Managing Expectations

Last year, we bought a new minivan while my daughters were away at summer camp.

We hauled all their luggage out to the parking lot on pickup day, and they stood there scanning the rows of vehicles wondering where in the world I parked.

Even when I opened the back door of our new van and told them to load up, they still didn’t understand. One of them asked if I had rented a van just to come pick them up.

It  was quite the surprise.

But now that one surprise has destroyed my kids’ abilities to gauge how excited they should be for any of my surprises.

Sometimes,  by “surprise” I just mean it’s National Doughnut Day and we’re going to Krispy Kreme for some hot doughnuts.  That’s a wonderful treat—-unless you’re expecting something more along the lines of a new car…or Disney World…or something like that

This year when I picked my girls up from  camp, my youngest daughter asked me if  I’d bought a new car again while they were away?  Or maybe a dog?

So, the ice cream cookie sandwiches I had actually bought didn’t quite measure up.

We’re not really a family that loves surprises of any kind.  (Actually, I hate surprises. So, why should I expect my kids to love them?)  But I am slowly learning that if we do have a surprise  we should package it with some expectation boundaries.

Something like:  Okay,  we have  a surprise for you.  It’s not a Disney World surprise, more like a local, nice surprise that you haven’t tried before and also it’s not  a puppy or a car.

We’re managing expectations with birthdays a bit, too.  It goes  like this:

Mom:  What would you like to  put on your birthday  wish list?

Child:  Well, there is one thing….

Mom:  Something that isn’t a dog.

Child:   Oh.  Right.  Well, how about a camera and some craft supplies?

Mom:  I’ll write those down.

I’m getting better at expectation management and expectation clarity with my kids.

Today, though, I was thinking about how my kids can slip into expecting so much, but I seem to slip into expecting so little of God.

I  read again today the account of Thomas the disciple, who needed to  see Jesus’s scars in order  to believe He was alive following t he crucifixion.

But there’s another moment  with Thomas in the Gospels that I love.  Before Jesus died,  just as tensions were rising and the disciples sensed the growing enmity of the religious leaders,  Jesus announced he was going to Judea again–right into the thick of the conflict and the trouble.

Lazarus had died,  and Jesus intended to be with the family.  The  disciples didn’t understand why Jesus would put himself  in danger, but we know why:  His purpose was resurrection for the glory of God.

So, Thomas  said to his fellow disciples: “Let’s go too so that we may die with him” (John 11:16 CSB).

I love how Thomas was ready to die for Jesus.

Beth Moore wrote,

“What a strange mix of loyalty and pessimism. Oddly enough, Thomas never doubted Christ would die. He doubted the most important part of all–that He would rise from the  dead and live again!” (Living Beyond Yourself).

Thomas expected Jesus to die.   He had no trouble expecting the worst.

But He didn’t expect Jesus’s resurrection.

Isn’t that me sometimes? 

In a season of loss, I can begin to expect more loss.  I expect to barely scrape through and survive the mess or the famine.

When there is bad news, I begin to expect more bad news.  More sadness.

Like Thomas, I have no trouble expecting the worst, but I so rarely expect and anticipate the resurrection Christ brings and that  is what needs  to change.  Instead of expecting the worst,  can I learn to  anticipate God’s glory?

I’m so deeply grateful that God is a God of abundance. he does so much more than meet my meager, miserly expectations.

I can never expect Jesus to  give me everything I want or ask for.  He loves me too much for that.

But I can expect this:

His goodness in all things.

His lovingkindness.

His sweetness in the midst of the best and worst of times.

His presence with me at all times.

His provision.

His strength.

His resurrection work, making things new, making things beautiful, filling the things that seem so dead with new life.

This resurrection work is what He is doing now, and it will be His ultimate work in creation,  building an eternal kingdom with no sin or death or pain, transforming all that is dead in this world into the perfection of eternal heaven.

Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new.”  (Revelation 21:5 CSB).

Goodness on the good days, the best days, and the hard days too

“This is the bestest day  I’ve ever had.”

We took a day during spring break to visit the aquarium.  It took as an hour-and-a-half to get there, the tickets were expensive, and when we arrived, the line to get in stretched outside.

I almost left, just turned around and found some other place to visit for the day.

But we stuck it out and in the end, it was one of those days where everything turns out just right.  We stood at the otter exhibit just as a museum volunteer walked over and announced we could watch them feed the otters.  Later we walked by the huge shark exhibit just as another keeper told the crowd it was time for a “shark talk.” Sharks are my sons super-favorite.

So, when my son declared it was the “bestest day” ever in his entire four-year-old life, I figured he must have forgotten the trip to Disney, but yeah this was a pretty great day.

But then the next day was his bestest day ever, too.  We played mini-golf and ate scoops of ice cream, so I nodded knowingly . Yes, it was a good day.

Then came Monday morning and the end of spring break.  We rushed right back into school and activities, but that hadn’t changed his perspective.  That was “the bestest day” he had ever had also.

Cleaning and errands and hanging out at home?  This is the bestest day?

Now every day is the best day, whether he heads to preschool in the morning or stays home, whether we visit the post office or the library, whether we run errands or take a walk, whether it’s the weekend or a rushed and busy weekday.

“What makes the best day?”  I finally ask him.

“When people are nice to you,” he says.   A few nice words, a sweet smile, a pleasant encounter and that’s a great day.  Not just a great day, but the best day.

Of course, people aren’t always nice.  Sometimes we have hard days or even difficult seasons.  We know it’sure doesn’t feel like “the best day ever.”  Maybe instead it’s disappointing or long, rushed and breathless, stressful and tense or simply and deeply sad.

On those days, when crawling back into bed sounds like the way to go, we rely on something more.  It’s got to be more than trips to the aquarium or ice cream night or simply the kindness of a friend that helps us hold onto hope and trust in God’s love and His plans for us.

We believe in His goodness.  That He will not  abandon us.  That He is not out to harm us or to arbitrarily or  apathetically watch us suffer.  He is with us in the pain and in the hard days and He is helping us and holding us.

The Psalmist said:

Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!  (Psalm 31:19 ESV).   

David wasn’t really having a great day.  He was tormented by enemies. In this same Psalm, he said,

Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress;
    my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
    my soul and body with grief.
10 My life is consumed by anguish
    and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,
    and my bones grow weak.

Sorrow, distress, grief, anguish, groaning, affliction, and weakness– and yet David declared the abundant goodness of God and trusted that God had a plan for his future.

I consider Abraham.  How God had promised him descendants that would outnumber the stars and, not jut that, but a land of promise, a place to call home.

But the very first time Abraham arrived in Canaan and set foot on the Promised Land,there was famine.  He had to head onto Egypt in order to survive.

And the very first land Abraham ever owned in Canaan was the burial plot he purchased for his wife, Sarah.

This was the Promised Land?  This was what he had journeyed for? Famine and mourning?

Still he trusted and still he praised, because God’s goodness never changes.  His loyal love for us remains steadfast.

We just keep looking up.

Abraham looked to God for fulfillment rather than in the promise itself.  David looked to God for strength when His enemies surrounded him.  We also can look up, seeking Jesus and His goodness.

It may not be the bestest day ever in our life, but the day of trouble does not change the goodness of God.  His goodness is our refuge., our safe place, every single day.

The Lord is good,
a stronghold in a day of distress;
he cares for those who take refuge in him (Nahum 1:7)

How is a Christian like an Oompa Loompa?

The curtain rose and fell for the last time.  The makeup went on and the makeup came off (mostly–there are still streaks of orange along my daughter’s hairline).  Costumes were handed in and tucked away for future shows. A crew of folks broke down the set and put the pieces into storage.

My kids finished their summer-long project yesterday, an all-youth production of Willy Wonka Jr. sponsored by our local community theater group.  They auditioned the Sunday after school ended, rehearsed every week, and performed this weekend.

Now it’s time to kick back and enjoy a few weeks of rehearsal-free summer before school starts again.

Each night before the show, we arrived two hours early so the kids could climb into costumes and sit still for makeup.  This was a particularly involved process because my middle girl was an Oompa Loompa.

The Oompa Loompas are Willy Wonka’s devoted candy factory workers.  Refugees from a horrible land, they’ve come to live and work in his factory as loyal servants of their eccentric chocolate-making master.

Transforming into an Oompa Loompa is quite a task.  It’s more than just colorful shirts, socks and some overalls with curiously expansive hips.

There’s also a bright green wig covered in curls.

And there’s orange makeup–bright orange.

For these six through nine-year-olds, this was a matter of acting, putting on the outward appearance of another.

In the tradition of Lewis Carroll-like riddles, though, I’ve been wondering: How is a Christian like an Oompa Loompa? (Yes, I know Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland, not Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  What can I say?  I’ve got children’s fantasy on the brain . . . )

Peter wrote this description to the church:

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9 NLT).

The Oompa Loompas are peculiar.  They are “strange creatures,” unmistakably different from the kids and parents who visit Willy Wonka’s factory.

We also are supposed to be “not like that,” not like the world, not able to blend in with the crowd. God has changed us from the inside-out and people should notice the unique qualities of God’s love and righteousness about us.

I never once saw an Oompa Loompa hit the gym for an exercise routine targeted at reducing his hip-size.  They didn’t climb onto stilts to increase their height.  None of them hid in the bathroom for an hour to dye their hair and they didn’t even try to pass their orange skin off as suntan.

They were comfortable being weird.

Sometimes we’re not.  We’re too often trying to hide, transform, pretend, and deny the presence of Christ in us.

There’s freedom, though, in unashamedly being who God called us to be, in raising our hands in worship with abandon, in standing up for what is right with conviction, and not fearing the disapproving looks of those around us.

We’re supposed to be weird, too.

The Oompa Loompas were also refugees.  Willy Wonka had pulled them out of a land of fear and disaster and offered them a place of peace.

We’ve similarly been lifted up out of pits and carried to safety.  We are God’s “chosen people” and His “very own possession,” who no longer inhabit a hopeless world, facing inevitable death without the promise of a future.  He has “called us out of the darkness into his wonderful light.”

So, we respond as the Oompa Loompas did; we cheerfully and faithfully serve our Master.

He has saved us!  We are rescued and redeemed!

It’s a little thing, then, to show gratitude and loyalty and to obey Him in every little thing.  We work, we love, we give, we minister, we sacrifice, we share, we worship because we are refugees brought to safety by a Savior who loves us.

The Oompa Loompas are also message-bearers.  As each Golden Ticket winner inevitably fails, falling to the temptations of  immediate satisfaction, selfishness, and greed, the Oompa Loompas take the stage. They clean up the mess.  They solve the problem.

They sing their song.

We also “show others the goodness of God,” sometimes by fixing problems and tending to needs, silently ministering grace.

Sometimes we “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), reminding others that God has a plan, purpose, and design.  We speak truth and wisdom in a world that desperately needs both, but we do it with love, covered over with grace, never out of judgment or pompous self-righteousness.

The Christian life is a call to be different, to be saved, to be devoted, to be messengers of God’s goodness, all without having to wear a green wig or apply orange makeup.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King