There is messiness here. It’s in the unknown, the deep, and the meaningful. It’s unavoidable. But sometimes, I think I can get around it by controlling and perfecting. By studying like ham so the variable of failing isn’t an option. I think that if I could just eat healthy and sleep well every single day, I will never feel tired. And we all know by now that through trying to do that, we are putting our lives a box. We may take the unknown out of the box, but when we do so, we also take the “real” out of “real life.” Vulnerability is messy, but so necessary. And one of the ways we avoid it is by trying to perfect things.
I have not been stressed lately. It’s weird. I’ve never heard myself say that. Finals are next week. Everyone else at this school is drowning right now. I mean my circumstances aren’t much better, but I guess things just haven’t been getting to me. My bike chain split in half while riding to class today. I have a midterm tomorrow on material that is so weird. I had a presentation for my dance final today. I have to memorize over 500 morphemes for my classics final. But I’m not feeling the weight of anything. I’m going into these finals with really solid grades, and I just have to keep them. I feel like the hard work has been done already, especially for my chemistry class. But I also just know that everything that is supposed to get done will get done, and that the best I can do is enough. Maybe I’ve been feeling so at peace because the weather here has become so nice. Maybe it’s because reviewing a practice exam outside in the grass under the night sky and seeing everyone freak out over the giant turkey blocking the entrance to their dorm made me laugh so hard and forget about everything.
Or maybe it’s because I actually have grown in this mindfulness thing. And this school thing. I think I finally figured something out.
2 weeks ago I was doing my 2-practice-tests-a-day-for-a-week ritual for my chemistry midterm. I was on practice test #6 in the ministry house when Michael, one of the staff leaders came to see what I was doing.
“What are you up to?” He asked me.
“Drawing 3-D orbital structures! Wanna see?” I showed him the pile of practice tests I had already taken.
“You know, you’re really doing the right thing here by studying like this. Because when you study like this, the studying is the hardest part. On test day you’ll just be chilling.”
“But sometimes you study like this and still fail,” I said, laughing.
He nodded slowly and said, “Yeah, you’ll have some of those sometimes. But the point is, you’re doing everything you can.” He gave me a thoughtful nod and then patted my shoulder.
Doing everything you can.
You can’t perfect everything. The equations won’t always add up. Sometimes your self-care game will be strong and anxiety will still knock the wind out of you. You can spend time with God every day and have a day or so in between where He feels so distant. You can be fighting for your peace and not feel it. That is the messy. In those times, there is beauty. It doesn’t mean you screwed up somewhere or that something is wrong with you. It just means the life you’re living is real. Real, vulnerable, and beautiful. But there is an expectation that if we do everything right, everything in life will go right as well.
And that is exactly what the problem is. I have an expectation for my performance. It’s high. I want my life to be this box wrapped with a ribbon of perfect grades, healing, and restoration in my life and the lives of those around me. And yet God’s way of growing my faith is by disappointing my expectations.
That’s weird, right? We always talk about the God who meets and exceeds are expectations. We talk about the God of abundance, healing, and breakthrough. We talk about the God that’s promised us peace and life everlasting, a God that will overflow our cup and give us more than we could ever imagine.
But what if God is still doing everything He promised to do? Have you ever thought God was gonna do something? That’s exactly what the problem is. We are living in the prison of our expectations. We are living in the prison of our plans. We are living in the prison of what we thought God would do or should do or is supposed to do. We spend so much time wondering if God is good because something didn’t go as planned. There are some things in our lives that we are trying to figure out right now, and that’s a prison. Because what if he is able to do so much more than we could immeasurably imagine?
What if God doesn’t meet our expectations because he wants to exceed them?
So the way He grows my faith is usually to disappoint my expectations.
Because God is trying to deliver us from what we thought He was. He needs to, because He is just so much more than that.
We think He is going to come through in a certain way, so we become disappointed. What if God is still working behind the scenes in ways that are just so extravagant but we can’t see them because our heads are too wrapped up in what we thought He was gonna do? His plan is so much better than what we thought. His purpose is so much bigger than what we hoped for.
We need our faith to rest not in who we thought God was, but what He is. We spend so much time in our minds trying to figure out whether God is good or trying to figure out whether life makes sense. But that’s a prison. We can’t figure it out that way. We can’t figure it out by trying to figure it out with our human brains. It’s going to take faith. It’s going to take something greater than us. It’s going to take a really, really big God.
And we’re gonna have to decide whether we are going to interpret Him through the lense of our expectations, or set our expectations on the basis of who He is. God uses our disappointment to develop our character. The devil uses our disappointment to destroy us. It’s what we do with that disappointment that matters.
I’ve been disappointed by the way things work out. I go to a giant college that’s trying to weed out all the pre-meds and science majors. I’ve wondered if it’s always going to be as brutal as last quarter. I’ve wondered if I’m going to have to live with anxiety forever.
But everything that God has promised is still a promise. I can attest to His deliverance. I can tell you countless stories of His goodness. Just read through some of my older posts if you need proof that He is good. It’s just different from what I thought. And as long as I am trapped in the prison of what I thought, I can’t accept what God is doing right now. My expectation is not that my faith will make everything pleasant, but that God is here and is fighting these battles. That there is a greater purpose and a greater meaning behind everything.
Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Part of that freedom is the freedom from what you thought getting set free was supposed to look like. Because let me tell you what I wanted being set free to look like: magic. Magic is my close-minded, one-dimensional expectation of what God is supposed to be. Of course I was disappointed when I didn’t get magically cured from all my life’s struggles.
But now that I’m at this point in my life where there are still plenty of waves around me and I have found so much peace and rest, I can tell you that God was immeasurably more than magic. That thing that allowed me to fall seven times and stand up eight, that was God. That thing that gives me the strength day in and day out to study my face off, that’s God. The grace I received in every fallout, that was God.
And He’s been telling me that there were things I would never perceive. He’s been saying, “All the people who text you when they don’t understand math homework, that is me. The girl you met in the laundry room who was stuck on that practice exam you spent hours figuring out, and getting to walk her through how you did it, that was me. The girl you studied with last night who thinks she’s going to fail chem for the second time, that is me. That is me working through you to the people in all of your classes.” I might be pissed at God if she doesn’t pass now because it makes me so angry to see how hard people work and how it doesn’t work out. And that is exactly my flaw. I need to drop my rules for how this world is supposed to work and embrace the work God is doing in my life right now.
He is healing me in ways that are not what I thought. Goodness and mercy will follow me throughout all the days of my life, but it might be in a way that I have not anticipated.
My friend gave me a word a few weeks ago.
“I see you walking around with these chains on you dragging you down. And you have gotten so used to them that you are now okay with the fact that you will never run again and have even forgotten how. But God is telling you that running is exactly what you need, so to do that you need to shed off those chains that you have been so accustomed to and run. He wants this for you because it is good to run and live in that freedom that He has called us to know and love.”
When I first received this, I was angry. I was tired of hearing that I could truly become set free. I was tired of wrestling with Him.
But God has been saying, “No. I want you to wrestle with me. I don’t want you to put me in a box. I don’t want you to be stuck with your small view of me.”
I want the box wrapped with a ribbon. But God’s perspective is on eternity.
“There are things that you are going through that make no sense. I didn’t cause all of them, but I can promise you that I am using all of them.”
So forget what you thought He was supposed to do. Take God out of the box. Forget what you wish your life looked like. God’s agenda will always involve a piece of mystery. You won’t be able to figure it out. He is doing something in your life right now. And all you’re supposed to do is partner with Him in the best of your ability in openness to it. You don’t have to do anything. You just have to be. Be present, not perfect. Be loved, and be where you are. And trust that you are exactly where you are supposed to be.