Earlier this week, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (otherwise known as Prince William and Kate Middleton), welcomed their third child. As with most royal births, there was a lot of fanfare and speculation well in advance of the actual delivery. Early tabloid reports hinted at twins; bookmakers were figuring odds for delivery dates, names– even what the Duchess would be wearing as she brought the newborn outside for his first “sighting”. As of the writing of this blog, the name has yet to be announced, which is cause for more speculation and anticipation.
Preparing for a newborn is exciting, and filled with certain expectations. We imagine what the baby will look like, what kind of personality s/he will have, all the wonderful discoveries to be made. But we need to be careful not to let our expectations become idols. There’s nothing wrong with hoping for good outcomes, but it can be dangerous to get locked into a particular expected outcome. Children surprise us (in good ways and other ways) be being themselves, and not who or what we expect them to be.
When we pray, we sometimes come with certain expectations–that God will answer in a certain way or on a certain timeline. This is not the same as having faith. Faith says that God will hear our prayer; that he knows best, and that he will act in accordance with his own love and mercy. It doesn’t mean that he will give us what we want when we want it, or that he will give us what makes us comfortable and happy. His answers may seem difficult or even painful to accept– certainly not what we were expecting. When he chooses to answer in ways that don’t meet our expectations, we wonder why. When he chooses to say “wait,” or even, “no,” we may feel cheated and even resentful, instead of thankful that our prayers are heard by a loving God. Often, we have built up such expectations of what “the best” should look like that we miss the real miracle God is giving us instead.
Worse, there are times when our expectations reveal a lack of faith or a lack of understanding of God’s ways. We pray for peace, but what we really want is ease and comfort. Peace– real peace– is often revealed in times of stress, hardship and loss! We don’t want stress; we don’t pray for stress, but stress and hardship are going to come into our lives at some point. Praying for peace won’t bring stress, any more than not praying will keep it away! We expect the peace to come without the battle; we expect the growth to come without the growth pains; we expect to win the race without having to run!
Sometimes we won’t even pray for what we really want or need because we expect that God will “test” us or give us difficult circumstances if we ask for certain things (like patience or peace). We see God as some sort of cosmic con artist, who teases us with the promise of good things, only to laugh as we suffer. But this is a wrong view of God. God doesn’t play games or “trick” us by giving us hardship when we ask for healing, though it may feel like it at the time. Suffering and hardship are not the gifts of God– his amazing gift is the ability to redeem even the worst of circumstances and bring joy and rest and peace that passes any expectation, any dread, or any understanding we have. Often, our very desire for extra patience, peace, and joy are opportunities for us to learn more about God’s grace–and more about ourselves.
Life seldom meets our expectations–God is waiting to exceed even our wildest dreams! Don’t just pray expecting something good might happen. Pray expecting God to SHOW UP!