“I did not sign up for this,” I muttered as I cleaned the puddle and scrubbed the tile under the kitty litter box with bleach.
I remember the day, 13 years ago now, when our cat Mowgli came crashing out of the woods and into our arms while we were walking through the Michigan countryside. She was a meowling ball of brown and black fur, a young skinny stray who had apparently chosen us to be her new family. Would she have made the same choice had she known we would soon be adding two dogs and two little boys to the mix? Maybe this isn’t what she signed up for either.
When we first brought our kitty home, I didn’t anticipate that one day she would grow old or that she would become cranky and cantankerous as dogs and kids threatened her territory. Instead, I expected her to stay the frisky and playful kitten that she was.
But I thought….
We bring our expectations and assumptions into nearly every situation, often not realizing they are standing by ready to smile or frown at a moment’s notice. This was certainly the case with the Jews in Jesus’ day who had been eagerly expecting the Messiah. They were looking for the One who would save them from political oppression but instead they met the One who would save their souls. Peter Enns, in his book The Bible Tells Me So, illustrates this by explaining a passage in Luke 4:
“As Luke’s story unfolds, Jesus continues to undermine expectations involving political power and Jewish identity. In his first public appearance, in a synagogue service, he claims to be the messiah, which creates quite a buzz of support—until he tells them that he will bless Gentiles and be rejected by his own kinsmen. The crowd responds by trying to throw Jesus off a cliff. Israel’s messiah isn’t supposed to say things like this.”
When was the last time you faced unmet expectations? Have you ever wallowed in sorrowful disappointment, holding the sharp and broken pieces of your life in confusion? Have you ever turned to God with your: “But I thought….”?
Living our stories with open hands
In many ways, we aren’t so different from the Jews in Jesus’ day. We expect God to act in certain ways and to look a certain way. We expect Jesus to vote like us, to like (and avoid) the same people we do. We expect blessings for our right living, and to be saved from pain and suffering.
Furthermore, we are so used to reading the same Bible stories that Jesus no longer surprises us. His miracles have become humdrum and his words sound predictable. We forget that Jesus shattered Jewish expectations of the Messiah, bringing something infinitely better than political freedom. We forget he defies our expectations too, continually breaking down the boxes we have put him in. Peter Enns goes on to warn:
“The relentless and sinful human habit of creating God to look like ourselves, and thus distorting God, is a constant problem. The choice we all need to make daily is whether we are willing to hold our narratives with an open hand and let God rewrite them when necessary.”
I love his metaphor: to hold our narratives with an open hand and let God rewrite them when necessary. It works for the big issues of faith like who God is, and it also works on the day-to-day level: we started 2020 with a set of expectations which all came crashing down around us as the year progressed.
Reflect with me
Are we willing to pry our fingers open and hold our plans, our expectations, our stories about ourselves and about God with an upturned palm? Can we trust him with the pen, to rewrite these stories so they align with his?