Pictured: Sierra Perry. Photo by Anastasia Condolon
Whether it’s losing a loved one, struggling through an injury, missing a year of school in-person or not getting a dream job, everyone has experienced disappointment in their lives.
While disappointments can be hard, there can be hope and light found in the midst of them. Sierra Perry, a master’s student in Religion, learned this lesson as she experienced a difficult situation that helped her embrace her faith and grow as a person this past year.
“I think any struggle that we go through is a way that God wants to show us actually how much he really loves us,” Perry said. “Knowing that you can cling to hope, and that there should be a point where you shift from trying to understand what you did wrong and to just receive the love that God wants to give you.”
Perry said it’s hard to grow when everything is working out, but when faced with challenges, people are able to learn lessons they might not have otherwise learned. Sometimes it takes a major disappointment to find hope and joy in unexpected places.
Hope from a biblical perspective
Hope is defined as a “desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. From a biblical perspective, hope means clinging to God amid hard circumstances and believing that God works all circumstances together for good, as Paul the Apostle writes in Romans 8:28. The Bible defines hope as looking to eternity to find satisfaction, rather than looking to people, places or things for peace and comfort.
Several Pepperdine students said they can relate to what British theologian C.S. Lewis writes in his book “The Problem of Pain”: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; it’s His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
While the last year has been especially challenging, students said they have grown from the difficulties they faced.
“I wasn’t there until I had a really, really hard situation,” Perry said. “That’s when I finally was able to understand how deep and wide that love is to the extent that I can. I don’t think we’ll ever really be able to fully fathom how incredible God’s love is because we’re human.”
Perry said she went through a life-changing injury last March when she broke her femur. She was on a hike and jumped out of the way of a rattlesnake, onto her leg that already had a stress fracture. She struggled down the mountain and went into surgery immediately.
It is now over a year later, and she still carries a scar on her thigh from her injury. The week leading up to her injury, Perry said she ran half-marathons seven days in a row, which is why she had a stress fracture. Now, she is no longer able to run.
During her injury, she suddenly lost her aunt to brain cancer, all while dealing with the challenges of COVID-19.
“It was actually the worst year of my life if I’m being entirely honest,” Perry said. “But it has probably been one of the deepest years in terms of growing points in my faith.”
Throughout her disappointments, Perry held fast to her faith and believed in a greater purpose for the pain she was going through. She said God has taught her that she has to cling to her faith in hardships and that her injury helped her grasp God’s love for her even more than before.
“God loves me so much that he wanted to take [running] away from me,” Perry said. “In order for him to get my attention, he had to do something as dramatic as breaking my leg.”
First-year student Sophia Kouretas can relate. In 2020, she lost her senior year of high school and the beginning of her college experience due to COVID-19. She said she has also grown from her challenges — becoming a better person because of limited distractions and more free time.
“You really realize how strong the grounding of your faith is when every external factor is taken away and you’re just left with your own self,” Kouretas said.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Kouretas said she tried to manage her disappointments by herself and wasn’t letting God into her life to guide her through them. She said she wasn’t connected to her faith and put God on the back burner for a time.
While Kouretas said she isn’t usually quick to blame God for disappointments in her life, she started to blame Him since hardships kept occurring one after the other. She said she quickly realized that she couldn’t navigate her challenges by herself, and instead needed to cling to her faith.
“I wasn’t made to do it by myself; I was made to do it with God by me and next to me and included in all my worries,” Kouretas said. “I literally tried to do all this by myself, and I can’t do it by myself.”
A common hope
In the past year, almost 50% of Americans said they felt down, depressed or hopeless during the pandemic, according to USA Facts. But with that reality comes a shared experience.
Thema Bryant-Davis is a Pepperdine psychology professor at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology, a licensed psychologist and director of the Culture and Trauma Research Lab at Pepperdine. She said that one of the gifts of the past year is that everyone can relate to each other’s struggles.
“They may not know the details, but they have an awareness of what you’re going through,” Bryant-Davis said. “When we have an individual trauma, unless you tell people, they don’t know.”
Experiencing shared grief and pain, Bryant-Davis said, can cause people to feel less alone and help them bond with others through their challenges.
Bryant-Davis, also an ordained elder at the African Methodist Episcopal Church, said she relies on her faith to give her hope during hard times, and that even through the pandemic and the loss of the physical gathering of churches, she has seen people become more aware of their spiritual lives.
“Faith has been so important,” Bryant-Davis said. “Many times people are dependent on the building and being able to gather in person, but the gift of that personal relationship – our prayer life, our devotional life – [by] really tapping into that and making use of it, there has been a lot of growth and more awareness.”
Staying strong amid disappointments
Even throughout hardships, Pepperdine professors said they are proud of how students have coped with the disappointments they have faced. Ryan Board, professor of Music and director of Choral Activities at Pepperdine, said his choir students have come up with new ways to share their music throughout the pandemic, completing some amazing projects while virtual. For example, the choir department recorded and produced a whole Christmas album.
“In our world, nearly everything has felt like a disappointment,” Board said. “I’ve been incredibly impressed with the resiliency and the attitude of our students.”
While life can often be disappointing, Bryant-Davis said it is crucial to recognize that people aren’t alone in their struggles and that no matter what, their faith will always be there. She also said that when dealing with disappointments, it’s important to talk to others and reach out to people who are going through similar hardships. She also encouraged people dealing with setbacks to plan activities to look forward to in the near future, and to have long-term goals to plan for.
Kouretas said that if she could give anyone advice about coping with disappointments, she would say to rely on God and find hope in each setback.
“Use that time and use your pain to try your best to transform that into something good,” Kouretas said. “Grow from it, and learn from it and push yourself more than you ever have.”
Email Abby Wilt: Abby.firstname.lastname@example.org