March 31, 2020

Great Expectations


“And now, Lord, for what do I wait?
My hope is in Thee.” — Psalm 39:7

For some, the time after Christmas is somber and blue – the crash after peaking expectations plummet into a disillusionment of dashed hopes and disappointments. In years past, I reveled in the post-Christmas quiet. The exhaustion of hosting large family gatherings through the holidays made the lull afterwards a welcome respite.

This year I found myself in the somber and blue group. It was a crash all right – akin to jumping off a fast-spinning merry-go-round of work, writing, months of houseguests, and sorrowfully watching as loved ones suffered through illness, grief and towering problems. Definitely, a few hopes dashed.

What were the expectations that weren’t met? Nothing material or easily definable. I didn’t look for more money or better health or world peace. I didn’t even have major expectations from the people in my life. I knew better than to think, If only so-and-so would change in this way or that, I’d be a happier person. No unreasonable expectations there. I put the whole burden on God in 2010.

The previous year had ended with a major disappointment for me, something I reeled from for weeks. “Not to worry,” I told myself. “The new year is here. I’ll pray and soon I’ll know what to do from here.”

That has always been the beauty of a new year. Twelve months of fresh possibilities. Three hundred sixty-five days to start over and find a better outcome. Right?

January … nothing. February … nope. March, April, May, June … nada. “Lord, just talk to me. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” Silence. “I know you are there, Lord. I feel your presence. Could you just talk to me?” July and August … panic. September, October, November … desperation. December … “This love I have for you is turning me inside out. Just like the deer after water, I’m panting for you, Jesus. I know nothing else really matters, but I’m feeling so frustrated and lost.”

The last morning of December, tears mingled with the water from the shower stinging my face. “You never spoke for a whole year,” I told him. “I waited and waited and waited.”

Then it hit me. I was merely speaking out of my Martha-ness and my Moses-ness. It’s the part that acts from a strong impulse to fix whatever I perceive is wrong. Didn’t Martha boldly tell Christ to order her sister to help her in the kitchen? What about Moses? The revelation of his Hebrew roots prompted him to murder an Egyptian taskmaster when he witnessed a kinsman being abused. Both Martha’s and Moses’ motives were understandable, perhaps even laudable. At the very least they were true to their take-charge, fix-it personalities. Martha’s wait came after Jesus had been called to come when her beloved brother Lazarus fell ill. She watched helplessly as he died while Jesus lingered for days not far away at a seemingly less-important task. Moses fled civilization and an angry pharaoh and waited out the next forty years herding sheep in the desert.

Both Martha and Moses first suffered a severe disillusionment and then a season of waiting. For each it must have seemed that insults were heaped upon injury.

“Martha, I know you expect me to heal your brother. You know that I can, but I have a different plan in mind. You’ll watch him suffer a few days and then die while I hang out in another town not too far away.”

“Moses, guess what? You’re a Hebrew and the royal family you’ve been raised in is responsible for the oppression of your people. I know you want to help them, but I’m putting you on ice on the other side of the desert for a while – forty years to be exact.”

“Lisa, regarding that task I told you to do three years ago, I know you’ve been working hard at it and making headway, but now I need to rip the rug out from underneath you. You can talk to me as much as you’d like, but I won’t be saying anything about that or the dozens of others things you want to know for at least a year.”

Sigh …

Unfortunately we don’t get to see Martha’s complete character arc in Scripture. We usually visualize her as a Type A woman or even a shrill control freak, but John writes in chapter eleven, verse five of his gospel, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Why did John mention her by name and not Mary? After all, Mary was the one who seemed to have gotten the waiting part right from the beginning. I’ve taken the mental liberty of imagining that Jesus was pleased with Martha’s faith in him even if she was a bit brash. She was sure he could heal Lazarus and confused as to why he did not. Perhaps her faith made his future transformation of her possible.

How often after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection did she meditate on the times he’d gently rebuked her? I tend to think she learned the difference between waiting for God to fix something and waiting on him. He pointed out to her specifically that Mary’s act of sitting attentively in his presence was pleasing to him and good for her. Gospel accounts of these two sisters convey the full spectrum of Christ’s love and may suggest the idea that their antithetical personalities brought completion to one another. As the years passed, I’m guessing they became more alike as they became more like Jesus.

Moses is a fascinating character for several reasons. He narrowly escaped death in infancy only to be adopted into the home of the one who would have killed him. Born into a family of Hebrew slaves, he instead enjoyed a privileged, royal upbringing in Pharaoh’s family before he killed an Egyptian slave master in a fit of rage. After all that, at age forty, he found himself herding sheep in the backcountry. I can only imagine the thoughts that went through his head as he waited for God do something for his people. Maybe he concluded after year one or five or twenty-five that all that waiting was for no good reason. After a long while, God spoke to him from a bush that burned. An experience like that would tend be a touch point in one’s life.

Indeed, it seemed to launch Moses into the habit of seeking God with a passion. One impression that we have of him is that of a man who repeatedly went up on the mountain to sit in God’s presence. Clearly, the two of them were in the middle of a mission. People needed to be lead and fed. Rebellions needed to be put down. Enemies demanded to be conquered. But with only a bobble or two in the ensuing forty years, the picture of Moses is one of unhurried steadiness. He’d learned the difference between waiting for God and waiting on God. Even his march toward death had a serene quality as he went about commissioning his replacement, writing and reading aloud his historical song and then climbing a mountain once again to meet with God and die in his presence.

Perhaps it’s far-reaching to make a connection between a humble, Hebrew woman like Martha and a history-altering character like Moses. (Loose and faulty connections like that no doubt spring from my own loose and faulty connections – of the synaptic kind.) Nevertheless, Martha probably had numerous personal conversations with Jesus since she hosted him in her home on several occasions. To my way of thinking, that alone could put her on equal footing with Moses in the realm of insight. Furthermore, it may also be far-reaching to feel a kinship with these two characters since I am not an ancient Hebrew and there is nothing epic about my life – but now I do feel that connection.

I’ve had some confessing to do of late. For a year, I’ve been waiting for God to do something or to tell me what to do. Like Martha and Moses I’m not without faith in him. I have every confidence that he is able to move in ways either small or spectacular. I do not doubt his power. Also like Martha and Moses, I often think I know best how he ought to intervene. Yet, he seems fond of answering impatience and desire to be in control with a long wait. Then comes the revelation of ignorance and short sightedness followed by an oh-so-surprising outcome.

The last morning in December I took stock of the past year. It was tempting to say I did not see God move or that I accomplished little. For a small second I even imagined that he’d had me twisting in the wind just to prove that he was God and I was not. Then quietly I heard deep inside, “I sat with you all the times you came to me.”

I thought of the last 365 days and could honestly say there wasn’t one day I didn’t call his name and meet with him in prayer. That I also called to him many times each day multiplied to thousands of meetings.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Is that it? Is the one needful thing to sit in his presence? Maybe the times that seem most perplexing, difficult and without any light are the loving providences of a jealous God to draw us into a deeper intimacy with him. Father, forgive me for my blindness. I waited for your hand to move on my behalf. I waited for wisdom and revelation. I waited for a word of encouragement and direction. But I did not sit waiting just for you.

It’s all right if we sometimes don’t know what we are waiting for. It is good to not be presumptuous with God. David asked, “And now, Lord, for what do I wait?” He then answered his own question. “My hope is in Thee.” The great expectations I put on God were rightly placed and wrongly presumed. Sometimes he has no intention of doing a thing except sitting quietly with me over and over until I draw my eyes away from the whirlwind outside the tabernacle and relax fully in his presence. He is jealous for me … and also for you. He is jealous for us.

Comments

  1. Always, Lisa. You always get me.

    The balance… be vs. do. Revealed will – make disciples, love the least, follow me … vs. specific will… “Yes Lord, I want to do those things, that’s who I am in you…but how? What are my gifts? Where do I best fit? Who should I go to? How do I best steward that which you’ve given me?”

    And in the mean time, there’s that (wretched?) urgency thing. People are starving and dying and enduring hell on earth and need the healing and freedom that Jesus brings. So I better hurry up and… wait til I have it figured out?

    This is my dilemma. I’ve been getting by a day at a time, trying to do the best with the people around me and what’s in front of me, but yearning for a deeper experience of His love and power for my own soul and to give away to those who need it. Go while I wait, or wait while I go?

    Side notes: The posts this week on grace and works helped me immensely. I would love to see some IM discussions about power … how and when God moves to bring about His will and advance the Kingdom. Lisa seems to be touching on this. I just finished watching the “Furious Love” DVD (look it up, and lay the skepticism aside if it presents itself – I did and was immensely blessed/challenged) , and finished a semester in which I took a class on Divine Healing. I’m really wrestling with the “who’s” and “how’s” and “why’s” and “why not’s” of these things. But hey, that’s discipleship. Well, enough of my 3am overnight shift ranting. Thanks for provoking me and keeping me awake Lisa.

    • Sean, do you see why I say I am the wealthiest publisher in the world? I have writers like Lisa who are willing to be vulnerable with their personal lives so that you and I can have a glimpse of who God is and the mysterious ways in which he works.

      Your statement, “I’m really wrestling with the ‘who’s’ and ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s’ and ‘why not’s’ of these things–but hey, that’s discipleship’ is an essay unto itself. We (I) so often think God wants us to learn information when what he really wants is a good wrestling match. It’s when we wrestle with him that we are the closest to us, and he yearns for that closeness more than we can ever imagine.

      Next up: Damaris Zehner on the Forgotten Deadly Sin this afternoon. Now, back to work–you and me!

      • Prodigal Daughter says

        I have used the “wresting match” metaphor with discipleship too–but in the context of dialogue with other Xtians and faith matters, as well as with God. Even if one “loses” the match, one comes away stronger, with senses and skills more attuned, having learned something about themselves and others (including God). Some people don’t get it though. Conflict, pain, wrestling instead of certainty–it scares them.

        I watched Yentl a few weeks ago and what I loved about the rabbinic students in the film was their willingness to mentally wrestle with one another. Dialoguing, debating, but all with the same goal: to learn. To understand more. To know better. I wish we Xtians would tear a page out of that book and put it to use more often. That’s one of the reasons why I find this community so refreshing–most of the readers here are in that spirit.

    • Sean, thank you. “Go while I wait, or wait while I go?” You’ve encapsulated this dilemma so well.

      Thanks for the information on the DVD. I’ll check it out. A book you might be interested in is The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith. He’s a former student of and was mentored by Richard Foster. Now they teach together. The book is not so much theological as practical as it has the reader journalling thoughts throughout, wrestling if you will, over God’s grace vs. the performance mentality so many of us have.

      Also, Oswald Chamber’s words for today in My Utmost for His Highest touch this topic. “Bethel is the symbol of cummunion with God; Ai is the symbol of the world. Abraham pitched his tent between the two. The measure of the worth of our public activity for God is the private profound communion we have with Him.”

  2. I wonder if we long for God to put out his hand and move, when really He is waiting for us to hold it. (Then we can go together).

  3. Wonderful, thoughtful study.
    Must re-read and meditate on it again tonight.
    Thank you, Lisa.

  4. We must learn to stop worrying about the future and enjoy the journey of life. It’s going to be over before any of us know it.

    • And there-in lies the struggle… For me it has been a secular world with insane demands while cuting resources and sending them overseas. This has, for me, resulted in being hugely distracted over the last year. But as I am growing older I am not so intent on pleasing everyone, trying to do the best job for those who will take that effort and want more. My goal is to continue to listen, sometimes it is all right to sit quietly and not do, to understand what’s important and what is noise, to separate out what is truly urgent and what is truly someone elses desire.

      I have moved away from putting too much focus on what might be in the future, or where I want to go. There are too many things that can change that path and too much stress in trying to control what the future holds. Rather, I want to continue to focus on my family, not miss out on the little things, spend quiet time with God, and continue to reflect on how I am treating others. As I write this my phone is ringing off the hook… more expectations from an account I do not even work for anymore, more temptation for me to backslide.

      Looking over the past year I have, because of the circumstances, accomplished much – but was it of value? And in the whole scheme of things in my spiritual life did it matter and did it hinder me in those more important areas?

      I need to sit and meditate on this… as soon as I can get that blasted phone to stop ringing….

    • David Cornwell says

      Amen.

  5. What are we, potted meat? 🙂

    Perhaps God’s desire for you, in 2010 and maybe in the future, was to bring blessing to hundreds (thousands?) of wanderers through your writings on the Internet Monk website. Who knows, maybe your writing here is a good and necessary practice for what God has in store for you two, five, or ten years down the road.

    If you’re looking ahead, you’re missing the now, and the fact that many, many people are being moved toward Christ (and a more thoughtful understanding of Him) by what you are doing in Internet Monk. I hope you don’t find that truth unworthy of embrace.

    Blessings to you, Lisa!

    • Thank you so much Nina. That is truly my prayer.

      Several years ago I had a difficult circumstance that lasted for two years. For the most part I only wanted to get through it until close to the end when I began to settle down a bit and breathe. When I was finally able to look back on it, I knew it was a tremendously valuable time spiritually. “… He who began a good work in me/us will perfect it … “

  6. I wish God would come in like the sweeping hero. But He doesn’t. He got pushed to the margins in this world, just like me.

  7. On behalf of my confirmation patron, thank you for this meditation 🙂

    And a blessed Epiphany to you all!

  8. Count me in as “one” of the thousands who have been fed, touched, encouraged by Lisa’s words. Quote: “I have writers like Lisa who are willing to be vulnerable with their personal lives so that you and I can have a glimpse of who God is and the mysterious ways in which he works.” Indeed, we are all wealthy! I love hearing a woman’s voice here. It seems to me that Lisa speaks from her heart, a heart that I get, a heart that struggles & names some of my battles, and yet, Lisa still blesses the One who has called her. (Not saying that her great mind and talent isn’t behind her heart felt words…)

  9. Good words and thoughts. HIs presence is promised and I have to remember that that is real and it is enugh. And it is there even, perhaps especially, in the great silences and timesof darkness and unknowning.

    John Milton, on going blind, put it pretty well:

    When I consider how my light is spent,
    Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
    And that one talent which is death to hide
    Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
    To serve therewith my Maker, and present
    My true account, lest He returning chide;
    “Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”
    I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
    That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
    Either man’s work or His own gifts. Who best
    Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
    Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
    And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
    They also serve who only stand and wait.”

  10. Christiane says

    “Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.” Theresa of Avila

  11. This is a wonderful essay, Lisa. I like what you say about Martha. I like reading in the Gospel of John that after Lazarus died, Martha found out that Jesus was coming and she went out to meet him while Mary stayed home. She has at least three recorded conversations with Jesus. I read somewhere that the longest recorded conversation between Jesus and one person is the one he had with another woman. I believe that was with the Samaritan woman at the well. I don’t think they are referring to number of words spoken, but to the fact that they actually converse…he speaks, she speaks, etc. And the story of the woman who wanted him to heal her daughter in Matthew 15, who says that even the dogs get the crumbs, was a real back and forth conversation.

    Anyway, that’s a bit off-topic, but to keep it ON topic, I like this lecture that Henri Nouwen gave about waiting at:
    http://www.ciu.edu/resources/displaypdf.php?25

    Some qreat quotations from there are:

    “We can only really wait if what we are waiting for has already begun for us. So waiting is never a movement from nothing to something. It is always a movement from something to something more.”

    “Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening.”

    “Hope is trusting that something will be fulfilled, but fulfilled according to the promises and not just according to our wishes. Therefore, hope is always open-ended. I have found it very important in my own life to let go of my wishes and start hoping.”

  12. Wonderful words. Thanks, Lisa. I always save your posts to read later if I can’t get them right away. You certainly have a gift for expression that others, like me, appreciate as a source of encouragement. Bless you, Lisa, and may God’s answer to your desires come in wonderfully beyond all expectations.