Everyone has expectations… everyone has hopes and dreams. But what happens to our relationship with God when those expectations aren’t met and how do we give thanks in our disappointment?
My family has a running joke with my dad. Almost always when we ask him “how was it?” (it being the event or the new restaurant he tried), his response is “well, it wasn’t what I expected.” Expectations. Maybe hope is an easier word for you to relate to. What hopes/expectations have you had in your life?
Since I was a little girl, I have hoped/expected to have my own family, travel around the world, work at a job I love, the list goes on and on. If all of those things came true, it would be easy for me to be grateful. I would have received everything I had hoped for, all my expectations would be met. However, reality is often different than our expectations.
Currently, I am 25 years old, single, living at my dad’s house, unemployed and unable to travel due to health complications. Well, now what? Scripture tells me to “rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for [me]” (1 Thess. 5:16-18), but what about when my circumstances suck? What about when all my expectations haven’t been met? What about when I feel forgotten by God?
In high school, when I was the only freshman on varsity soccer, it was easy to be thankful. When I was dating the cutest, sweetest boy around, of course I could rejoice and be thankful. But what about when my mom died, suddenly and without warning? How was I supposed to rejoice and be thankful, how could that be God’s will for me? I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced the death of a loved one, but wow, it is the darkest of seasons. My mom was my best friend, of course we had our fights, but overall, we had a really good relationship. I was 17 when she died, and it felt like the floor was taken out from under me. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I could barely function as I grieved.
I had followed Christ my entire life. I had a solid relationship with him; I went to church, I read my Bible and prayed, I met with a mentor almost weekly. I was actively pursuing God. How could this happen? I did not expect this, I never thought I’d be the girl who lost her mom. Thankfully I was surrounded by close friends and family who encouraged me to not run from God, but to go to Him, giving Him all of my emotions, the good and bad. I was angry, I was hurt, I felt betrayed. I remember a couple mornings after my mom died, I told the Lord, “I can’t do this, I can’t get out of bed and keep living my life. My heart hurts too much. If you want me to keep going, you have to be the one to carry me.” I was blunt with the Lord, it was a challenge, either I give up or you carry me. And you know what? He carried me each and every single day.
Through it all, I learned God’s love in a deeper way. I experienced a closer intimacy with him as I leaned on him. So when Scripture says “rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for [me]” (1 Thess. 5:16-18), it doesn’t mean give thanks about my mom dying. It means give thanks that our God is bigger than our circumstances. Thankfulness is about perspective. Am I focused on my expectations not being met, focusing inwardly on me? Or am I focusing on God, on His promises and what He says? God never promised me an easy life, Scripture tells us there is good and evil. Death is evil, but even in death, we serve a God who is good. Scripture says God will never leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:8). Jesus himself said, “remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). My challenge to you is to remember His promises in the midst of your circumstances, whether good or bad, whether your expectations are met or not.
So let’s go back to when I told you I am 25 years old, single, living at my dad’s house, unemployed and unable to travel due to health complications. I want to unpack this part of my journey with you. When the Live Salted team asked me to share my testimony on gratitude and thankfulness, I almost told them they had the wrong girl. Thankfulness and gratitude? The past year of my life has been full of heartache, hopelessness and confusion. I’ve been so angry with the Lord, frustrated with His so called “plan” for my life. None of it makes sense to me, I seem lost in this circle of disappointment. I kept asking myself, how does gratitude play a role in the midst of all this chaos?
I finally realized my answer is that gratitude is what keeps me afloat. There have been plenty of unmet expectations, circumstances in my life that have caused heartache and brokenness, but at the end of the day, I always have a reason to thank God. Psalm 13 is a beautiful example of gratitude in the midst of unmet expectation. David cries out saying, “how long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?” (Ps. 13:1) and yet he ends with “but I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation” (Ps. 13:6). Circumstances should never affect the way we worship our God, in gratitude and thankfulness.
Two years ago, I was fundraising and getting ready to be sent abroad as a missionary. I attended Bible college, I worked as a children’s pastor, as a youth administrator/pastor and finally I was ready to be sent abroad. God had given me a passion to work with Arabs, specifically Muslim Arabs in the Middle East. I admired their culture, their values and their way of life. I felt empowered to work with them and speak the truth in love about Jesus Christ. January 2017 I packed my bags and moved to the Middle East. I had committed to living there for two years, to learn the language and to partner with the churches. When I arrived in country, I instantly felt like I was home. This is what God had prepared me for, this was my calling. I was living my dream. Life in the Middle East isn’t easy, but God placed His hand of favor over me. I quickly found a place to live, roommates to live with and even close Arab friends and neighbors. I had never felt so fulfilled, so certain that I was in the exact place God wanted me. Thankfulness and gratitude poured out of me.
Then I got sick. 6 months into living abroad, my body began to fail. I took an antibiotic for a parasite and the antibiotics were like poison to my body. Instead of getting better, I got worse. I ended up dropping out of Arabic school, I lost a lot of weight, I could barely get out of bed. I paid hundreds of dollars to have every system of my body tested, the results were completely normal. I felt crazy, my body was failing me, but the doctors kept saying I was healthy. I took a food intolerance test, the results showed I was intolerant to every food ever. I started a new diet, no gluten, no grain/starch, no sugar, no caffeine/alcohol, no legumes, no fruit…basically I ate lettuce and meat. A few months into this diet I still wasn’t any better. I lost all my muscle, my joints ached (I could barely walk 10 minutes), headaches and nausea were my new normal.
Lord, this was not what I signed up for. How can I be thankful in this season when I can’t fulfill my calling, the calling you gave me. I was confused. I was hurt. I was sick and exhausted, yet this wasn’t my first trial. I knew God had been faithful in the past, so I told him, “Lord, I need you”. A friend sent me this verse, “Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord” (Ps. 27:14). Physically my body was failing me, so really I had no choice but to wait for Him. I wrote this verse down, taped it to my mirror, and read it every time I was in my bathroom. In your toughest moments, grasp onto the Lord, remember the hope we have in Him, remember that He is greater.
I ended up having to move back to the states in January of 2018, a year earlier than expected. My health was progressively declining. I felt like a failure. I had failed my mission. My health had failed me. My heart mourned as I left the Middle East, the place that had so quickly become home. I cried. I was so angry. Why hadn’t I been healed? Why did it feel like God left me? Why couldn’t I see what God was doing? Once I was back in the states, I went to doctor after doctor, trying to figure out what was wrong. They all said I was fine, but I knew something was wrong. Finally, in March, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease, chronic Lyme disease. The strand of bacteria in my body had already genetically mutated, meaning the bacteria had been in my system for years. Disease? Chronic illness? I was only 24 years old, I ate healthy, I was active and thriving, what happened?
I moved into my dad’s house because my medical bills were outrageous. I had treatment every week. I had an unexpected surgery making me unable to drive for a couple months. I wasn’t healthy to hold a job. Life was falling apart. I lost my purpose. I wasn’t a missionary. I wasn’t a student. I couldn’t do anything active. I lost my identity. All my friends and family worked, so I was home alone all day. I was lonely, depressed and searching for answers. God, where are you right now? How can I be thankful in the midst of all of this? I turned to Scripture, desperate for answers, and I read this, “therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:15-17).
When are expectations are not met, when our life looks drastically different than what we thought it would look like, fix your eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. Hindsight is always better, as I look back on my life, I see countless times the Lord has walked alongside me, carried me, held me in His arms. I’ve rebelled against Him, I’ve ignored Him, I’ve been so angry at Him, but through it all, He loves me. He still speaks to me. He doesn’t always answer the questions I ask Him, sometimes His response is, I love you. I see you. It’s not what I want to hear, I want direction, I want answers, I want healing, but I have to trust that He is who He says He is.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:4-7)
There is always something to be grateful for. Scripture isn’t saying that we have to be grateful for our circumstances, but to be thankful in the midst of our circumstances. My daily prayer is that God would heal me, heal my body, take away my disease. I pray and petition for that, but I also lift those prayers with thanksgiving. Thanking God that even in the midst of my sickness, He is with me. I may not feel well physically, but I have the hope of a future. I have the hope of eternity with my God. I am thankful for my salvation, for the simple fact that I get to be in relationship with Jesus Christ. I am thankful that the Holy Spirit is living and active, a comforter to me. I am grateful for the friends and family the Lord has given me, the community that surrounds me. I am grateful for my doctors and my therapists, that God uses these people to help with my treatment. My expectations have not been met, yet my gratitude abounds.