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Join us Friday, May 31 – Saturday, June 1! Events are open to all alumni and celebrating milestone anniversaries for classes ending in 4 & 9.

Saint Ignatius High School

The Grace of Disappointment

In "The Grace of Disappointment," Jim Brennan '85 reflects on the bittersweet experience of Decision Day for seniors, emphasizing the hidden blessings found in disappointment. Through anecdotes and wisdom, he reveals the transformative power of trusting in God's plan, even in the face of dashed hopes.
The Grace of Disappointment

Last Friday our seniors celebrated our annual version of “Decision Day” where they proudly donned the t-shirts, sweatshirts, or polos of the colleges and universities they will attend next year. 

Our College Counseling Department does a magnificent job celebrating our students: those going off to college as well as those off to the service, or a gap year, or the work world. Decision day is always a great one with food, high-fives, and selfies abounding among the seniors who check off another event in their march toward the end of their Saint Ignatius careers. There is pride and smiles and much joy among the boys. 

Well, almost all of them.   

Every year there are those couple of seniors for whom the day is a reminder of the schools they didn’t get into. Some found a life-long desire and expectation of going to Harvard, Stanford, or OSU thwarted by an email and follow-up letter from their “dream school,” and while they bravely soldier on with smiles during the events, there is a sadness there. I saw it during the many years I taught second-semester seniors.

While I no longer teach seniors, I remember dozens of situations where students came to me upset that they did not get into their first-choice college. I can recall one student hit particularly hard by his rejection letter: his older brother had been accepted to the University of Notre Dame a few years before, and even though his particular student had done everything he possibly could to make a case for admission to that school—he was involved in any number of extracurriculars, positively excelled in his studies, was a leader in a host of activities outside of school, and even prayed a novena—he was denied. Unfortunately, in the arms race that is the college admissions process, not even an incredibly well-qualified student is guaranteed admission to some universities.

He came to me asking why I thought he hadn’t been accepted to the school and I had to tell him I had no idea. I did, however, share that I knew that God has a plan for us and that–even in the most difficult circumstances–we have to trust that plan.

My student went off to a different school and received an outstanding education. He also (I’m sure you can see this coming) met a truly lovely young woman, fell in love with her, and now—four kids later—is enjoying a very happy life. Had he gone to his “first-choice” school, he probably wouldn’t have met her, and his life (and hers) would have been much less… and the world would have missed out on their beautiful children.  

Admittedly, not all stories end this way, but many do. One of the most difficult things for a young person (or anyone) to hear in the midst of disappointment is that God loves them, is there for them, and because of that, things tend to work out for the best. As St Paul so insightfully noted: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).

Sometimes it takes years of experience, even decades, to recognize the truth of these words. St. Augustine, perhaps, put it best when he said, “God doesn’t always give us what we want, so he might give us what we want more.” Our seniors want to go to a particular university or branch of the service. But deep down they want what we all want: meaning and happiness in life. 
Sometimes the path they choose may not get them there…so the Lord points them another way.

Referring to disappointment and tragedy in our lives, Augustine further described human life as a mosaic. For those who remember their art history, mosaics are created by placing colored shards of glass, pottery, and tile together to form a picture. Developing the analogy, Augustine tells us that in our lives, we tend to see the mosaic up close—focusing only on the bits of broken pottery and tile. It’s only at a distance that we’re able to recognize the beauty of all of those pieces put together: to see how all of the events in our lives come together to “work for good,” we need space. We need perspective. This is true for 18-year-olds as well as 58-year-olds. All of us experience trials in our lives: ending relationships, being let go from jobs, watching family members or friends face death.

These are very real opportunities for Christ to enter into our lives—if we let Him.

Because Jesus experienced the death of his friend, Lazarus, and undoubtedly that of St Joseph. He was betrayed and denied by His best friends, and felt abandoned by His Father. He suffered. He died. Whatever types of struggles we might undergo, He’s experienced them. He took to the cross. 

And redeemed them.

Those of us who have reached a certain age tend to get a bit reflective. Looking back over our lives, we remember things we have undergone that we would never want to experience again. However, with the benefit of hindsight, we recognize that things tend to work out for the best and we are better, stronger for having gone through them. If my student got into his first choice college, he would never have met the woman who changed his life or had the children who give him such joy. There is a grace, then, in our disappointment, for it is in our disappointments that we recognize that the things of this world can’t ultimately satisfy us. But it shows us that God can and will bring good out of even the most trying circumstances.

Years ago someone told me that God always answered our prayers. He does. Sometimes he says “yes.” Sometimes He says “no.” 
But far more often than not, He says “Not yet. Trust me. I’ve got something even better waiting for you.”

A.M.D.G. / B.V.M.H.