Kids all over the world play make-believe, pretending that they know how to fight fires or shoot bad guys or discover buried treasure. I put myself into anything that I read in books or saw in movies. There were quests to complete, rare elixirs to obtain, princesses to rescue. It was cool until about halfway through elementary school. But for those of us who didn’t play football or street hockey very well, we had to continue this childhood hobby much further into our lives.
Then came adolescence. Many young men and women probably carried their day-dreams and fantasies seamlessly into the hellish experiences of puberty. For some, they might have considered it the only way to endure those awful days. In their heads they were attractive, or brave, or loved, or cool. They could smack the jukebox with their open palm and play the hit parade. They could get a room full of people to orbit around them like metal shavings and a magnetic pole.
I had come to believe that life in my head was as real as, well, reality. So when I started a band at the age of twelve, nothing sounded better than our version of Ramones and Toadies songs. It may have been barely listenable. But in my head, we were hot stuff. No question. We’d play the hippest parties and girls would finally like me. Which leads to another disparity between life in my head and life in the real world. When I met a pretty girl, I’d have figured out the rest of my life with her before I even knew her last name. But why was that important if we were going to get married anyway? Her last name would eventually be Kallman, right?
This used to happen all of the time. Now, I try to remind myself of all the times fantasy and reality didn’t resemble each other. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever have happy endings to stories, but it keeps my expectations in check. Besides, thinking about all the great stuff that could happen takes up so much time and brain activity that I could easily miss what I should have paid attention to at the present. Allowing my imagination to develop into expectation gives opportunity for disappointment.
My baby sister graduated from college a few weeks ago. The school invited her to give a speech at their final chapel meeting. She spoke of a day when she walked through some woods telling God all the reasons why she felt angry. When she came to the end of her list, she realized that she wasn’t angry at all. What she mistook for anger was really disappointment. She was disappointed that her life didn’t happen the way she thought it would. Now, my sister is happy. She has good friends and her wedding is scheduled this summer. But growing up was pretty hellish for her. It could have been easier. She probably didn’t imagine those fifteen awful years. At the end of her speech, though, she spoke of how God pointed out the ways He used those hardships to make her a spiritually mature woman.
If we know that God has sovereignty in every moment of our lives, then we can still trust Him when the times are tough, keeping our eyes open for how He will use the situation to glorify Himself. And when He moves in unexpected ways, we won’t necessarily have our expectations blinding us.
I love the Jewish people. Ever since I went to Israel in 2000 to help Ukrainian Jewish refugees, serving them helped me understand the roots of my own faith. I met a man there. He would have coffee with my family and I nearly every night. One day, my parents asked him how he could know so much about Jesus, and how Jesus kept the Torah, but still not accept Him as the Messiah. What was keeping him from believing? He said, “The dead were supposed to rise when the Messiah came.” Someone replied, “But some of the dead did rise and interact with many people in Jerusalem.” He said, “Yes, but not all of the dead.”
He told us that every righteous Jew was to have risen with Messiah when He came into Jerusalem. Almost like an army following him in procession. The Jews expected the Messiah to overthrow Rome and act as a political ruler in Israel. In fact, they expected a lot of other things from the Messiah. But Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God, which had no borders or political structure as they knew. When Pilate interrogated Him, Jesus said in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”
The Jewish people didn’t see Jesus as Messiah, but as an apostate blasphemously claiming to be the Son of God because He didn’t show the signs they expected. In Matthew 12:38-40, “some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.’” This last bit refers to His death and resurrection. The Jewish people got a sign, but one they didn’t anticipate or understand.
Pilate thought Jesus was a foolish man, delusional, but not dangerous. Paul echoes both the Jewish and Gentile reactions to Jesus in 1 Corinthians 1:22-23. “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness.”
I often wonder if these expectations, how we think God should act, sometimes gets in the way of our seeing how He does and will act. If I were in Jerusalem during Jesus’s ministry, would I have known that He was the Son of God? Or would I have stuck to how I imagined the Christ would come? Even now, when God moves, am I paying attention to what He’s doing at present, or am I waiting on something that only exists in my head? Is it possible that my expectations of God have become an idol that gets in the way of my relationship with God?
I’ve said it many times. I prefer a God who surprises me. Not all the surprises are new cars or mysterious checks that cover rent. If I’m trapped in my daydreams, trying to live my fantasies (religious or otherwise) out loud, I could miss some awesome moments in my relationship with God. I want my hopes and dreams to have their proper place instead of confusing it with reality. I want to be humble enough to admit that I don’t have God figured out. If I expect something to turn out bad in a situation, I want God to prove me wrong. If I expect something good, then I want Him to do something better.