It’s been six months since we said goodbye in the middle of a bizarre autumn cold snap. It should have been in the high 60s that day. But it wasn’t.
Snow fell like grace in the late October wheat fields as we buried my momma. A strange blanket of comfort, as if God was saying,
Unexpected things happen, but it doesn’t mean I’m not in control.
It actually means, I Am. Like manna raining down from heaven.
For the wandering Israelites and for my wounded family, it wasn’t what we wanted or expected. It’s not what we petitioned or prayed for. It’s not what those with God-given talents and abilities predicted.
Mom lived longer than most. I want to be good with it. I want to tie it up with a big bow. But I am struggling. Before Dad lost his battle with cancer, she was vibrant and lively. We were planning for her next phase, and many more years. Then less than four months later, with no warning and no final words, we lost her.
GOD OF THE UNEXPECTED
As much as I want a full justification (written, preferably), I feel sure I’m not getting one.
And there’s good reason why. He’s good at being God. And, as Anne Lamott says,
A good name for God is “Not Me.”
Because my mind could never comprehend His perfect plan.
Just like my toddler’s brain couldn’t wrap around why I had to take away all his “bobs.” (Those pacifiers would not be a good look in grad school.) Trying to walk my tiny son through the reasoning would have been pointless.
It’s possible that, even as adults, we don’t recognize God’s best for us because we can’t recognize our own deepest need. So the unexpected often feels confusing.
God doesn’t owe us an explanation every time He does something we don’t understand. – Bob Goff
Our confusion is tempered by this: From the desert manna to Sarah’s child to a donkey-riding King, Not What We Expected is how our God works. And it’s how He loves.From the desert manna to Sarah’s child to a donkey-riding King, 'Not What We Expected' is how our God works. And it’s how He loves.Click To Tweet
Despite my limited understanding, I live every day bound tight in this unpredictable love. And whether you know it or not, so do you.
We all carry unmet expectations. Career climbs or relationship resolutions or illness eradications. Worthy ideas we were sure God would approve of and support. But somehow, He didn’t.
Like my mother holding a grandchild of mine. Or my own heart function being restored.
These unmet expectations create disappointment, then disappointment can cause grumbling.
And it’s not just the big things.
From my journal:
The chronic part of this illness is wearing on me. Somehow I just didn’t expect it to last this long. All my life I’ve been a stomach sleeper. Even through all three pregnancies, I insisted. Now, with the special ICD implanted so close to the surface of the skin on my left chest, I can’t. It’s the right side or the back, which means lots of tossing and turning, night after night.
How quickly I forgot about my earlier miracle. The enlarged heart everyone else had given up on, somehow still beating.
The Israelites could relate. They lost their love for the life-sustaining manna and begged for something better. Just one chapter removed from the miraculous Red Sea parting, they expected God to move bodies of water to accommodate them. I often only look for God where I saw him last, too. He had so recently scaffolded my own failing health, I was sure He’d be right there to do the same for Mom.
Though this God is not predictable, His people can be. Notorious for grumbling, expecting a quick and straight route to the Promised Land. But God builds in time and detours to teach us daily dependence and proven protection.Though God is not predictable, His people can be. Notorious for grumbling, expecting a quick and straight route to the Promised Land. But God builds in time and detours to teach us daily dependence and proven protection.Click To Tweet
My momma understood this. I never knew her to express disappointment in her God. She had a survival grit inside that tiny frame. And I saw her deep faith give God space to work through life’s daily difficulties and unmet expectations.
RELEASING OUR EXPECTATIONS
As vivid an example as I had in Mom, it took heart failure to tutor me firsthand on releasing expectations. I’m still struggling to apply the lessons to losses I’ve suffered since:
- I’ve learned I can release my expectations into the hands of a God who cares, but often doesn’t give me what I want.
- I’ve learned that when I don’t understand, I can still trust in His Sovereignty. That doesn’t make me a hypocrite or shallow or irrational. It makes me human. It makes me a believer.
- I’ve learned I can lay His past faithfulness over the places I still don’t have answers. Because He never promised to be a God of the expected.
- I’ve learned I can lament that to be in this world is to have precious little control over my life.
- I’ve learned that faith cannot cure a body from being human, and I should stop expecting it to.
- I’ve learned that if my life could be predicted by mathematical models and scientific projections, I wouldn’t need Him. And the intimacy of prayer would be meaningless.
- I’ve learned this is a God who doesn’t want to be explained away, but rather, invited in.
My presence will go with you. Exodus 33:14
THE SILENT TREATMENT
As my body reminds me daily, I am much closer to the end of this journey than I am the beginning, and most days I still have more questions than answers. But I keep asking. The Israelites learned, too, the key is to never stop talking to Him along the way, even when that communication sounds more like grumbles and complaints.
Even when all we can do is ask why.
Shivering next to Mom’s casket, I glanced at Dad’s grave with fresh dirt still on top. With no one in attendance due to COVID, I wanted to give God the silent treatment. This God I had known so long refused to be who I thought I needed: a wish-granter, a people-pleaser, a God of the expected.
But just as with my parents in high school, I couldn’t pull off the silent treatment to God for long.
Our love had too much history.
Moses and his people were living on the other side of the Resurrection. We are blessed to already know the end of the Big Story. We just don’t know how our individual chapter will unfold, though we expect certain things by reading everyone else’s chapter. And as last Easter weekend reminded us, even when our human expectations are crushed and our worst fears our realized, it is not the end in God’s narrative.As Easter weekend reminded us, even when our human expectations are crushed and our worst fears our realized, it is not the end in God’s narrative. Click To Tweet
Mom signed a DNR and told my brother the day she died she was ready whenever that time came. I don’t think she was expecting it so soon either.
Following the service, our family stood at Mom’s grave longer than we should have in those icy conditions. We couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her alone in the frozen ground. Somewhere she’d never leave any of us.
But as I climbed into the warm car, I realized she wasn’t alone.
And I knew she never expected to be.