When My Expectations Are Not God's
When I was in third grade, I threw a hissy fit because I got one word wrong on my spelling test. What I did not know at the time was that my mother was testing me from the fifth grade list, and I had gotten all the other words right. Recounting the story years later at my high school graduation as a witness to my academic skills, she added, "And Yaasha has learned over the years to be more gracious with herself."
Ah, but it is a lesson I have had to learn over and over and over.
My natural desire is to be excellent, if not perfect. I want to be the best, not necessarily in comparison to others (although that's flattering) but in achievement of my ideal for myself.
And I am always failing.
The Lord has taught me this lesson often through my own body. In 2013, I finally admitted that I had been rejecting: I was too sick to maintain my current lifestyle. (I tell the longer story here.) While I struggled to accept my physical limitations and to find a diagnosis, the demon that I most fought was my own wrecked expectations for myself.
The Lord had given me desire for a ministry, but how could I have a faithful ministry if I could barely get out of my bed?
The Lord had given me a desire for a family; how could I hope for a family or attract the attention of a godly man if I rarely got out? What man would choose a sick wife?
How could my life and time count for something if I could not do anything? If what little I could do seemed so pitifully inadequate?
The Lord taught me that it was not about my abilities, but about my relationship with Him.
Which I knew, but didn't know.
I also recognized that He hadn't limited my ministry opportunities, but reoriented my definition of ministry and expanded my horizons. Where before I had desired to show genuine compassion to others in their struggles, now I brought personal experience to my comfort and service to others. I could recognize and minister to the pain in others.
And--surprise, surprise--I learned that my expectations for myself were not God's expectations for me.
He wasn't waiting for me to fail. He was waiting for me to trust. Whether I felt like it or not. Whether I felt worthy of His love or not. Whether I could do things or not.
Could I take one day at a time, as a gift from Him, pain or no pain, in bed or on my feet, productive or not productive?
Was this about me--or about Him?
I thought I had learned the lesson of trust. Soon after I came to a place of greater acceptance, the Lord kindly allowed me a reprieve. The constant pain lifted and my body's vigor returned. I went from pain management and struggling to think coherently, to hiking fifteen miles in a day and running eight miles weekly.
To my great astonishment, the Lord also brought an amazing man into my life. I felt as if the Lord had undone all the fears and limitations that I had struggled with so long. I had my body back and I was genuinely loved by a godly man.
Life was good.
And I unknowingly returned to my high expectations to myself. Praise be to God! I could do it all!
Then the spasms hit. These seizure-like episodes could last for hours and leave me drenched in sweat, stiff and sore all over, and alternately weak and sore for days afterward. The progression was slow at first, but soon it became a matter of daily management. It also became impossible to hide. The condition didn't care if I was a bridesmaid at a wedding, if I was in church, if I was at work--it could strike at any time.
The lost opportunities were real. Many Sunday mornings, my husband tucked me into bed and went to church while I napped. We cancelled our participation in a missions trip we had originally planned to lead. Sometimes we cancelled out on our regular ministry activities to give me time to rest. I called Paul from work so he could drive me home. Eventually, it became clear that I could no longer work full-time.
The questions came again. I loved ministry; why was God taking away my ability to serve Him? I loved my husband; why was God making me a burden to him? (Note: Paul has always been extremely supportive, so "burden" is all in my head.) I loved my job; why was God taking it away?
It was a friend who helped me define what was really going on. She asked for an update on my health and I replied, "It's better today, and I'm trying to keep it that way."
"Yaasha," she responded. "It concerns me when you keep talking about your condition as if you can control it. This is uncontrollable. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself. No one is expecting you to be able to control it."
Suddenly, I was looking at all my old fears again. Yes, but I want to be reliable. Yes, but I want to be strong. Yes, but want to not be a burden. Yes, but I want to control my life.
Control. Ah. So that was it.
This was about God again. "Who is in control--you or I?"
I wanted control. He wanted trust.
"Yaasha," my husband reminded me gently, as I lay in a crumpled sobbing mess in his arms. "Don't expect of yourself what the Lord does not expect of you."
He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?
My abilities are God's--but so are my limitations. My ministry is God's--but so is my rest. My strength is God's--but so is my weakness. I don't give God only the best of me. I give Him the worst of me too, because only He can redeem it.
This is still my daily battle. The doctors have been very active on my behalf, but while I heal, I am still reevaluating my expectations for myself. My natural inclination is to fight the body God gave me and the condition He allowed in my life.
For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”
When I hold onto my expectations for myself, I am not quiet, I am not confident, and I have no strength. But when I sit, like Mary, at His feet, to listen, to soak in His presence, to make my heart quiet, I find an assurance far deeper than I could gain through my own definition of success.
I find the strength and fearlessness of His love.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.
Expectation? I expect this: that He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion, in His way, not mine.
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None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.