Great Expectations, part 1
Happy summer to everyone! In southeast Texas, we generally start bracing ourselves for the return of the very hot, humid days and nights starting in April. But this year has been surprisingly different so far. It has been relatively cool and quite rainy, and I consider it a welcome change from the expected. It also fits neatly with a subject that has been popping up all over my radar lately - living with and managing our expectations. Every now and then our expectations are pleasantly exceeded, like cooler summer temperatures in Texas. Far more often, they are disappointingly unmet.
The last few weeks have been full of reminders about this subject. We have been walking alongside several friends through some difficult situations, most of which have been caused by this reality of unmet expectations: husbands and wives struggling to get along, new parents worn out from lack of sleep, parents who cannot understand the choices their young adult children are making, adult children caring for elderly and ill parents, and so on. From beginning to end, life is filled with obstacles to be overcome in the heart and mind.
On a lighter note, the last few weeks have also been full of pleasant reminders of motherhood for me - of course, Mother's Day and then both of my daughters' birthdays. Let me use this as a springboard for this line of thought concerning expectations...
Being a mother is truly amazing - the whole thing is a miracle. You take that test and hold your breath until the little purple line confirms your suspicions, and then you get several months to imagine what this new little life will be like. You dream of names, decorate the nursery, think of how many languages your child will learn, and maybe what doctoral program they will be accepted to one day - not to mention all of the wonderful things your grandkids might do. So many dreams and great expectations.
Until delivery time comes! The entire experience is a shocking reminder that maybe this isn't going to be so easy after all. The nurses help so much for the first 24 hours - they take care of the baby's bath, shots, diapers, and they even let you sleep a little bit. But then they send you home - ALONE. Then the real work begins - a beautiful work - a lot like the love of God. Parenting is self-sacrificing, always striving to choose for their highest good, so that our kids can grow into wonderful men and women of God.
But it is long work, not fast at all. It is sometimes frustrating, even agonizing, and honestly plagued by unrealistic expectations - of ourselves, from friends, family, teachers, and social media. We thought we knew ourselves, but stress and lack of sleep brought out a whole new side. We thought our babies were going to be all fluffy clouds and rainbows - but things are not always like we expected.
There are as many more examples as there are people. A woman has longed for a husband and child - then when it happens, is surprised when her husband is not always perfect and when her child is chronically ill. A child longs for love and acceptance, and then is crushed when she is abandoned and neglected. A man longs for a promotion at work and then is disappointed when his new role takes so much time and brings so little joy. Marriages suffer when one spouse or the other cannot let go of unrealistic expectations for their partner. Friendships and family relationships shatter over unmet expectations. Many people miss their entire lives, fruitlessly hoping for things that will never be and at the same time totally missing all of the good things that actually are.
So many of our struggles and problems in life are caused by this clashing of expectations versus reality.
A few weeks ago, one of my young friends had just read the book of Job in its entirety for the first time. The events in the book are some of the oldest stories in human record. It deals honestly and painfully with the account of a righteous man's suffering, and the backstory found in the first couple of chapters is stunning and thought-provoking, to say the least. Reading through, my friend was concerned about the things that Job's friends said to him - they really give him some terrible advice and counsel. "How can the Bible, which is said to be inerrant, have such false statements in it?" she wondered. This is a perfectly legitimate question, and one that has a beautiful answer.
This world is broken and infused with sin - the Word of God is very clear about this from the very opening chapters. The accounts of real men and women recorded in the Bible are unlike anything else in ancient literature. They are not heroic legends, like the Iliad and Odyssey, or morality tales like so many cultures boast. Rather, they are frank and unvarnished glimpses into the lives of regular people: sometimes faithful and lovely, sometimes selfish and awful.
The Bible is honest and true. Sin is real, the enemy is real, selfishness is real, suffering is real - and all have to be dealt with throughout life. Bad things sometimes happen to great people. Selfish actions have terrible consequences that can go on for generations. Friends sometimes give horrible counsel and advice, just like Job experienced. The Bible does not sweep any of it under the rug - it openly and honestly lays out the human condition and experience.
The book of Lamentations is a haunting example of this. In it, the writer is pouring out his sadness and despair over his people and their sad plight, brought on by their own stubbornness and selfishness. He is honest with God about how frustrating and disappointing it is to have to live through such a time. Many who are going through a time of unmet expectations can find comfort in Jeremiah's words...
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
Lamentations 3: 19-24
The best thing that we can do when faced with disappointment and unmet expectations is to turn our eyes away from our own situation and circumstances, and fix our gaze upon the Lord. That something deep within each of us that always cries out, "this is not the way things were supposed to be!' points to something real and true. This is the message of the Word of God: In the middle of all of the frustration and pain of life, there is yet hope. There is One who can be relied upon to never let us down. There is One who is faithful and true, and who can actually help.
Unmet expectations do not have to derail our entire lives. Next time we will look into some practical examples of overcoming pain and disappointment in life. In the meantime, keep your eyes on Jesus - great is His faithfulness!
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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