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I was a freshman or sophomore in high school when my mom said something to me that I will never, ever forget. To be fair, she may have been having an off-day. I could have been behaving as a typical teenager (God help her!). I don’t recall the circumstances, but I most certainly do recall her words. “It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if you ended up a coal miner.” My mom was not a mean person. Nor did she have low expectations of me. In fact, most of my life, she was always bragging about me and building me up. She had high hopes for me to get a college degree, a first in our family. Then, I would go on to do something great, in her mind.
Mom never said anything like that about/to me ever again. However, I would relive those words over and over again, thousands of times. I resolved that I would not ever be a coal miner.
That decision, by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with coal mining or coal miners. The meals I ate growing up were paid for by a coal miner through coal mining. The same goes for my clothing, housing, first car, etc. It’s a noble profession where men and women risk their lives with every punch of the time card so that they can provide for their families, and so that we can turn on our lights.
My decision has everything to do with expectations. People (at least my mom on that particular day) expected me to become a coal miner. It’s what every other male in our family had done. It was the norm for many young men in southern West Virginia (and perhaps still is). I wanted to defy expectations. I wanted to move beyond the normal and expected. I wanted to be something entirely different. So, I did…
We all have expectations thrust upon us. It’s a part of life. As an employee, one has to fulfill his/her boss’s expectations. As a child, we have parental expectations. As a parent, we have expectations of our children. Spouses have expectations, too. Most all relationships carry with them some level of expectation. It’s a fairly common problem. Yes, it really can be a problem.
To be clear, most of the time we need expectations. How else will we know what to do when we go to work unless there are certain tasks we are expected to perform? The problem arises when we allow the expectation to supersede the relationship. For example, when a spouse feels he/she must do certain tasks in order to achieve (win) the affection of the other (have dinner waiting on the table, get that promotion/raise, etc.).
So, you spend all your time obsessing with others’ expectations of you. The simple truth is this: a life filled with others’ expectations is a life empty of God’s realities. The apostle Paul said it first in Galatians 1:10, “Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
It was true long ago. It’s still true today. You can’t spend all your time focusing on what other people expect of you. It’s the perfect recipe for a wasted life. You see, God’s realities for your life (his plan, his purpose, his destiny for you–I use the term “reality” because a plan is nebulous, lofty, a goal, but a reality is just that, real) far surpass the human expectation. I never dreamed I would be living in Florida planting a brand new congregation. Yet, because God had a reality in which I was willing to participate, rather than simply try to meet others’ expectations, here I am. The same is true for you. God has a reality that goes beyond what you, or others, could ever imagine.
Consider for a moment the resurrection. It deserves much more than a mere moment, but at least give it that. Three weeks ago, every Christian Church (I hope!) celebrated this event on Easter Sunday. Imagine the expectation surrounding the resurrection. There wasn’t any!
Jesus’ followers were clueless, hopeless, lost, fearful, etc. Several had given years of their lives in expectation of a Jesus who would become a great ruler. They left their livelihoods to follow him. Now he was dead. How could he become a leader if he were dead?
Now that Jesus had died, his followers expected him to stay dead. I mean, he had even told them he would rise from the dead on the third day. I don’t mean to sound sacrilegious, but I’m pretty sure if I saw someone die, my number one expectation of that person would be that they would stay dead. It’s a pretty sure bet…no matter what they had predicted.
The Christian faith would be quite different if Jesus had tried to fulfill others’ expectations. The truth is, the Christian faith would be nonexistent. Ponder the implications of this. Jesus embraced God’s reality instead of fulfilling others’ expectations. The result is salvation, the Church, hope, forgiveness, redemption, and on and on. Now imagine what would happen if all of Jesus’ followers began living into God’s realities rather than others’ expectations. It’s a pretty cool reality.
Nobody expected the resurrection to happen, except of course, God. The entire Christian faith hinges on that reality.
Allow me to repeat myself: a life full of others’ expectations is a life empty of God’s realities.
Max Lucado, in his transformational book with one of the best titles I’ve ever seen, It’s Not About Me, writes, “For the life of me, I believe Satan trains battalions of demons to whisper one question in our ears: ‘What are people thinking of you?’”
What expectations are holding you back? Step away from those, and step into God’s reality. People will talk, for sure. At least give them something good to talk about.