Sometimes I encounter a perfectly good word that has, in my mind, grown into a bad word.
And sometimes I’m invited to let that word become itself again, a neutral word, a potential means of grace as much as of harm depending on the intent behind it and how I receive it.
Yesterday I encountered one of those words, an important and necessary word, but one that at first raised instinctual walls of protection in me. I had to stop and breathe, to back up and listen to what was really being said. Turns out there’s great grace in the word when I look more deeply and let it be itself rather than painting it with the fear that has grown up around it in my mind.
The word is expectations, and the context was a sermon. The first sermon, in fact, by our new senior pastor. As he started talking about beginnings and the importance of looking at expectations—ours of him, his of us, ours of God, God’s of us—my heart sank and I could feel my walls going up. A hidden part of me wanted to curl up and cry with disappointment, fear, and self-protection.
Too heavy expectations—my own, and other people’s—have nearly crushed me, and I’ve come to fear the word “expectations” and the burden that it signifies.
But as I continued to listen, the pastor shared how he’d been praying about God’s direction for the church, and had sensed God say to him, “Tell them how much I love them.” Not just as a group, but as individual persons. I could feel my heart shift, lighten. This I understand. This I want. This I need for myself every day, and this is my deepest desire and prayer as I write and as I sit with people and listen. “Oh, Jesus, settle us a little more deeply into your love!” More than anything else, this is what I long that my life and my words communicate: we are loved, gently, passionately, securely. And I know that with this at the heart of our new pastor’s calling, we’ll be fine, because in Jesus’ love there is both safety and transformation. More specifically, in Jesus’ love, there is the safety that makes space for transformation, permitting us to lower our walls enough to let Jesus take our hearts in his hands and soften and mold and remake them into hearts that beat not with fear but with love.
Expectations can be dangerous. If they don’t fit, if I use them to lay a burden on someone that is not theirs to carry or they lay that kind of burden on me, expectations crush the life out of people and relationships.
But well-fitting expectations can be a gift. They delineate responsibility, and for those of us that instinctively feel responsible for everything within our reach, well-fitting expectations can lighten the burden – if we allow ourselves to trust these expectations and not still be ruled by the expectations in our own heads.
This kind of "my burden is light" expectation is the kind that I hear in the pastor’s words, “All that God is expecting of us is rooted in this one thing: let him love you.”
I am not responsible to transform my own heart. I'm only responsible to keep bringing it back to Jesus.
I'm not responsible for an outcome, another person's response. I'm just responsible to keep returning to Jesus to be loved and let his love flow through me.
“All that God is expecting of us is rooted in this one thing: let him love you.”
Turns out that while wrong-sized expectations can be dangerous, healthy expectations are an important part of settling into God’s love. I realize this as I sit with the pastor’s final two-pronged invitation: First, notice what God has done for us in the past. Then, notice our own expectations—or lack of them. It’s those last few words that catch my attention. Where is God inviting me to expand my expectations, to stake my life on who He is? Learning to expect God to be true to himself is part of growing in relationship. It becomes so much easier to risk letting down my walls and allowing Jesus to take my heart in his hands when I come to him, remembering who He is and expecting Him to be gentle as He wisely and tenderly remolds me in a direction that is good.
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