Expectations. We all have them. Whether they are known or not, whether they are met or not. They can be sneaky and can reveal a longing, a desiring or a hope we didn’t know we had until that expectation was not met. Expectation is defined as the state of expecting or anticipating, so the state of considering something is probable or certain to happen. Phew, as I read that I thought, that’s a lot of trust to be into something that hopefully happens but also may not happen.
We’ve now been social distancing for roughly 35 days and staying at home for the last 22 days and I’m sure during the stay at home order, there have been a handful of expectations, desires or longings that have gone unmet. It could be relatively silly things such as: missing your workout community, not being able to go to breweries or a friend’s place for dinner, watching sports. It could be more serious things, like gathering people for the celebration, a birthday, anniversary, a wedding, graduation, Easter, going on a trip you planned with family or friends. Thinking outside the pandemic, the unmet expectations we experience could circle around:
- Healthy relationship with parents/immediate family
- Kid’s who’ll come to know Jesus
- Happy marriage
- Health, physically able children
- Money to travel, stay at home
- Healthy relationships
Most of the time, the expectations we have, the plans that we create, the things we’re anticipating to happen, often do happen so when we encounter an unmet expectation, our game is thrown off a bit. In these moments, we’re painfully aware of how little control we have. This is something you could be experiencing right now or perhaps this rings true for you in regards to something in the past. Whenever you’ve experienced, it’s something we’ve all faced.
A couple years ago, before my 29th birthday I was met with an overwhelming sense of sadness that just felt deep in my soul. Through journaling, conversations and prayer, the Lord revealed to me the sadness I was feeling was due not being married or having a family yet. You see, my mom had me at the age of 25, so as I was growing up, I remember 25 being this “old” age – an age that you’ll most likely be married and have one to two kids. So when I turned 25, which also happened to be my golden birthday year, and none of those things in my life were true, I had felt this odd sense of failure. Each year as I got older, the feeling would return. I had dreams of being a young mom, I love the age difference with my mom. I also had a few close friends who started having kids when we were 23 and 24 and I always hoped our kids would be around the same age. So when 29 came along I had this feeling of hopelessness and confusion and yet at the same time, I felt tired of feeling this sadness around my birthday each year.
I felt understood when I would read Lamentations 3. In the beginning of the passage, the author, Jeremiah, shares about the affliction he feels. Jeremiah uses words such as God turning his hand against him (verse 3), surrounded me with bitterness and hardship (verse 5), dwelling in darkness (verse 6), blocked out my prayer (verse 8), made my paths crooked (verse 9) and pierced my heart (verse 13) . Now, I can understand that sounding a bit dramatic – reading my journal now and reflecting on that season, I didn’t experience the things Jeremiah did experience, yet his words were helpful to me to be able to express emotion. Now at the end of the passage, it says,
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.
28 Let him sit alone in silence,
for the Lord has laid it on him.
29 Let him bury his face in the dust—
there may yet be hope.
30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace.
31 For no one is cast off
by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to anyone.
There are many things that I like about this passage, but yet I want to talk about two things.
- After the lament and expressing his real feelings to the Lord, in verse 21 he says, “yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope” Jeremiah expressed his hurt and pain to God, he was lamenting and sharing how he felt and in the same breath, he was able to stop and praise God for who he is.
- Those he brings grief, he will show compassion. In this life, we will experience grief, we will experience sadness. We will face trials and hardship, yet in it all the Lord has promised his compassion. Compassion is defined as sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. God cares about the trials and misfortunes we experience in this life – so much so he sent Jesus, the one who can sympathize with us in all that we experience.
Some of you may be familiar with the story of Joanna Watkins. For those who aren’t, she is a woman who used to attend Hope… In December 2016, she wrote an article for The Gospel Coalition about what the Lord has been teaching her through her diagnoses of Mast Cell Disease. At the end of the article she wrote, “He has withheld some good things in order to give me greater things, which is him” I didn’t want to believe that when I first read it. I thought, “the things I desire, the things I expect in my life, these are “great” things. If they’re “great” things, why can’t I have them? Why do I feel like the Lord is keeping them from me?” Through tears, the Lord was gracious to show me, the things I desire are just good things. What I’m actually longing for is him, which is the greater thing.
Oftentimes we can believe that once our expectations or desires are met, that is when our life is truly going to begin. Once we get married, then, once I have kids, then this will happen or once I have enough money to buy a home or go on a European vacation or live in this exotic place, that is when it will all start. When we choose to believe that, we aren’t giving God credit and thanks for the life he has given us, we can be treating that present time as a detour as we wait for the real fun to begin yet that is a lie. The place the Lord has you in right now is what he has for you, in Psalm 139, David writes, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” He knew all your days. And although you have better dreams/expectations for what life could look like right now, where he has you didn’t come as a surprise. In fact, in his kindness and goodness he has led you to the place where he has you today, in order for you to draw near to him.
During this season, a friend sent me a podcast titled “What to do with Unmet Expectations”, timely right? The podcast was very truth filled and appreciated what the woman had to say. The unmet expectation she was working through was the longing to have a daughter – she had three sons. She went on to say, after finding out her third pregnancy was a boy, she entered a grieving process. Which can be odd to think right, because how do you grieve something that you never initially had. As she continued to share her story it all began to resonate. She mentioned that grieving expectations can work in two ways: either you are grieving something you had that was taken away from you or grieving something that you always wanted but never got. And that’s when it hit me, I can grieve that idea that I’m not going to be a young mom. It’s ok to turn to the Lord, acknowledge the sadness I feel about this longing and know that he hears me with compassion and grace. In these moments, we can trust that he has our best and his glory in mind.
We see it in scripture, when Jesus is in the garden he turns to his Father and says, “take this cup from me but not my will but your will be done.” (Luke 22:42). Jesus expressed his feelings to God and accepted what the Father had for him, even if it meant dying a horrible death. Yet, look what his death brought! It brought life and salvation. God heard Jesus’s cries but he knew it was better for Jesus to experience what he did on the cross in order for his glory to be made known! Even though we can’t always see what is on the other side of an unmet expectation or desire, we can trust that the Lord’s provision is much greater than we could ever imagine!
In January 2020, my husband and I found out we were expecting our first child. It was an exciting time to say the least. We had our first ultrasound at the end of February and were looking forward to being able to share with family and friends in the weeks to come. On March 18th, 2020, around 11 weeks pregnant, we found out we lost the baby, when the baby was just over 9 weeks old. It was incredibly hard news to hear, I felt like I was grieving all over again – both something I had and loss as well as the dreams we already began to have for this baby. Yet the Lord was incredibly sweet, surrounding us with such great community and support even amid social distancing. While reading John, I came across a verse that really rang true to heart in this season. It’s from John 14, when Jesus is having the last supper with his disciples. In verses 25-27 Jesus says,
All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Verse 27, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” really hit me. The peace that Jesus offers is a supernatural peace, it’s a peace that we cannot explain. It’s unlike the world’s peace which is similar to hopes and wishes for someone. And while it’s comforting to receive well wishes from others, the true peace I have to rest in is the peace that comes from Jesus alone. At times, I still feel sad about the loss of that little life, yet I do feel an overwhelming amount of peace when I think about trusting him in the provision for our family. I feel like the Lord knows my sadness and if this is the hardship he wants me to face for his glory to be made known, however that looks, I want to be obedient to what he has for me. Trust me, it’s not easy and tears still come and he has come to show me this isn’t something I would be able to do on my own, I attribute all that to the work of the Spirit in my heart and mind.
As I said in the beginning, we all have unmet expectations. Whether you were confronted with them before the pandemic or during, it’s something we’ve all experienced. Do you feel comfortable in expressing the pain you feel to God due to an unmet expectation or do you tuck it away, wanting to hold it closely and not have the gospel speak truth to it? I felt that I wanted to keep feeling sad for myself, yet when I finally admitted my pain out loud, there was incredible freedom! Remember in Lamentations 3 it says, “Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.” At the end of the day, we have to remember, our heavenly Father loves us – he cares for us so deeply and has our best in mind, he comes into the grief and sadness with us and displays compassion.