Expectations can bind you up, trip you up, and wear you down. They can pull you from left to right and make it impossible to know which way you should go. They can make you feel inadequate, sad, and lonely. What's more, they can really hinder our walk with God as we struggle under the weight of what we think He wants from us in order for us to be "acceptable believers" in His eyes. Sometimes it's hard to tell which expectations are really from God and which are of the World.
I was raised on high expectations. I don't mean just standard parental expectations for their children, I mean HIGH expectations that left me constantly wondering what I was doing wrong and why I could not live up to what everyone said I needed to be. It was backbreaking, disheartening, and exhausting trying to reach the unreachable expectations laid out before me. I was lonely, I was down on myself, and I was down on my creator for thrusting me into a world where I could never win. Why would a loving God do that? It didn't seem very loving to me.
Well, it took me a while to realize that that was exactly the truth I was missing for so long. A loving God wouldn't and didn't thrust me into a world where I could never win. In fact, He never gave me all those crushing expectations in the first place! Instead, I was confusing what the world asked of me with what the Creator of the Universe really and truly cared about (and as we know, should be what we really and truly care about as well). Let's take some time to break through my top three of these worldly expectations and see what God says about them.
"You will never be successful if you don't get up early everyday!"
This one sits, solidly at the top of my list for a few reason. First, I am not naturally a morning person. I'm not necessarily a night owl either, but mornings are very difficult for me and they have been since I was first born. It is actually a fact that when I was just two days old, my parents said "This girl is going to need coffee in the mornings." I don't wake up easily and I truly believe that between 8:00 and 8:30 am is the perfect wake up time. Yet, that was never good enough. I was always told that I needed to be up earlier, wake up faster, be more cheerful in the mornings or else I couldn't achieve my goals. Second, this expectation is sort of supported in Proverbs 31. It says in verse 15 (NLT Version), "She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household and plan the day’s work for her servant girls." I have always admired the woman in Proverbs 31, but this has always made me a little bit annoyed, if I'm being perfectly honest. I have read this chapter and verse over and over, trying to make sense of it. Were the expectations true? Would I never be successful if I wasn't up "before dawn"? ...And then there was the truth that my mother is named Dawn, and I would certainly never succeed at get up earlier than her! About a year ago, I came to a revelation: this verse is less about how early she got up, than it was about how prepared she was for her day. I could be prepared for my day without getting up before dawn (or Dawn), if I prepared beforehand and kept organized. I just had to know what I was doing and stick to it. Finally, this expectation, that now more clearly looks like an expectation of the world and not God, really gets to me when I think about how God made us. He made me that little two day old baby that was really needing a cuppa and hated her sleep to be interrupted. He made me a lover of 8 am's and quiet wake-ups... and He never made mistakes. This expectation doesn't take the individual into account and instead seeks to make everyone follow the same rules, as though their own structure and complexly woven together self is meaningless.
"You need to have a partner and children!"
This is another that really gets to me AND another that some could see as Biblically sound. After all, the Bible does say, "Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply." (Genesis 1:28a NLT) However, it also says "But I wish everyone were single, just as I am. Yet each person has a special gift from God, of one kind or another" (1 Corinthians 7:7 NLT) and I simply cannot help but think the the barren men and women out there that so want a family but are not given the opportunity. It seems like there are a lot of contradictions here that makes it clear that this is an expectation from man and not God. Here's what I see: when we take from this passage in Genesis, we are literally listening to God speak to His first creations. Sure, He wants us to multiply as well and to literally fill this earth with His creation, but we get the other side to this in Matthew 28:19-20,
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We don't have to be married and have a bunch of kids to live up to God's expectations of us. It does not make us less if we don't or if we can't. Our greatest commission is to multiply the believers on this Earth through our testimony and personal ministries. We can actually be fruitful and multiply every single day of our lives!
"There is a specific way that will get you to success, so you must follow it."
This will be the last expectation I look at, but I think it truly is a huge expectation that just is not Biblical at all. All our lives we are told there is a specific path that will take us to success. Now, let me be clear: I am a huge proponent of the education path. I have a Master's degree and have always been extremely studious. That does not mean that I believe this is the right path for everyone or that it is the only way to achieve success. Everyone is different and, just like myself, their paths can change so many times throughout their lives that all the education and traditional expectations they have sought to follow could not factor into their path to success at all! God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”declares the Lord.“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV) God has so many different plans for us and all are good and for our benefit! We don't know what that might look like for someone else and should never assume they are doing something wrong because it's not the way that we think their life should look.
Have you ever faced one of these worldly expectations (or others!) that have made you wonder if God really loved you or cared? Friend, I want to remind you that God loves you, that He knows you intimately and all He expects from you is to love Him and to seek to bring others to Him as well. The rest is all just noise.