

5. Repeatedly Renew Your Mind

Over and over again, negative thoughts and emotions threatened to consume me, and over and over again, I had to push them back. I would whisper quick but heartfelt prayers for the Lord to help me not give into the sadness and to refuse to despair. Maybe it all sounds a little dramatic, but for some of us, our disappointments can be powerful negatives when we allow them to be, especially when the holidays are involved.

I had to reframe so many negative thoughts. But this one thing was probably the most important way that I coped with my disappointment. Instead of allowing the discouraging downward spiral of thoughts, I would recognize a negative thought or emotion trying to come into my mind and I would change it to something positive or I would kick it out all together! Some thoughts can’t be reframed to be positive, so we just must determine to not dwell on them.

Disappointments will come, and often they come around the holidays! But with God’s help, we are able to not allow these to discourage us and hijack us emotionally. Ultimately, we want the Lord to receive glory in all that we do and all that we are. When we are able to surrender our disappointments to Him and allow His good plans to unfold in our lives, I believe He is well-pleased with His children.

Here's to making the best out of whatever gets thrown at you this holiday season!

Julie Ouellette

About Julie Ouellette

Julie Ouellette feels called to encourage others to live an effective and joyful life for the Lord! A former music teacher, she is currently a pastor’s wife, mom, music director, blogger and podcaster. She and her husband, Jason, and son, Grayson, make their home just north of Austin, Texas in the great city of Pflugerville. Julie feels strongly compelled by the message of Acts 3:6, and tries to “give what she has” to inspire and equip others. Connect with Julie at her blog, abecomingjourney.com, A Becoming Journey podcast (available on Apple, Spotify, Amazon and more), and on Instagram @juliejonesouellette.