Friday, May 22, 2009

Expectations, part 2

A special thank you to the ladies who joined us tonight :)

(This is a recap of our it's a tad lengthy.)

Think about something that you expected - today, this week, maybe several months ago, maybe even something you expected when you graduated from high school.  How did you picture your life would be at this stage?  I have yet to meet anyone whose life looks exactly as they expected years ago.  And most people can name at least one thing that they are glad did not turn out as they had expected!  Many times we can see, from the vantage point of today, how what we once hoped for was not the best for us after all.  Yet other times we remain sorely disappointed.

Expectations usually refer to things we want to have happen – things we’re looking forward to.  It talks about a degree of probability – the chance that a certain outcome will occur.  We look to friends and family, or others at church and work, to determine what should happen to us, what is likely to happen, what we can reasonably expect.  

But God is not bound by human statistics.  Just because we should be able to or not be able to do or have something doesn’t mean it will or won’t happen.  Sometimes things just don’t make sense to us.  But we can’t expect them to always make sense to us.  God never pretends that we will understand His ways.  In fact, He tells us that His ways are higher than our ways.

Isaiah 55:8-9   

 8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
       neither are your ways my ways," 
       declares the LORD.

 9 "As the heavens are higher than the earth, 
       so are my ways higher than your ways 
       and my thoughts than your thoughts."

I find it freeing to realize and accept that my ways and thoughts do not and will not match up with God's ways and thoughts.  Yes, sometimes it is frustrating, wondering why God would set life up in such a way that we cannot understand things.  But in a sense it takes the pressure off of me, giving me permission to carry on with my life even though I do not understand why certain things did or did not happen.

I have been working through a Bible study by Jennifer Rothschild entitled Me, Myself, and Lies.  I think I need an IV of the study continually pumping into my brain (not a perfect word picture, but you get the main idea!).  The basic concept, at least so far, is that we each have a thought closet.  Just as our clothes go into a closet and from that selection we clothe ourselves each day, we have a closet of sorts in our minds and hearts from which we mentally, emotionally, and spiritually clothe ourselves each day.  If something is not in the closet, we cannot select it.  And if one type of thing is taking up a lot of the available space, we're more likely to reach for it than a type that is scarce.  

So if we choose to allow in and dwell on negative thoughts, or lies about ourselves, God, or situations, we are choosing to fill our thought closet with draining and harmful thoughts.  When trials come throughout each day, and we reach into that closet, we're likely to pull out negative and destructive thoughts that we proceed to say to ourselves. And thus the downward spiral of negativity begins.

Each time something happens that we do not like - each time we are facing unmet expectations, we have two choices.  We can either focus on the disappointment and enter the pattern of "this happened, and therefore I am ______ and God is ________ and there is no hope."  Or we can focus on the unchangeable facts about God.  At the bottom of the previous post I referenced Beth Moore's five point statement of faith (except I butchered it a little bit).  Here it is:

1. God is who He says He is.

2. God can do what He says He can do.

3. I am who God says I am.

4. I can do all things through Christ.

5. God's Word is alive and active in me.

God cannot change.  That is one of His glorious "limitations."  He will always love us, always protect us and provide for us, always give us security, always treasure us.  He will always have good plans for us, and will always care about even the smallest details of our lives - not to mention the huge issues. 

Psalm 5:3 says: "In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation."  

To me this is saying that God's job is to hear my voice, while my job is to lay my requests before him...and then wait in expectation.  He already knows what we hoped for and how disappointed we are.  He already knows we are sad or angry.  We're not telling him anything new.  But until we give back to him our thoughts and feelings, we cannot be ready for Him to fill us with His peace.  Being disappointed when expectations are not met does not indicate that our faith is weak.  Since faith is Biblically defined as "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1), it stands to reason that faith happens only in the context of hoping and expecting.  If we are so in control of our circumstances that we do not have to hope, because we have somehow guaranteed our success, there is no need for faith.  Faith and expectations go hand in hand.  The challenge is in figuring out how to expect without worrying, how to anticipate good things without being crushed if they do not come to pass.  

How do we do that?  By building a strong foundation upon God's truths.  Just as in the story of the wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7:24-27), when we have a rock solid foundation, we can better withstand whatever storm may come our way.  We may get wet, and we may even feel somewhat battered by the storm.  But we'll still be standing when it passes (or maybe on our knees).

A friend of mine, Cathy, called tonight as I was on the way to the Glory Babies gathering.  She wanted to share a story that related to expectations.  I will relay it here as best as I can, but know that some of the details may be a bit off!  You'll get the main points :)

Cathy and her son were watching a mother robin build a nest outside their home.  For days on end she made trips back and forth, preparing this nest for eggs.  Finally she finished, laid the eggs, and then sat on them.  Robins are supposed to lay on their eggs for 14 days, always keeping the eggs warm and dry, until it is time for the baby birds to hatch.  So for 14 days Cathy and her son watched and waited, with much anticipation.  Toward the end of that 14 days it began to storm.  It rained and rained, and rained some more, but that mother robin just hunkered down and continued to lay on her eggs, seeming to have little concern for the pummeling she was receiving.  Finally the storms subsided.  It was time for the eggs to hatch, so Cathy and her son kept watching and waiting.  But nothing happened.  Day 14 came and went, as did day 15 and day 16.  The mother robin would leave the nest, get some food, and return, only to stare into the nest perplexed.  It became apparent that the eggs were not ever going to hatch.  Eventually the mother robin flew away.

Cathy and her son were disappointed - they had fully expected to watch baby birds peck through those shells.  And the mother robin must have been disappointed too!  She had done everything right, but still her eggs did not hatch. The storms that came were simply too much.  God knew before she ever began to build her nest that the eggs would not hatch.  Why did He not redirect her?  Or why did He let the storm rage on for so long? 

Isn't life like that sometimes?  We think we know what is coming, we plan and prepare, we give it our best shot.  But in the end we do not experience what we had hoped to experience.  Through no fault of our own, our expectations are met with disappointment.  Does that mean we were foolish to expect in the first place?  No.  Does that mean we misunderstood God when we felt He was calling us to make those plans and take those action steps?  Not necessarily.  Sometimes there are no explanations.  It simply is what it is.  

The enemy of our souls wants to get us into that destructive spiral.  He wants us to tell ourselves that we messed up.  We're not worthy of the blessing we sought.  We don't deserve it.  God is punishing us.  God just doesn't care about us or our situation.  We need to get over it and stop making a big deal out of nothing.  

At the same time, though, God desires to walk with us through the debris of our unmet expectations, and show us pieces of blessings along the path, leading us to His best for our lives.  Who will you choose to follow?  Whose hand will you allow to guide you?

A good friend of mine shared with me several years ago that when I was desiring to change certain behaviors or reactions, with little success, that perhaps I needed another method.  She explained that A + B = C.  "A" is the circumstance, and "C" is our reaction or behavior.  We see the Cs in life and try to change them.  But what little success we may have is often short lived, as we slip back into old habits.  Or perhaps we decide that if the As would only change, the Cs would go away as well.  Again, though, we miss the point.  We cannot control our circumstances or the people in our lives.  Difficult "A" situations will happen.  Period.  The key is to recognize what "B" stands for.  "B" represents our beliefs and our thoughts.  For example, another friend mentioned that her recent request for a certain week of vacation was denied.  She was very frustrated, and had to fight against having a terrible day as a result of the news.  Her "C" was frustration and a bad rest of the day.  Her "A" was the fact of her request being denied.  She can't change the "A", and trying to change the "C" is like trying to push a car when the emergency brake is on and it's in park.  However, she can choose what "B" statements take up residence in her mind and heart.  Will she choose to believe that life is just so unfair, she never gets the blessings, nobody else has been denied their choice of week off - just dwelling on the injustice of it all?  Or will she choose to believe that God knows what He's doing, He loves her, He alone has the right to speak into her life, and that He has a plan far above the best she can imagine?  That choice will determine the "B" part of her equation, and the "B" will determine the "C" - does that make sense?

To sum it up, we can rarely change our circumstances, and it is very difficult to simply change our behaviors.  But we can become aware of our beliefs and thoughts, carefully choosing what we will dwell upon.  Choose what fills your thought closet.  Life will rain on us.  We must choose, like that robin, to hunker down and wait out the storm.  And then we must choose to trust God regardless of the outcome.  

I often don't understand why those torrential rains come.  But I can decide to lay my requests at God's feet, wait with expectation, and exercise my faith muscles.  Expectations are not bad.  We cannot live on perpetual mountaintops.  In fact, perpetual mountaintops are nothing more than a long road at a high elevation!  Mountaintops imply valleys.  We don't need to fear or dread the valleys, or waste our time on the mountains in the name of preparing for the valleys.  Some of our expectations will be met.  Others will not be met.  Who God is, what He can do, who you are, and what you can do, all remain constant regardless of your experiences.  Keep expecting.  Keep requesting.  Keep choosing truth.  Stand on the Rock.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Expectations, part 1

Expectations - we all have them.  We expect things of ourselves, things of others, and things of God.  We have ideas about how life will play out, including at just what times or stages certain things will happen.  

And then they don't happen.  

And then they still don't happen.

And then they still don't happen...still.

Or maybe the exact opposite happens, which can seem worse.

It can feel like someone, or Someone (God), has forgotten about us, or is even upset with us.  Or perhaps we weren't destined for these good things that comprise our dreams.  Or this is our thorn in the side, something to teach us to lean into God.  

Yet in the midst of these unfulfilled expectations, the truths of God remain unchanged.  Because, like God Himself, His truths cannot change.  They hold true even when they seem to go against our reality.  After all, perception is reality, so if we perceive things to be one way, regardless of how they really are, that's what we think is true.  But God's ways are the best ways...period.  

Holding on to His truths is possible.  And it really is the only way to go.  Stay tuned for some practical ways to do just that.  In the meantime, stand firm.  Choose to believe God is who He says He is, that you are who He says you are, and that He can do what He says He can do.  (Last sentence is a partial paraphrase of someone I can't think of right now...sorry about that.)