Surrendering Expectations: When God Sends the Unlikely
Jun 05, 2016 12:33AM
● By Bonnie Lyn Smith
I wrote this piece a year and a half ago. Despite the time lapse, I don't need to jump back into a TARDIS (Doctor Who reference) to relive it. It's a common theme I see running through my life and the lives of many people I know. For me, it's relevant in a fresh way right now. I hope you find some peace and hope in it too.
Recently, I was reflecting on who actively engaged in my life when I needed compassion, hope, and ministering care. I’m specifically referring to moments, hours, days, or seasons of excruciating pain: loss, disappointment, fear, a suffering loved one, a dream smashing into pieces, abandonment, or a relationship splintering more quickly than it can mend. It’s amazing to me to think that in almost all of those situations, I could not predict who would walk through the door and touch my life. I can say for certain, however, that they weren’t the usual suspects. I can also tell you that there were times when the people I expected to be first in line to help were nowhere to be found, adding heaps to the pain and confusion.
I am sure so many of us can relate.
Why exactly is that?
Why do we limit love by expecting it to show up in specific people and then turn around and look past the folks God actually sends us?
Every time I think in small terms, my loving Father in heaven teaches me something about my own pride, limited vision, judgmental heart, critical spirit, and lack of love. He gently reminds me that the arms of Jesus long ago willingly spread out and covered my inability to love perfectly. Because of His sacrifice on the cross as payment for my sins, He no longer sees me that way, and I need to stop seeing others through my own eyes.
I need to view them through His.
When my sweet Father exposes my narrow vision, it isn’t because He takes pleasure in that. It is because He is refining me for a greater level of service (and maturity) in His Kingdom.
1 Peter 1:6-7, ESV, Apostle Peter writing
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
This brings me back to a few questions:
How open are we to accept help in the form in which He chooses to deliver it?
If we are so convinced that a particular relative or friend needs to walk through our valley with us, what happens when a different person wants to bless us?
Often, we rely on those closest to us to hold our hands through everything, when the truth is that maybe they haven’t carried that particular burden before. They may want to help but come up empty because they lack knowledge or experience. Perhaps God is protecting them from our heavy pain because it will trigger their own dormant issue, and He knows they aren’t ready yet.
It’s also possible He wants someone who thinks she has nothing to offer to realize that, in His strength and not her own, she can accomplish great things and also meet our need. Maybe it’s the first time she is stepping out of her comfort zone, and He wants to honor that.
I know this for sure: God loves to wow us!
I have been deeply comforted when navigating my young son’s special education needs and anxiety struggles by relationships that once knew tremendous strain. If I had been stuck scanning the horizon for those I assumed would help me, I would have missed the incredible restorative work God wanted to do by healing the past and building into those relationships in the present. I would have skipped over an opportunity to be vulnerable with someone I couldn’t be before, which means growth for me as well as for them.
And, after all, isn’t God in the growing and healing business?
There is a hard truth here, however. Better sit down. This one thought grounds me on a regular basis, if I can remain in a posture of humility enough to fully grasp it:
We can’t simultaneously delight in the surprises He offers us and remain angry with those we feel disappointed us.
I am learning this as I go. It’s a process. When I can genuinely surrender my expectations, I not only find peace where disappointment used to take up space, but I also start to see more clearly the many contours that had been there all along now forming into real shapes. They are the people, with roles both big and small, who stepped in and became some of the characters in my own real-life story—characters that I never would have cast.
But He did.
As for those people we wanted to be in our original screenplay of Who Should Walk Me Through My Pain—what about them? Perhaps they missed a chance to draw closer to us, but it doesn’t mean we won’t see them again. They may very well rise up at an unexpected time.
Some of the folks who seemed to “check out” on me during big moments later walked in and grabbed a seat during other ones. If we learn to look for who showed up instead of who didn’t, we will focus on that which is true, honorable, and worthy of praise, and train our minds toward gifts from the Father of lights (James 1:17) instead of keeping score of when we think people fail us.
Philippians 4:8, ESV, Apostle Paul writing
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Next week we will explore further how we accept it when expected characters do not show up to be in our personal play. What do we do with those disappointments? Do they inform the future? Are we locked into the pain?
I hope you'll check in and see how we break free and surrender our expectations. It's there in that holy ground that God's purposes truly are accomplished.
Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about parenting, marriage, mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, the healing cloak of Jesus, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.
Her book, Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day, offers anecdotes on all of these subjects and Scripture for each situation as well as Book Discussion Questions for deeper exploration.