When my oldest son was a preschooler, he was fun, lively, and energetic essentially all the time. We knew he was awake from the thump of his feet on the floor beside his bed, followed soon by a quick – if unsteady – run down the hall. Weekend, weekday… it made little difference. He was awake, and there was no point in delaying the start of his daily adventures. And on he went, injecting passion into every activity of the day (and leaving a wake of destruction behind him), until the evening sent him descending quickly into irretrievable slumber. Many nights we had a long moment of ear-ringing, bleary-eyed realization that he was finished for the day, followed by a long pause punctuated the following morning with the same thump.
Reading back through this, it looks like little has changed, even though he’s a teenager now.
His happy-go-lucky sprint through activities and days could, however, come to a crashing halt mid-stream if presented with one fatal blow. What is this kryptonite? Expectations. If there was a way he thought the day would work out, and then that didn’t come to pass, our little dynamo would fall to his knees, exclaiming, “This isn’t what I was expecting!” What sort of thing could subvert his expectations? What could throw the locomotive off the rails so quickly? Anything – his play session being put on hold to get to the grocery shopping, the presence of an undesirable food on his plate, a word of caution that he was treading on thin ice with his behavior and/or his parents’ nerves – could light the fuse of inconsolable grief.
Ah, expectations, you sneaky infiltrator!
It’s easy to pick on my son, as he was never one to keep his thoughts or feelings to himself for long (even now…), but I’m sure we can all see this in our lives as well. In fact, unmet expectations can bring us to our knees, bring our progress to a halt, or bring us to rash decisions. I left a job once because of my unmet expectations. I’ve caused trouble in relationships because of unmet, unspoken, probably unknown-to-me expectations. And there are many ways I can look at life today and see that things have not gone anywhere near the way I expected – for good and for bad.
But the thing about expectations is, they’re not always based in reality. They’re not always healthy. And they certainly can become an idol in our lives. By the time this month is over, we’ll have spent 11 weeks leading 73 teens and adults on a variety of projects in and around Dublin. And I’m not sure that any team has gone exactly the way we expected. Oh, we’ve planned. We’ve made allowances. We’ve built contingencies. And we’ve been diligent. But things never quite go as expected.
We decided early on that we would rather have a God-centered program that might fall apart completely than a near-perfect experience that’s about us.
And God has worked in that – both through us and in us. Every time we’re scrambling to react, every time we’re making late-hour changes, every time the expectation doesn’t quite pan out; we have a choice. Will we cling to our own expectations? Or will we seek Him and His design?
We don’t want to be those about whom James wrote:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. – James 4:13-16
Rather, may we live out this idea:
The mind of man plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps. – Proverbs 16:9
Our final team of the year is coming this week! Please be in prayer that expectations do not enslave any of us, but that we will be onboard for whatever God may have in store.
What expectations do you need to let go today?