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 sweetness in the midst of the best and worst of times.
His presence with me at all times.
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).
She’s my daughter, after all, a miniature me in many ways.
So, why didn’t I expect it? Why did I treat her less gently than God treats me?
Such a simple parenting issue: Daughter colored instead of reading before bed. She ran out of time. Lights out, no reading for the night.
But then there was the reaction, like dynamite-meets-fire because the routine was broken and she couldn’t be flexible, couldn’t bend, couldn’t change up what we always do .
She and I both struggle here. We cling to routine for personal sanity and prefer the scheduled, the planned, the known, the normal, the everyday and the expected.
Every night, she reads before bed. Every single night. Even before she could read, she flipped through the pages and invented tales about the pictures.
That’s me. Whether it’s 9:30 or midnight when I finally ease into my own bed, I must read also. Not that I prefer it or casually enjoy it. I must read, even if I only scan through one single page before I pass out on my pillow.
So, surely I should have expected that when I asked her to bend and skip the evening marathon reading session for one…single…..night, she wouldn’t bend at all.
She’d break. And break she did.
I am brittle like this, too: Snapping or shattering into pieces of emotional disaster when God nudges me out of the comfortable beauty of a planned day, or week, or year, or season of life.
And it’s not that God allows me to live life so rigid and in-control. He won’t let me stay in this place of “needing to know the details” and “always having a plan.”
No, He asks that I trust Him.
He asks for faith without seeing.
But He teaches me gently, nudging me with the unexpected–a phone call, an appointment, a sick child, traffic, a cancellation– and then cleaning up the mess of me as I fluster and stress, react and over-react.
Still He leads me out in faith and then comforts me when it’s hard, always taking me one step farther into the faith-life and the blind-walk and one more step away from my day planner and kitchen calendar.
I’m grateful for the grace.
Surely, I’m not the only one who hates the surprises and plain-out hyperventilates at the unexpected.
I consider the 72 followers, sent out by Jesus with instructions that would probably make me tremble:
Carry no money belt, no bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’ (Luke 10:4-5 NASB).
They had no travel agenda, no itinerary, no schedule, no advance contacts or fall-back positions. No money for the hotel when hospitality failed. No change of shoes for weather fluctuations or suitcases stuffed with extra underwear and layers of clothing “just in case.”
“Whatever” house they entered, is where they sought rest and provision. Sometimes they received it. Other times not.
Peter may have loved this unexpected lifestyle. He was a speak-what-comes-to-mind, do-whatever-pops-into-your-head kind of fellow. Eager to hop out of fishing boats and walk on water, willing to shout out promises and convictions at the slightest whim. He lived for the adventure not the agenda.
Peter mystifies me a bit.
But Thomas I understand, and what if Thomas was in the mix of 70?
He always wanted the facts and the proof. Yes, Thomas and I would be the ones studying the maps and searching for hotels, phone numbers, restaurants, and recommendations on Google before we set out on any journey of “faith.”
And perhaps we’d be the ones laying awake at night because we liked our own bed with our own pillow and cup of tea and a book to read before sleep.
Jesus would send us out anyway.
We might struggle and maybe we’d even have a meltdown and need God to piece us back together with superglue, but Luke writes that in the end, “the Seventy returned with joy” (Luke 10:17 HCSB).
Maybe Jesus indulges me in my nighttime reading habits and doesn’t ask me to travel from town to town without a packed lunch or luggage.
But when He asks me to ease my death-grip on my daily schedule and my long-term plans and the way I’ve always done things, after the aftermath of my mess…. there is joy.
Because it’s when He shatters the confines of my expectations that I feel His peace, not the comfort of being in control, but true peace and the settled assurance that Yes, He can care for me.
That’s when I see His glory.
That’s when I’m finally bending and flexible, no longer too fragile for Him to use.
Originally published 5/3/2013