Viewpoint: Disappointments Can Be Opportunities to Grow

Contributed By From the Church News

  • 9 August 2013

Elder Jacob de Jager speaking in general conference in 1983.

“All human beings experience disappointment. If this hard fact of development were not so, it would be very difficult to explain the joy of personal growth that often follows setbacks.”
—Elder Jacob de Jager, First Quorum of the Seventy (1976–1993)

Jacob de Jager was finishing high school in 1942 when Nazi forces occupied his home country, Holland. A rule was established that students could register for classes in Dutch universities only if they signed a “declaration of loyalty” to the occupying forces.

The majority of Dutch students refused to sign such a document. For young men between 18 and 30 years of age, there were two alternatives: to leave home, change names, use a fake I.D. card, and go “underground” somewhere in the country; or to run the very real risk of being arrested anywhere at any moment and being deported to Germany for slave labor in the war industry.

“My plans to go to a university were stifled,” Elder de Jager wrote in a March 1984 New Era article. “Everything I had been working towards for so long now was truly unattainable. It is an understatement for me to say that this was a great discouragement. But I overcame it and in doing so learned a great lesson by deciding that if you cannot reach one goal then attain another goal. Sure, I had my moments of self-pity; then I decided to look for other options.”

One of the options he selected was learning languages. From the ages of 19 to 22, he studied German, French, and English on his own and in small peer groups and listened clandestinely to foreign radio broadcasts. After the Allied forces landed in Holland, he joined the Canadian army as an interpreter and translator. Later, his own country’s army sent him to the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), where he added Malay (later called Bahasa) to his list of languages.

“When I finally became a free man in 1949, I felt like I had spent seven years on hold,” he wrote. “But at the same time the Lord had been preparing me in a special way for his later service.”

What began as discouragement through the interruption of his university studies led to his proficiency in languages, which prepared him for a good career as an international businessman and, more important, for his eventual contact with the Church.

He and his family lived in several countries, including Canada. While in Toronto in the early 1960s, they were taught the gospel by missionaries who served under the direction of Canadian Mission President Thomas S. Monson. Elder de Jager held many positions in Church leadership, including serving as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy from 1976 to 1993.

All of us encounter disappointment in one form or another. It might come through such circumstances as unmet expectations, elusive career opportunities, failing a test, being disqualified during a try-out for a school play or athletic team, or being excluded from certain social functions.

As Elder de Jager learned, disappointments can be seen either as a prelude to continued failure in our lives or as occasions for great personal growth and even the beginning of truly outstanding performance.  

“All human beings experience disappointment,” he wrote. “If this hard fact of development were not so, it would be very difficult to explain the joy of personal growth that often follows setbacks. Most human beings accept disappointment and more or less content themselves with a situation in which a certain life-style, along with work and human relations, permits them to bear pain and loss.”

Our challenge is to maintain balance and perspective through inevitable disappointments.

Sometimes, disappointment is self-inflicted as people set unrealistic or unattainable goals. Quite often, disappointments come through the actions, or inactions, of people who are close to us.

Parents, for example, might face disappointment because a child has strayed. We can only imagine the disappointment—even anguish and grief—felt by the father of the prodigal son. The scriptures don’t tell us whether the father had an episode of questioning, “Where did I go wrong? What could I have done differently?” Instead the scriptures describe the father’s joy upon his son’s return and his willingness to welcome him home: “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry” (Luke 15:24).

The father was willing to move past his initial disappointment.

We can find comfort in the midst of disappointment or discouragement. The Lord has promised, “And now, verily I say unto you, and what I say unto one I say unto all, be of good cheer, little children; for I am in your midst, and I have not forsaken you” (D&C 61:36).

Even when disappointments move from the realm of an inconvenience to tragedy, the Lord offers us peace, comfort, and hope. In his moments of discouragement during trying experiences in the Liberty Jail, the Prophet Joseph Smith cried out:

“O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?

“How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?” (D&C 121:1–2).

The Lord replied with comforting, reassuring words: 

“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;

“And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes” (D&C 121:7–8). 

Further, the Lord named many adversities and afflictions—disappointments beyond anything we might expect to encounter—and then told Joseph that “all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (D&C 122:7).

As the Lord told the Prophet Joseph, and as a young Jacob de Jager learned from his own experiences, we can find wisdom, treasures, and even blessings while experiencing disappointments and trials.