Go beyond what’s expected, living to other’s expectations, and do something exceptional. It’s possible.
I grew up attending Sunday School and church services (“going to church”) every Sunday with my family. I went through confirmation (Lutheran). I memorized Bible verses and earned stars. I went forward at a Billy Graham Crusade when I was a late teenager. My folks even “encouraged” (manipulated) me to attend a Lutheran college.
At college I got involved in a religious youth program at local high schools (initially because a girl I was interested in was attending the orientation and it looked like a way to fit in and hopefully know her better, that didn’t pan out).
After college, I stayed involved, and eventually joined up with a different para-church organization where I worked full-time for 10+ years. Until that organization self-imploded from a leader’s scandalous behavior.
By then, I was married and we had a baby boy, and needed someplace to land. My parents offered us a place to live (gave us a rental home they owned) if we would move back near them. It seemed like the right choice, especially since my dad’s health was failing, and as the oldest I felt obligated to help.
We immediately found a small church, and I got involved with the music.
Music has always been important to me. I was in band from grade school through high school (trombone). I tried to be involved in the university band, but that was WAY more serious than I was used to. Band was always a social thing for me, not a rigorous academic activity.
I’d learned to play guitar in college as part of the youth program, and kept it up. It was a creative and spiritual outlet for me, something that brought joy. I enjoyed playing at church services, but it also became a stumbling block, something where I looked for acceptance and tried to find worth.
All through this, church involvement was a way to meet expectations, try to be perfect, be accepted and fit in. I read and studied a lot, and attained more than an average knowledge. I studied theology, evangelism. It was a career.
When we moved to be near my parents, I found a job at a local auto body shop as an office manager. I was there 15 years. I became friends with the owner/my boss, we were in the same church for a while. One year for my birthday, he gave me a book, Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. That weekend I was sick, so I read it. Then read it again, slower. For the first time (at least the first time I was ready to hear it) I heard that God cared about my heart. All of my life, I was trained to deny myself, and think about everyone else. That was the “Christian” way. Be a martyr. Give everything away. But, now, I was hearing that what I’d been doing, much of what I was taught was not a true representation of who God is and what he thought about me. I had learned how to be in a religion. I was religious. And I could be REALLY GOOD at it. I thought I knew all this.
By this time, we’d moved on to a different church. We had two sons, and kept them actively involved in the church’s programs. I was very actively involved in the music during services, sometimes all day Saturday and Sunday, 2-3 weekends a month.
I remember becoming more aware of how manipulated I felt (we were) in church services. This was about a program. Sing these songs, do this, get to this point to try and get everyone to feel this thing, do it in 17 minutes or less and get on to the next phase because we have to be done by xx:00 or we’ll run long and delay the next service. Can’t have that.
Serendipitously, the book “The Shack” came into my life, long before it became a New York Times best-seller, and WAY before it became a movie. At that time, Wayne Jacobsen and his friend, Brad Cummings, had helped edit and then self-publish Paul Young’s book. Brad was shipping orders out of a garage. I ordered a copy and read it. Then read it again. Then ordered a case of the books to give away to friends, family, and random folks.
From there I started listening to their podcast www.thegodjourney.com and then read some of the books Wayne’s written (So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore, He Loves Me). Through this I began to understand and come to know a God (“Papa”) who loves me that revolutionized my relationship with him.
“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike ‘What’s next, Papa?’”
This is diametrically opposed to the life of living up to other’s expectations, and even trying to live with my own expectations. If I live with expectations, I will be disappointed.
There’s a difference between having expectations, and being expectant. Expectancy is this childlike, ‘what’s next?’ Expectations are planning, trying to figure it out, avoid what I think will be bad/negative/adverse/painful/uncomfortable. Expectations is about control. I’m big on control. It’s not healthy for relationships though. Expectations in a relationship set me up for disappointment and resentment when what I “expected” doesn’t happen.
Expectancy is letting go. Trusting. Trusting that whatever comes, I will be okay/taken care of/not abandoned. However, to trust, I have to know the character of the person I’m trusting. The god I knew in religion wasn’t someone I could trust. The Papa I was coming to know cared about me.
I keep the phrase Living Adventurously Expectant in front of me to remind me that Papa loves me. I can let go of expectations. I can stop being so controlling. I can let go of my perfectionism and trying to avoid pain. No matter what happens, he is with me and will walk with me through it. I may experience pain, be uncomfortable. But, I will grow and be stronger as a result. And I will experience life the way he intended: loved and free.
So I get up today, and say, “What’s next, Papa?”