Great Expectations

Disappointment. We have all experienced it to some degree or other. Generally, disappointment results when our reality does not match up with our expectations. If I expect my husband to act like Richard Gere in all those romantic movies and not himself – I will be disappointed. If I expect my children to act like responsible adults rather than (heaven forbid) children – I will be disappointed.

Much of the time our expectations are simply unrealistic. As humans we tend to plan out our future well in advance, and as women, even more so. I recently re-watched the movie “Must Love Dogs.” In it, Jake (Cusack) tells his friend his opinion about women and dating:

“I think women have the whole thing planned. An epic narrative in their heads. You know my theory about this? When you meet they have the whole story written. But you don’t get to read it. But if you go off script – they write you out of the story…”

Isn’t it true though? We have a tendency to plan out everything. I remember planning out exactly how I would spend a million dollars if I were to win the lottery – and I don’t even play the lottery! We have our life story already written in our heads. While some of the details may be fuzzy, the general storyline is there. And when life does not meet our expectations, we experience frustration, disappointment, depression and even anger. We will fight very hard to “right the course” of our lives to fit with the plan. The thought of allowing our “story” to be edited, let alone completely rewritten, is extremely painful.

Jesus tells us in Luke 12:22-34 not to worry about tomorrow. I have often thought that this means that when I think about what my expectations/plans are for tomorrow, I should not worry. But immediately before this passage Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool who stores up all of his crops in abundance and then celebrates because he is “set.” God tells him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” What if Jesus is telling us not to worry about planning tomorrow? What if we were willing to give up our plans for the future and live one day at a time? I am not saying to live completely foolishly, but as long as we hold hard to our own expectations and plans for the future, marching ahead determined to fulfil our destiny as we have designed it, won’t we completely resist the Lord’s direction when He says, “Turn here!”?

God has big plans for His people. So much greater than the plans we can make for ourselves. But we miss out because we have a hard time following God’s directions and trusting Him. It seems that God often tends to allow His people, once they have decided to follow His directions, to go through a period of testing. Noah was ridiculed for 100 years while he was building the ark. David was hunted for years while he waited to become king. Mary was rejected by her community (and risked getting stoned) being pregnant out of wedlock. Even Jesus was tested 40 days in the wilderness before He began His ministry. If these people did not know and trust God, would they have endured long enough to see His glory revealed? Will we? God longs to reveal Himself through us and the corporate church to the world. Are we ready to follow His lead?

The passage in Luke 12 that immediately follows the “do not worry” passage is the one that tells us to be watching and ready for His return. But wouldn’t that apply to His voice as well as His physical return? Doesn’t He expect us to be ready to respond when He gives us direction? What wonders could He perform if we would only yield our own plans to His? There is a Casting Crowns song called “Dream for you” that speaks to this same idea. Let it inspire you to let go of your own plans today and let God dream for you!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8nsJZx8eWw

Desperation

I watched a movie the other night. In it, a woman desperate to attain something it seems she cannot have, compromises her integrity and settles for a cheap substitute. The emptiness, shame and guilt that follow destroy her. This scene has stuck with me for days. The all-consuming search for that thing that she believes she cannot live without. The complete brokenness of her life even as she chooses to walk this road that she knows she should not, but her desperation drives her to it. The deep realization that what she gained was no comparison to what she sacrificed to get it. The utter sadness of a good life gone.

I could identify with her. In my old life I sacrificed much of myself and gained very little. But even now, as a believer, I still feel the ache of desperation within me. I have tried to fill it with food, but that didn’t work. I have tried relationships, careers, and general busyness, but all have left me more busy, more burdened and still unfulfilled. I long to step into my purpose. To experience a closeness that settles all of my insecurities and equips me for the thing that I have been designed for. I know that this can only be found in the one true Source. But often it seems that I substitute things for Him. I talk about Him, read about Him, write about Him, but never really seek Him. It is almost as if I think it is too hard a task. Like my life is too busy to focus on Him. And yet, I am tempted to try to further my career to find fulfillment, or do a new work of ministry, or write a book. But won’t they all take time, and effort and energy? Won’t they all still leave me empty? I don’t need to be busier. I need what I am doing with my time and energy to be making a difference. I need to walk in the path that He designed for me. I have run enough detours already. I want the straight path now.

As I prayed about this, I found myself confessing all of those things that I have used as substitutes for God. It was a long list! I felt Him telling me that He wants to fill me, but He can’t be present in a life that remains compromised. I must choose Him in every minute. I must choose Him when I talk, when I write, when I think, when I do. I must confess and be forgiven for settling for less in my life. It is not easy. Many of these idols are habitual. I don’t even have to think about them. I just do it. But God has been pointing them out. One by one I “see” what they are and have been confessing and asking forgiveness for each. I need to remove these in order to make room for Him. God tells us that “you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13). God is not far away. He does not make it impossible to find Him. But He will not share our hearts with another. Jesus told us the greatest commandment, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). He wants our complete devotion. Once we surrender this, He will be found, He will fill, direct, equip and anoint us to complete the purpose for which we were created. Only then will the craving within be satisfied. Only then will we truly be free.

Beauty and the Beastly

I put on makeup today. If any of you know me, you know that is very unusual. My husband asked me if it was a special occasion. But it wasn’t. I just thought, “why not?” When I finished, I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “You are beautiful!” Then I got sad, because it reminded me of my teen years when I would look at myself in the mirror and think, “I think I am beautiful, I don’t understand why no one else does…” I have spent much of my life comparing myself to others. I am fatter, and uglier and grumpier. I am not the bubbly one that can walk into a group of strangers and everyone would fall in love with. I am not good enough. I am not a good enough student or I would make better marks; I am not a good enough nurse or I would know every possible thing that could be wrong with someone; I am not a good enough mother or my kids would be perfect; I am not a good enough wife or my husband would be more passionate about me; I am not a good enough person or I would have friends. There is something less than perfect about me.

While we were travelling though the west we got to see the mountains and the prairies and the badlands. It occurred to me that God created all of these places. One wasn’t more perfect than the other. They were all created perfect for their purposes. While the mountains are majestic, they are also freezing cold and only habitable by grizzly bears and mountain goats. The badlands are arid desert, but house a teeming population of prairie dogs. All of creation was made for a reason and God declared it perfect (Gen 1:31). He didn’t declare the mountains more perfect than the wilderness, or the oceans more perfect than the lakes, or the tropics more perfect than the arctic. All were created perfect. But what if the mountains thought that the desert was better? What if they tried to flatten themselves and get warmer and drier? First they wouldn’t be able to, but in the process of trying, they would mar the beauty that God gave them, corrupt their purpose, and push away the life that would be supplied by them.

Because of the less than adequate way that I have felt about myself most of my life, I have tried to hide who I am. I generally wear clothes at least two sizes too big for me. I don’t do my hair or makeup. I find that this way I can enter a room unnoticed for the most part. People will only give me a passing glance and then dismiss me. Then I can find a corner or a wall and “blend in” so that I don’t stand out in the crowd as someone who doesn’t belong. However, when I acknowledge the way God has actually made me, I have to admit that I am a woman passionate about helping and supporting others. I am a natural leader and teacher. I want to encourage people to see their precious value in Christ. I want others to know and accept the truth about how deeply they are loved and how important they are to the world. I want them to realize that they are irreplaceable. How can I do all of that if they don’t see me? I have had a hard time loving others as Jesus told me to because I have had a hard time loving myself. All of the layers of self-doubt and feelings of worthlessness have stunted my ability to be who God created me to be. And thus I have not been fulfilling the purpose for which I was created and have not been able to breathe life into those around me because I have been “dead” myself. Colossians 2:8 warns us, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” I have been bound by these lies. I have been believing that God made a mistake with me. But God is perfect, and I have been created in His image (Gen 1:27).

This is a good day to throw off all those things that hinder me (Heb 12:1) and stand confidently as the person I am. I may not be a mountain or an ocean, but perhaps I am that stately oak that provides shade, shelter and strength to all who are near. Why should I be ashamed of that?

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers” (Ps 1:1).

The Guide

Have you ever felt like you couldn’t breathe? I have. While we were on vacation we had the opportunity to take a short climb up a mountain to see some mountaintop lakes. There was an “easy” way and a “hard” way to get there. The “easy” way was up a groomed trail to the top, while the “hard” way was going up a natural trail that was no more than a footpath that required climbing over boulders and across streams, etc. We took the “easy” way up, but right from the start, I had a hard time breathing. Now, I know I am not the most athletic individual, but I am not that out of shape either. However, all the way up I could hear myself wheezing. This man-made groomed trail was a steady incline with no natural spots that leveled out. I was afraid that if I stopped I wouldn’t be able to get started again, so I pushed on. I did make it to the top, and it was well worth the effort! The lakes were a beautiful shade of turquoise and we saw an owl guarding its nest in the cleft of a rock on the mountainside. On the way back down, we took the “hard” route. Thankfully we had a guide. There would have been no way that we would have found our way back down this way without one. Sometimes the path was indicated by little more than a broken twig. We not only needed the guide, but we needed to trust her. It would have been easy to believe that we were lost, but she kept leading us on. The view of the city below and the massive waterfall we past were breathtaking. We followed her over boulders and down stairs. While some of the path was very difficult, the pieces in between were level and easy. They were like natural “breaks” along the way. We were able to stand up straight and gather some energy for the next obstacle. Somehow I think it would have been easier to go up the “hard” way because of the moments where you would be able to catch your breath.

Once we came home from vacation, the hard realities set in: the problems that I had left behind when I went on vacation were still here when I came back. Suddenly, I felt like I did climbing that mountain. I couldn’t breathe. But God reminded me that life’s difficulties are not simply something to get through, but something to experience. There are things to be learned, both about Him and myself, and views that could only be seen by lifting my eyes off of myself and taking in the whole of what is around me. He reminded me that He is my Guide along the way. I am not alone. But do I trust Him? Have I walked far enough with Him that I can trust Him now?

I was reading in 2 Peter this week. The first chapter implores us to move beyond faith: “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness and has forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.” (1: 5-9) I believe Satan would like nothing better than to have us forget what Jesus has done for us. And without solid experiences with Jesus, it is very possible to lose sight of His love and power. My knowledge of Who He is and what He does for me every day, are the things that establish my trust in Him. It is not enough to simply trust Him for salvation. I need to know Him in order to live my life now in the freedom and abundance that He promised.

Will this path I am on be easy? No. Do I know how it is all going to end? No. But I do know that in those moments that I panic and can’t breathe and curl up in a ball with my eyes squeezed shut hoping that it will all just “go away,” that it is His gentle hand that stands me up, comforts me, and moves me forward. He will lead me through. I am grateful for the “breaks” that He gives me where I can take my eyes off of my problems and see the beauty that is around me, for those places where I can catch my breath. I am also grateful for His guidance. Without it, I would be hopelessly lost. Can I say that I know Him? I am learning more about Him every day. Do I trust Him? Absolutely!