March 25, 2015

Reeling from Unmet Expectations

Have you ever experienced the let down of an unmet expectation? Perhaps you were expecting someone to do something for you? Or perhaps you were expecting something of yourself, to stand up for or against some injustice, and instead of doing "what needed to be done," you sat in silence or you simply ignored the problem, hoping it would go away?

Unmet expectations are a killer to any relationship, whether with another person or with God. When we place expectations on another person, we are in essence, saying to them "I expect you to fulfill _______ in my life." When we do this to ourselves, we tell ourselves "I will not be satisfied until I do ________." In short, we place fulfillment and satisfaction at the feet of another human being. We ask the extraordinary out of the ordinary. We ask for the impossible.

The Word says that nothing is impossible for God. The actual scripture says it this way,

Matthew 19:26 - "Jesus looked at them intently and said, 'Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.'"

The backstory is that of the rich young man. The verses preceding this one speak of the challenge of getting a camel to pass through the eye of the needle. The moral of the story, it is easier to push a camel through a tiny hole than it is for a rich man to give up his riches. The disciples, upon hearing this story, and understanding what Jesus was teaching asked him, "Who can be saved?" This response, then, is the truth -- no one can be saved of their own accord. Only the Lord can save, rich and poor, alike. Furthermore, Jesus tells the disciples that by choosing to follow after Him, they will give up everything. Peter, of course, asks the question "so what do we get?" The Lord replies, "eternal life!"

I think it is interesting to consider this story from the point of unmet expectations. The rich young man had expectations of what would become of his life. He had kept the scriptures, lived righteously, and acted in accordance with Jewish law and custom. He had lived a perfect life. But when he came to Jesus to ask about his eternal destination, he was deeply distraught when his expectations were not met with the Lord's approval. He assumed he would receive a "well done, my good and faithful servant," but instead, he was told that he had to go and sell everything to follow the Lord. What do you mean there is MORE! I have done everything, yet I have to do MORE? Yes, my good man (or woman) there is more.

This parable is often taught as a moral story to encourage faithful obedience to the Lord, thoughtful consideration of idols and idolatry, and even instruction in how to live appropriately (give away everything to follow the Lord). I think these interpretations are good, but they are not the root of the story. I think the story is quite simple on face value. We come to the Lord expecting that our works will be valued and acceptable to Him (just like Cain did in Genesis). We expect favor and blessing because of our works. The Lord sees our efforts, and pities us because He understands that while what we are doing may be worthwhile, it is human effort designed to gain Godly favor. God's favor, judgment, and blessing are impartial. He chooses whom to bless based solely on His judgment and determination. Furthermore, we know that no effort of our own will grant us entrance into the Kingdom of God, but only faith (belief) in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross. So, why then do we strive, attempt to perform and to prove our worth? We do it because we feel unfulfilled and dissatisfied with this life, and with what the world offers to us. We seek to exchange temporal pleasures for eternal security.

I struggle with unmet expectations. I try very hard not to place expectations on another person because I know how it feels to be put in that position. Often, when you are the one doing the expecting, the person you expect to fill your needs has no clue that they have been given this "special gift or responsibility." They are unaware that you expect them to do something for you. Thus, when you discover the need unmet and launch into a tirade on why they didn't do this or that, they are shocked because they never knew they were supposed to do anything at all. Miscommunication 101 - happens all the time. 

My problem is that I expect a lot from myself, and I hold myself to a very high standard. I have expectations for my behavior and performance, so when I fail to meet my own needs or standard, I have no one to lash out against but myself. I am my own worse enemy.

Striving and What Not

I prayed today, and this is the word I received back from the Lord. The Lord said "cease striving." I asked Him, "Lord, what do you mean by 'cease striving'?" While I was waiting for clarification, I went to my trusty dictionary and looked up the word. The word, strive, means the following,

1. make great efforts to achieve or obtain something.
2. struggle or fight vigorously.

So I asked the Lord, "Which am I doing? Am I trying to achieve something or am I contending with you?" The answer came back the former and not the latter. Yes, I assumed as much. I tend to strive to achieve (as I have blogged before -- oodles of time). I do contend with the Lord, wrestle with Him, but knowing that is a losing battle, I refrain from getting into those types of squabbles. I knew it was the first because I am a performance-oriented person, driven by achievement, and the need to prove myself worthy. 

So the word today was to stop trying to do everything in my own strength. This means to stop trying to solve all my problems through human will, work, and wisdom. Trust the Lord, let it go, and let it be as the Lord leads and determines it so. 

I know, I know, I know. Still, I strive. I let it go, I trust the Lord, I rest, but I cannot help but strive because I don't see anything being done. 

Truthfully, I only see mounting debt, unmet expectations and needs, and dwindling security. I see depression, despair, and destruction. I see a not so happy ending, and it scares me. I see a man (well, me) scrambling to paddle and maneuver my boat in order to avoid the impending waterfall (see picture to left). I am awash in the rapids of life, and I don't like the feeling of being out of control. I like the still calm waters, the place where I could comfortably sit and let the current move me forward without much fuss. I don't like this place, where everything is all jumbled, and I cannot see anything up front of me. I feel the current pick up, I see the waves crash around me, and I can see -- I can feel -- I can imagine -- that there is a big drop ahead. I am scared, and I am panicked. I don't want to be where I am right now. I want to paddle backwards to keep my boat from going headfirst over that cliff!

As I strive, I find that I am wearing myself out. I am paddling so furiously to keep from going over the falls, but my strength is failing. I cannot stop this boat from going where the current is leading me. I cannot do anything but pick up my paddle, tuck it in, and put my head down, and let the current take me over the edge. I am too far gone, too far down the river to turn back. I have to let go, and let this baby fly.

Really, as sappy as this sounds, it is the truth of my life. Perhaps it is the truth of your life as well. Perhaps you have been following after the Lord, but lately, you are encountering rough waters. The days of smooth sailing and flat easy waters are behind you. Your view is like mine, narrow and winding, with unpredictable twists, turns, and uncomfortable drops. You are holding on as tightly as you can for fear of being overturned and washed away. You are trusting the Lord, but you are striving to keep your ship (or boat or tiny canoe) afloat. You are afraid, panicked, and uncertain as to what lays ahead for you. You hope the river will flatten out and be smooth again, but there is no guarantee, no assurances because you cannot see a mile down the way. You cannot see where this river goes or how big, how far, how deep it really is because your vantage is blocked, and your view is limited. You must trust in the canoe. You must trust in the safety of the net that holds you in. Your life jacket, your helmet, and your paddle. These are tools to help you, so you rely on them. But the canoe is your life. It is what keeps you out of the water, and away from the dangerous current. You are a good swimmer, but you know that if you end up in the water, the current could easily suck you down. You cannot rely on your own strength or your abilities. No, you must trust in the canoe to do what it does best -- stay afloat. You let go, and you ride the canoe. You take a deep breath and you let go.

I am in this place now. I have so many unknowns in my life, and I am struggling to let go. I say I will let go, and I will let the river take me where it wills, but then I stick my paddle back in the water and try so hard to turn myself around. I don't like what I see. I don't want to go where I am going. But I have said I will go. I have said I will do the work. I have said I will live where He leads me to live. I have said so, I have promised Him so.

What Do I Do Now?

I can either let go and let the river win OR I can continue to wear myself out trying to turn my canoe around and head up river. The river is going to go its own way. If I get turned around, then I will have a huge fight on my hands. I will not win. I could perhaps get myself over to the side, to rest a while, but then what will I do? The terrain is rough, the place is unknown. I cannot remain here indefinitely, so at some point, I will have to get back into the river and take on the rapids. I have no choice really, but to trust what I know to be true, and to take the river head on. I must go with the flow, and let the river take me to the end.

Dear Lord,

I have come to the end of my battle, the end of my struggles. I am so very tired, so very worn out. The problems, the issues, the debt -- it is all too much for me. I need full-time work, I need relief, but I don't see anything on the horizon to help me, to offer me that hope. I am trusting in you to provide. You have always been my provider, my shelter from the storm of life. But now I am fading fast, and I am overwhelmed and I am in fear of what will come. I don't know why this is, but I know that I am where I am because I believed you had a good plan for my life. I believed you called me to this place, to this journey of faith. The river has always been good to me. It has always been smooth, flat and even on the surface. I have enjoyed the blessing of calm, of peace, and of restful sailing. Now, I am in the rapids of life, and I don't like what I am experiencing. I don't like this part of the trip. Yet, I know that this is all part of my life plan, and while I am afraid of what I am experiencing, I refuse to stand on the sidelines. I refuse to go backward. I know I must go forward, no matter what is up ahead. I am committed to following after you, and in obedience, I will let go and stop trying to slow the process. I will let the process, the change, the river take me over the edge. I will trust in the security of my Lord, my Savior, and my King. He will protect me, and He will provide for me. He is good to me, so very good to me. I let this go now, Lord, and I rest. Amen, so be it, thy will be done. Selah!

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