When wisely managed, disillusionment is a beneficial misery. It qualifies as what the Puritans called “a severe mercy”—a torment that purifies the soul. Since disillusionment is emotionally painful, we naturally regard it as an enemy. But to be disillusioned is to be set free from illusion, and that is never bad. Disillusionment bursts an illusion much as a pin pops a balloon. The experience is jarring; but in the case of illusions, it is equally liberating.
Illusions are, of course, not real. They are enchanted dreams, deceptive mirages. Illusions may temporarily help us cope with the challenges of life—the little boy who is a gangster’s son may profit from the illusion that his father is a brave and principled man. But illusions that persist too long damage the soul—should this boy’s illusions never be demolished, he may well follow his father into a life of crime and become nothing more than a predatory thug.
We find it particularly natural to adopt illusions in the early stages of covenantal relationships. A newly married couple entertains illusions about marriage and one another. New church members imbibe illusions about their church. But for every married couple and every church member, these illusions are eventually overwhelmed by reality. The illusion of a perfect marriage, the illusion of an ideal church, is eventually shattered.