A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

What did you expect?

what did you expect with text

It was standing in line at a quaint little cafe when I realized I’d lost it: my credit card. Fortunately, I had a pretty good idea where I’d left it. A grocery store had returned my shopper’s card, but not the Visa. Groan.

But that’s when I (quite disproportionately) crumbled. My husband and I had been planning a rare getaway for months to celebrate our fifteenth wedding anniversary. Absconding from the kids and work and schooling for a week had required a herculean effort. And as Africa is so proficient at doing, obstacles were thrown out at every turn like candy on some frightening parade float. It had resulted in almost a comedy of errors. But finally, it came: our week away.

And no credit card.

I collapsed in tears at a little deli table. Perhaps if I’d expected things to go wrong, even on vacation, I would have been fine. And really, the credit card ended up being (thankfully) a non-issue.

Still: As my friend Leah had reminded me a week prior as we stomped through sunlit, overgrown grass, “Well, you know. Manage my expectations, manage my life.”

My expectations eat my lunch. Well. Sometimes they steal someone else’s. Relationally, perhaps it is more accurate to say, Sometimes my expectations eat my family’s lunch.

I find this in my marriage, when I just thought it would be easier to intimately live with another [sinful] human being who I deeply love. I’m ashamed to admit that when we first married, I really thought the Problem was with my husband. Because I sure had never struggled with being this angry at anyone else.

…Right.

I think most of my love stories got clogged at the Disney ending–the part where guy meets girl, guy and girl fall in love, guy and girl get married.

Paul Miller goes so far as to say,

The Disney dream shapes how we approach marriage…then we realize we’ve married someone selfish, we discard the dream and become cynical about the possibility of love. We set ourselves up for failure…Married love…crashes on the rocks of human depravity.

Most movies leave out the decidedly non-Disney-esque parts: Guy and girl encounter hard times. Guy and girl get irritated with each other over petty stuff. Girl gets PMS on a monthly basis. Guy throws underwear twelve inches from hamper. Guy and girl produce baby who cries for nine months straight. Guy and girl occasionally do not like each other. Guy and girl find that while they still love each other, love is a whole lot of work.

Ah. Expectations.

I even find this in my relationship with God. As author Paul David Tripp points out, too often, I’ve selfishly pegged God as Vacation Planner Jesus (“Here’s your catalog of things that will make you happy!”), Prozac Jesus (“I’ll make you feel better about life”), Suggestion Box Jesus (“My law is more advice than command”). I’m disappointed, even angry, when He doesn’t show Himself as made in my image.

Author Pete Scazzero of the (recommended) Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature
writes, “The problem with most expectations is that they are unconscious…unrealistic…unspoken…unagreed upon.” He clarifies that “for expectations to be established they must first be conscious…realistic…spoken…agreed upon.”

I find this slightly inconvenient, as I would appreciate my children (hmm, and husband) acquiring a more accurate ESP regarding what I want them to do and who I expected them to be! Mind readers welcome. When I ask them to jump, I would appreciate their rapid response of, Why yes, Mom! How high?

Unfortunately, my expectations too often lead me away from “charitable judgments”: from believing the best possible explanation for someone’s behavior–that benefit of the doubt–because I’m too caught up in my mental vision of what loving or proper behavior “should” look like.

Too often, my expectations steal my joy. And my gratitude, my sense of worship, for what is.

Perhaps they do indicate, as C.S. Lewis reasons, that there is in fact a heaven: a place that answers our expectations not with suffering, but with more joy than we’d ever fathomed. A land more phenomenal than our limited vision for what could be. As he rightly asserts, our desires are not too strong, but too weak.

So I extend the suggestion that the solution is not lower expectations–but corralling them to prevent their stealthy morph into demands. Our expectations submit to God–and the law of love–rather than the other way around.

As it is, perhaps my desire to control people and circumstances could be a bit less as if I were ordering them at a restaurant, and a little more open to a world not made in the image of me. A little more…grace, perhaps.

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