The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher,
“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”
The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I know that one fate befalls them both. So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.
Ecclesiastes 1:1-2, 2:14, 17
No one expected me to grow up and get tattoos. Home-schooled, raised in a conservative home, influenced by a father who interacted regularly with inked criminals and a granny who taught me to be an old soul — tattoos didn’t seem to be in the cards for Hannah Hunter.
Well. I have a few.
While I didn’t get the tattoos to make a statement or to be conflicting, I confess I amuse myself with people’s reactions to a Christian with tattoos. I particularly enjoy watching the confusion on fellow churchgoer’s faces as they introduce themselves to me and then catch a glimpse of a wolf’s bloody face peeking on my shoulder blade from under my sleeveless dress. How can this person, who seems so much like a person who wouldn’t have tattoos, sport four tattoos in rather obvious places.
I think most of the confusion comes from the gradual realization that my tattoos clearly aren’t carried over from a life before Christ. Two of them might be images, but the other two speak volumes into reminders of lessons taught to me during disappointing valleys.
My tattoos are scars from my first real “Valley of the Shadow of Death” as a true believer. Each permanent mark reflects a moment in my staggering, barely progressive walk. The Greek chara, meaning “joy”; a C.S. Lewis quote, “He loves us not because we are lovable, but because He is love”; a simple, dainty marigold, based on lyrics from Relient K concerning the common weed, “Oh, I’m a marigold, but You picked me”; and a weeping wolf with bloodied fangs, another depiction of the Relient K song, Deathbed: “You cried ‘wolf’, the tears, they soaked your fur, the blood dripped from your fangs, you said, ‘What have I done?'”
I was reeling in my own Ecclesiastical revelation of my life and grasping at the gospel that had saved me once. My tattoos tell a story of my disappointment, a believer’s desperate cry for contentment and joy, a Christian’s constant self-preaching of God’s truths.
A Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment is a Puritan gem. I highly recommend it. But once you drink from that rich, convicting paperback, I suggest chasing it down with John Hindley’s Dealing with Disappointment.
How interesting that Solomon, the wise king, gifted and preserved by God, became so frustrated by earthly life that he wailed an exasperated, “Vanity of vanities!” or, “Utterly meaningless!”
Even more interesting, Hindley points out, that God, who ordained and inspired all the words written as Scriptures, makes absolutely sure that we read about life’s utter meaninglessness in His word.
Jesus Himself expressed disappointment and frustration, even toward things He, as God, could reverse or control. His friend, Lazarus, dies, and He weeps. He prays earnestly in the garden of Gethsemane before His arrest and literally sweats blood. He chides His disciples, particularly Peter and Thomas, for their doubt in His deity, His grace, and His power.
To grieve over disappointments is normal. We were created, after all, in God’s image. Wouldn’t we, although sinful, be in tune to the way the world should be and maddeningly aware of its shortcomings? Perhaps, especially as American Christians, we have a tendency to be “under-disappointed”. We strive towards and achieve certain goals of human success — the job, the house, the spouse, the kids, the car, the accolades — always reaching for the next thing, trying not to realize those accomplishments still disappoint somehow. We don’t want to face our disappointments head-on, so we chin-up, like good Americans on the fast track to self-improvement, fully aware of but actively ignoring the sinking feeling that all of life is rot anyway.
What a strange concept. That God Himself instilled in us a natural and good inclination toward disappointment and frustration with life.
I don’t think I was ever in any real danger of under-disappointment. I wrestled with how to mourn over things I wanted and could not have, and whether it was Christ-like for me to do so, but I eventually figured it out.
What I’m facing now is the repercussions of indulging in “over-disappointment”, per Hindley.
We have made something that we are right to regret the lack of into a god without which we cannot enjoy life.
I had hunkered down in the trenches of this battle called life, grieving and depressed about the lack of purpose and lack of spiritual leadership. And while that season of acknowledging the disappointment was Christ-like, I had fermented in my bitterness for too long.
My lack of children became an excuse to be “triggered” about churches ignoring childless couples.
My lack of a mentor and caring church body fostered distrust, an excuse to avoid vulnerable relationships with other Christians.
My lack of anything resembling the life I thought I would have when I was 28 rendered me angry, bitter, and reclusive.
I was stuck in an idolatrous rut I had dug myself. I forgot how to climb out of the battle trenches and press forward. I spent too long looking at my tattoos through hot, angry tears instead of using them to prompt thankfulness in remembrance of God’s preservation.
The thing is, we will never escape disappointment while we trot this globe. Like Solomon, we must acknowledge the vanity of life, the meaningless existence of humans. God told His creations after the fall that man’s life would be toil, that woman’s life would be pain, and that all would die. Sin wrought disappointment, and Christians should grieve their disappointments.
But disappointments are not the end.
We have a great husband, lover, friend, Lord, King, and God in Jesus Christ. If our eyes are fixed on Him, the disappointments we feel are kept in perspective. They are real. They may be keenly felt. But they are not the last word. They do not dictate our emotions.
The past few weeks, God planned the right series of sermons, Facebook quotes, and books to cross my path. I am convicted. I am aware of my disappointments. I carry my permanent “scars” out of the trenches with me. But I do not want to be dragged back in, returning to wallow and lick my wounds. Jesus, cut the chains of disappointment that have choked my soul for too long.
Pray for me: I am clawing my way out and pressing forward.