As I sit in my weathered, leather chair that I rescued from the thrift store, I can feel the weak, spring sunshine streaming in through the slightly opened door of my She Shed. It starts to warm up the inside of my writing space, and I notice the dandelions sprouting among blades of new spring grass on our unmowed lawn.
This vividly reminds me that each one of us has so many unspoken expectations about the way we think our life should go, and these unspoken expectations can easily trip us up. If not recognized for what they really are, they can cause significant pain and disappointment to the extent that we are unable to enjoy the life we have because we compare it to the one we created inside our heads.
We paint pictures inside our heads of what we imagined something should be—based not on truth, but on the voices and images we have let into our minds and then allowed to permeate our hearts. The only way I know how to get rid of these unhelpful expectations is to allow God into those spaces and dreams and permit his voice to rebuild a new image built on Him.
I have had to do this many, many times and no doubt will continue to engage in this process for many more years to come. Sometimes it’s an expectation that I didn’t even know existed until I was denied it, then I notice my reaction.
A good example of this—and the one I was thinking about early this morning—is the first unspoken expectation I ever really noticed. Mike and I had been married a few years, and we had just moved to Cambridge for Mike’s first job as a vicar. We had packed up our few second-hand pieces of furniture from our city apartment and moved them to a sweet, little house just off Mill Road in Cambridge. It was a great house, and with it came our first garden, or yard, that was really ours. This was when I discovered I had an unspoken expectation that Mike and I would happily spend many Saturday afternoons working together in the garden. I thought this because that’s what I had seen my parents do. Growing up, I fondly remember spending many weekends buying bedding plants and trees followed by my mum and dad planting them in the garden. It was a wonderful project that they both loved and enjoyed doing together. Mike, however, does not like gardening. He had no interest in it and preferred to watch football on a Saturday afternoon rather than spend it pushing a lawnmower. Saturdays would then turn into my grumpy day—the one where doors shut loudly and sighs were heavy. Once I realized where this expectation and my bad mood came from, I was able to own it and get rid of it. It wasn’t that my motive was bad; it was simply just a dream I had created in my childhood when I had no idea who I would spend my life with and what our life would be like. Then I decided to let it go, I stopped nagging and mentioning the weeds and the length of the lawn, and I began planning other things we both liked do on a Saturday.
Sometimes the expectation doesn’t affect anyone else besides you. It can make you dissatisfied with the place you are and the people you are with. It can make you unable to experience real joy or peace and certainly isn’t what God intended for us.
Unrealized expectations can be about many things. I have seen them at all stages of our lives. It is often centered around motherhood—either the lack of it or what it’s really like. It can be about the fact that you and everyone else around thought you would be married by now or at least be engaged. It can be that you thought your children would be bright and beautiful instead of unique and strong-willed. Then, of course, there are all the expectations surrounding our standing within a company or community; after you worked so hard and earned all your qualifications you expected a job for life, or at least a few more years. There might also be expectations about the type of house you would be living in or what part of the country you would raise your kids. These issues are all really difficult, and I am not diminishing that fact at all. I just have noticed that the sooner we put down our dreams and pick up our reality the quicker God is able to use us.
So now as the sun is setting and the chill returns to the shed, I wonder what expectations you have that God is highlighting so that you can lay them down and walk away in freedom, in the direction your loving, heavenly Father has planned for you.