“I find my life is a lot easier the lower I keep my expectations.” ― Bill Watterson
Few days were as disappointing to me as the day Bill Watterson stopped drawing “Calvin and Hobbes.” My favorite comic strip since “Bloom County”, Calvin and his tiger were my weekly fix for humor and alternative viewpoints on life. I guess I expected Calvin to always be there. I grieved for weeks. I was angry for months.
Expectations. Like in any relationship (and in life in general), it is the expectations we hold that are the snares that capture us. If our expectations are not appropriate to the circumstances, disappointment and emotional disruption are bound to follow. Many Christians struggle in getting past their expectations in the God-relationship, and experience as a result a “roller-coaster” spiritual life. Here are two such expectations that may resonate with you (or not).
Happiness. Happiness is a circumstantial emotion. If things go as planned, we tend to be happy, and if things do not, we are not. Because our culture is driven by the pursuit of happiness (thanks in part to the Declaration of Independence), we have come to expect happiness as a kind of God-given right. If God really loves us, should we not be happy?
Happiness is not even much of a concept in the Bible, I think because our God has a better gift for us. This is a key point: when our God does not give us what we want, it is because He has something better in mind. We struggle often with this because we do not have faith to trust Him and are instant in our demand for gratification.
What our God has for us instead of situational happiness and instant gratification is spiritual joy. Joy is not circumstantial. It is present often despite difficult circumstances because it is not dependent upon circumstances. Joy is ours when we experience intimacy with our God.
Here is found the hard shift we must all make: to lay aside seeking happiness from our God and commit to seeking our God. Period. After all, do we want only the gifts He can give us, or do we want the Giver above all? Most want only the gifts, and too many churches are all too happy to feed that desire. Happiness is always short-lived. Joy is durable even in hardship. We must not focus on or expect happiness, and not even joy for that matter. We should focus on our God, and our intimacy with Him. When He becomes our focus, not His gifts or our feelings, He will not disappoint.
Doing. We have been conditioned to quantify our relationship with our God by what we do and to expect that by doing we should be rewarded with appropriate feelings (happiness or even joy). This is religious thinking, but not Christian thinking. If we are expecting that by doing we will find spiritual satisfaction (happiness or joy), we are setting ourselves up for trouble. When the doing is over, we slip back to our baseline emotional state. An emotional state which our God wants to heal in all of us, by the way. But He cannot heal it if we keep feeding it with our expectations, with our incessant doing.
Christianity in its pure form is not about “ya gotta keep dancing.” This is a kind of “Coke Machine” view of God, in which if we do the right things in the right quantities, what we want will come out of the machine. True Christianity is not about getting from our God. It is about being still and learning to lean upon our God, rest in Him, wait patiently on Him and for Him, to love Him more than anything else. That does not mean we do nothing in response to Him. It means that the deepest expressions of our faith and love for our God are not quantified in our performance but are qualified in the depth of our love and intimacy with Him. Our “doing” is the result of those deep expressions, the fruit of them. The deeper expressions, the root that produces the fruit (and the joy), is our God Himself, and our oneness, intimacy, and love with Him.
We were given the Holy Spirit to live in us so that we could have intimacy with Him, not so we could be better at doing the religious dances. Doing has its place in our love for our God, but it is second place at best, not first place. Our doing must become an expression of our love for Him. When we truly love someone, there is nothing we would not do for that person, fervently and eagerly, and we would find joy in the doing. If we do not love that person, our doing will be from inferior motives at best. Love, not doing or religiosity, is the answer.
Photo Credit: Calvin and Hobbes, the Last Comic Strip by Bill Watterson