The Heavy Weight of Expectation 

I’ve been thinking lately about the burden and joy of expectation. This is just my thoughts as they come, so take them as you will. 😊 Feel free to comment. 

I said to my friend on the way to a fun event in London recently that I think I sometimes ruin things by setting my expectations too high. Like we are going to a gig, or it’s nearly my birthday, or I have a trip home of a holiday coming up and I get so excited and look forward to it and romanticise it so much that sometimes the real thing is a bit of a let down. I normally still enjoy the thing, but I have this thought in the back of my head that I imagined it better.  Or I am dreading it being over. 

Christmas is a classic example of this. Now don’t get me wrong I LOVE Christmas mostly because I have 2 whole weeks with my amazing family. But the build up is so long; shops have the decor in already and it’s only October, I feel like I should have got gifts already, tickets need to be booked and my the time it comes around I’m already getting sad it’s nearly over and I have to wait again. And if the food isn’t perfect, people don’t love my gifts or I’m too tired or full of cold to enjoy it as much then I feel sad. 
We have this running comment when I visit home – my mum says “You’re always going and never coming”. And I feel like it’s true. I get home and I’m counting down the days until I have to leave because the time is so precious. We’ve been looking forward to it for so long even at Christmas it doesn’t seem like long enough. Life goes so quickly and we are bombarded with things to do, things we should be doing, fun things others are doing and it’s so hard to live in the present, enjoy the moment and not get too caught up in expectation. 

I think media (social and otherwise) has a huge share in the blame for unrealistic expectations. I’ve seen a bunch of articles lately about how because of unrealistic portrayal of women in media, cyber bullying etc girls as young as 7 are feeling inadequate about how they look and feel more judged and stressed than ever before. I’m sure it’s true for guys too. It’s been said before, but social media shows the ‘highlight reel’ of someone’s life instead of the ‘behind the scenes’ and we try and aspire to that even though it’s impossible. Beauty and life bloggers 24hour stream their lives and it seems perfect and amazing and we forget it’s heavily edited, hugely subsidised by ads and only a fraction of their lives. And we get depressed because our lives seem messy and broken and flawed in comparison. 

But comparison is the thief of joy. And expectation that is unrealistic will cripple us. 

Expectation can kill relationships. Friends, boyfriends or girlfriends, new aquantances, family and even with God. When I’m getting to know someone (especially of the opposite gender) and I like them, it’s so hard not to expect too much too quickly. I can see all my own flaws, everything that’s wrong with me, all the ways in which my life in complex. But with them I want them to be perfect. I want them to never let me down, never hurt me, never mock me, never doubt me, never dislike me. I want them to never show they are “too perfect” as I feel rubbish in comparison. But I don’t want them to be judgemental, mean or odd or stupid or anything I don’t like, even though I can be all those things. I imagine it to be perfect like a Jane Austin novel ending and then I do something foolish or they say something harsh and I am crushed. I don’t want to do anything to ruin my expectation and I certainly don’t want to let down theirs so I try and do everything I can to be my best. Or better than my best. But it’s not always realistic. 

I’d rather have a beautifully flawed relationship than a flawed ‘beautiful’ one. 

Elizabeth Bennet had it right;

I guess the ‘world’ wants us to be perfect right away, to always get it right, look amazing, be hilarious, be skinny, be well educated, be a high achiever, be fearless, be flawless. And I am sure we all agree that that expectation is exhausting and it’s not achievable for anyone. 

I read the other day about a new club in LA that will only let “attractive people” in and my heart broke. So many people have so much more to offer than how they look. Or even how smart they are, how much they can do, how many achievements they have.  For me; how kind they are, how compassionate, how genuine and generous they are is far more important. 

God is perfect. He will never do the wrong thing, his grace is for all and his love never ends. But even of God we expect too much. We think that means will never allow us suffer (even though his disciples did duh). We think he will give us everything we desire even if it’s not best for us. We get disappointed in Him and start not to trust Him. But that’s the real test of our expectation. Do we trust God? Do we trust in His grace and mercy despite the pain and suffering we see or endure. Do we believe in his unending love? Or do choose sin instead of grace and wallow in the sadness? This is a question for myself and a challenge for myself too!! How much do I expect of God. I can expect Him to always love me, always forgive me and for mercies new each day. But that doesn’t mean I can expect life to be always be rosy. I can’t expect to do whatever I want with no consequence. I can’t expect to live in a fallen world and not see the suffering of humankind hating and hurting itself. 

I have been doing the 1,000 gifts since I read the book and currently on about 1700. It’s so great to remind myself to be thankful for the really small things because it helps to put things in perspective and thank God for even the things I don’t feel like being thankful for. It reminds me to be grateful in all circumstances, which helps keep my expectations slightly more real. It’s so hard though. 

I want to have realistic expectations of myself. I pray for that today. To see myself as God does but not as the picture perfect world expects me to be. 

I want to have realistic expectations of my day to day and life. I pray for that today. To know it can be beautiful and blessed and amazing but also can be tricky and hard and messy. 

I want to have realistic expectations of my family, friends and people I’m getting to know. I pray for that today. To know that people can be amazing, they can love me, surprise me, do wonderful things, but also they can make mistakes, let me down and be human. 

I want to have realistic expectations of God. I pray for that today. To know he is perfect, always good, always loving and gives grace and mercy. But that He is also Just, omniscient and omnipotent. That if life doesn’t go as planned or I feel let down by God its that my expectations were unrealistic and the world is fallen, not that God has let me down. 

I pray those things for you too today. I pray we are thankful for all the good things we have, all the love God and others have given us, and that we level our expectations but also allow ourselves to be surprised if they are exceeded. 

#goals Speak Life Over Me; Revival

Even if my 2015 and all the years before were terrible and full of mistakes, I am still enough. I am still loved. I am still precious. I need to do away with the lies that tell me otherwise. I need to let go of fears that are holding me back. Funnily enough these are some of my ‘resolutions’ or #goals for 2016.

 

 Old, Alone, Fat, Ugly, Loser, Failure, Hopeless, Under-achiever, Broke, Un-Sexy, Talentless

Not good enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough, not Christian enough, not fit enough, not impacting enough, not whole enough, not worth enough.  Not enough.  Not enough.  Not enough

 

The world is quick to bombard us with messages that we need to ‘do better’ ‘look better’ and ‘be better’.

#squadgoals #lifegoals #relationshipgoals #eyebrowgoals #baegoals #hairgoals #goals #goals #goals

 

Each and every January gyms, dating websites, slimming worlds and travel agents, beauticians, clothes shops, language DVDs, and book sellers all cash in on this idea that we need to improve, to do better and to be better, each new year.

This notion in itself is not terrible and one I strive for when making my ‘resolutions’ each year.  I like the challenge and accountability of having things to strive for.  There’s something really great about wanting to better ourselves and push ourselves, but I just think that it shouldn’t be at the cost of dismissing all we have done before, or trashing ourselves for what we have not (or worse cannot) be or achieve.

I can never be someone I am not.  There are some things I am not capable of or called to do.  And that’s ok!

 

Even if my 2015 and all the years before were terrible and full of mistakes, I am still enough.  I am still loved.  I am still precious.  I need to do away with the lies that tell me otherwise.  I need to let go of fears that are holding me back.  Funnily enough these are some of my ‘resolutions’ or #goals for 2016.

 

I have this amazing 2016 planner by Horacio Printing and it begins with a ‘Bucket List’ (Dream, Listen, Plan, Pray).  Mine looks something like this:

  • REVIVAL; Physical, Spiritual, Emotional, Financial. Healthy and debt free. 

Whilst the last couple of years I believe God has spoken to me about Hope and Fortitude (overcoming) this year I really believe He is speaking life over me- Revival.  And I need to speak life over myself, not letting the ‘not good enough’ in. 

  • Rely more on Him, less on me. (Perhaps you can relate?  Can I get an Amen!)
  • Seeing the gifts in everything.
  • Develop my creativity and broaden my reading and mind.
  • Step further into my calling.
  • Travel
  • Invest in relationships!
  • Ethical purchasing.
  • Pray for world issues.
  • Love more freely. Forgive more often.
  • Seek freedom from the past.
  • Commit to a local Church
  • Blog and share my voice.
  • Journal and pray.

 

This amazing planner goes further than just a bucket list however, in setting goals, but also big dreams and refocusing for 2016.  Not just setting resolutions, but asking what are my passions and focuses, and what distractions are getting in the way?  This has been a game changer for me.

2015-12-16 23.06.33-1

 

It asks what do I need to let go of, who do I need to forgive and what fears are holding me back, at the start of each season.

What would you answer?  I found it liberating.

 

Rather than just a bucket list, goals, or resolutions on a tick list; what matters to you?  What do you want to see God change in your life?  What are you making more time for and what can you leave behind?  What word are you speaking over your life? Are you putting on pressure to live up to standards, or are you stepping into amazing plans and purposes?

 

I read a blog at the New Year from one of my favourite authors and activists Jamie Tworkowski who founded TWLOHA.  It is amazing and you should read it all but here’s a snippet (emphasis in bold mine)…

If you’re reading this, if there’s air in your lungs, then you’re alive today tonight right now.
And who can know how long we have here…
And is it a gift? Was it ever a gift? Did that ever feel true or could that one day feel true?
Are there things to fight to live for?
Moments and people. Weddings and children and all your different dreams.
Love.
Is your life more than just your own?
And are there broken things you were made to fight to fix?
Broken families, broken friends… Injustice.
Will you move for things that matter?

Wouldn’t it be nice if change took just a moment?
Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that easy?
Midnight and we’re new. Midnight and the past erased. Midnight and we’re free.

 

 

Isn’t that beautiful?!  It had a # on Twitter #welcometomidnight and people shared what they were leaving behind in 2015 and hoped to find in 2016.

 

Reading the # made me weep as it was so uplifting.  ‘Midnight and we’re new’…

 

I want to leave behind fear, guilt and doubt.  I want to fight for justice and ‘move for the things that matter’.  That’s what it’s all about.

 

Now 2015 was filled with some incredible times, precious moments with family and friends, trips, amazing events, great books, milestones at work, crafts, fun.  But as with every year there was some heartbreak, some tough times, some lessons learnt, some days not to be repeated and some struggles to overcome.  But I want to leave some of those things in 2015, leave behind the lie I am not enough and let God speak life over me; revival.

#justicegoals #lovegoals #givinggoals #gratitudegoals #mercygoals #revivalgoals #Godgoals

Smile…

I don’t think I am getting my point across too well. But I saw the sticker and it frustrated me. I know today is World Mental Health Day yet I’m not sure how much that will be spoken of in churches tomorrow. I know that there are 27 million plus people trapped in modern day slavery, yet so many don’t know. I know the world is in turmoil, and we grapple for solutions. I know millions live in abject poverty, whilst I live a life of comfort. I know there are thousands in children in the UK in the care system without a family, and so many homes closed to them. I know there is darkness and despair. So I just think that ’Smile Jesus loves you’ doesn’t always cut in.

A few (quite rushed) thoughts on World Mental Health Day…

So yesterday I noticed in our offices a yellow ‘Smile, Jesus loves you’ sticker.  I was reminded that I used to have that as a pencil sharpener in 6th form.  Along with my pencils, pens, notebooks, badges and anything else I could get covered in Bible verses or Christian mottos, I thought it was the best thing and of course the best form of evangelism.  Little did I know that it wasn’t the sharpener, the pen or even the ‘Mix CD’ I made for my RE teacher of 2003’s Christian hits (I know!) that would really show Jesus’ love, but my actions and my story.  I learned over the years that the fact I was smiling; the fact that I have joy in my heart despite all I had been through, that I was so full of God’s grace and forgiveness that it spread across my face- that was the true evangelism.

Don’t get me wrong, those things or similar can be a really great conversation starter and they were for me in 6th form.  In my RE class especially there was a girl who was Jehovah Witness and sometimes witch and a guy who was atheist but also dabbled in dark things and my teacher who used to be a Christian, had clearly been damaged by fundamentalism, yet cried when he recounted the story of him and a friend finding a dead lamb beside the road and being overwhelmed by Jesus’ sacrifice.  The pens and bracelets and mottos helped start dialogue that continued into class and we often had huge clashes, particularly myself and the atheist as he claimed I was ‘burning through him’ with my eyes when I looked at him, and he once stared he would ‘kill me and chop me up’.  Clearly a spiritual battle was taking place.  I was a brand new Christian, likely overzealous, but utterly convicted by the transformation that had taken place in my life.  I really believed I should smile because I knew for the first time that Jesus loved me!  I thought it was a great thing to have on my pencil sharpener!

I even managed to get ‘thrown out’ of my History class for smiling too much.  I was asked why I was grinning, to which I responded that I wasn’t grinning just smiling because I was happy, and like to smile.  My teacher told me to stop, which of course meant I couldn’t and when he thought I was making fun of him asked me to leave the class.  This was rather awkward to later explain to the head of 6th form when I was sat in the common room enjoying a cup of tea instead of enjoying my History lesson.  My RE teacher a while later said that he often ‘debated’ with my history teacher about the things I said about faith.  I to this day don’t know why he took my side, as he certainly didn’t agree with me about Jesus, but it seems he agreed enough to defend me against the History teacher.  Again- a spiritual battle.

This was at a time when I still didn’t fully realise what a spiritual battle was.  I didn’t know that Satan had been trying to claim me from the moment I was born, and often so nearly did.  I didn’t know that so much of the darkness that had surrounded my life and those closest to me; anxiety, poverty, depression, feelings of worthlessness, pain, addiction, self-injury, hopelessness, and fear were all things that should not surround you- part of the backdrop of the ultimate battle of good vs evil, life vs death, eternity vs darkness.  I had now claimed life and light but that didn’t mean that the darkness did not still try to overcome.

When I was younger, I forget how old perhaps around 13 or 14, one of my favourite songs was ‘smile’ by Michael Jackson.  I used to hear the lyrics and tears would float down my cheeks.  I know it’s pretty melancholy and perhaps dramatic to say but I used to think the song was actually speaking to me; I used to think each word was telling the story of my life and that it really would one day get better somehow even though I didn’t know how.

Songs like this, the pink blossom tree that sat in the garden on our estate and the love for my siblings willed me to push against the darkness. To not give up with life.

Smile, though your heart is aching

Smile, even though it’s breaking

When there are clouds in the sky

You’ll get by… 

If you smile

With your fear and sorrow

Smile and maybe tomorrow

You’ll find that life is still worthwhile

If you just…

Light up your face with gladness

Hide every trace of sadness

Although a tear may be ever so near

That’s the time you must keep on trying

Smile, what’s the use of crying

You’ll find that life is still worthwhile

If you just…

Smile, though your heart is aching

Smile, even though it’s breaking

When there are clouds in the sky

You’ll get by…

If you smile

Through your fear and sorrow

Smile and maybe tomorrow

You’ll find that life is still worthwhile

If you just smile…

That’s the time you must keep on trying

Smile, what’s the use of crying

You’ll find that life is still worthwhile

If you just smile

I found hope, as I have said before, when I was 15 and my life changed.  I entered into a new phase, with a new family and new revelation.  I was told again and again that I was loved, valued, precious and forgiven.  Not just through words, but more often in the way I was treated.  I (like the pens and sharpeners said) was told ‘Jesus loves me’, but more importantly I was shown it in small acts of love, in edification, in forgiveness when I didn’t deserve it and in being cared for and respected.

I was learning that I didn’t need to be afraid of death, which I had so feared so deeply from a young age when my half-brother had taken his own life and I cried myself to sleep thinking of the void.  I was learning that I shouldn’t have thoughts of throwing myself from a high window or into traffic to escape the numbing pain.  I was learning that I should give my body all that it needs and deserves.  I was learning that I had something unique and beautiful to offer the world. I was learning that I had a voice.  I was learning that it shouldn’t be so hard.  I was learning that community and time with people and opening yourself up is important.  I was learning that self-destruction won’t solve anything.  I was learning how to smile, and finding so many reasons to do so!

I wish however that someone had told me more clearly, that when you become a Christian, when you know outstanding grace, love acceptance and forgiveness, that the darkness does not disappear.  I mean, I do know this.  My life had seen the darkness that the world can offer and I knew that even though I had God’s love and protection, that the darkness was still there.  I was still in the battle.  But I think that’s why I kind of hate those pencil sharpeners, bumper stickers and bracelets sometimes.  They over simplify things.  Of course Jesus loves me and of course I should smile, but, because Jesus loves me doesn’t mean I will always be smiling.  Life is more complex than that.  In my opinion it doesn’t give enough gravity to the darkness that is real.

I kind of like Job for his honesty…

Job 9:

27 If I say, ‘I will forget my complaint,
    I will change my expression, and smile,’
28 I still dread all my sufferings,
    for I know you will not hold me innocent.
29 Since I am already found guilty,
    why should I struggle in vain?
30 Even if I washed myself with soap
    and my hands with cleansing powder,
31 you would plunge me into a slime pit
    so that even my clothes would detest me.

In the novel ‘The Fault in our Stars’ which grapples with teenage cancer, the male teen’s parents have a house full of ‘encouragements’.  Little notes and pillows and signs.  Things like ‘in the darkest days the Lord put the best people in your life’.  Whilst these things are true and in the novel encouraging to his parents, it doesn’t change the fact he has cancer.  Part of me feels like those kind of encouragements sometimes take away from acknowledging the reality and the pain.  It’s a fine balance of course as we don’t want to give into the darkness or allow it to swallow us (which I naturally sometimes do), but little cute words don’t always cut it.  In the novel, *spoiler alert!* the boy dies.  His girlfriend delivers a heart-breaking eulogy in a ‘pre funeral’ for him, but when it comes to the actual funeral she says an ‘encouragement’- something twee about laughter or rainbows.  She says that funerals are not for the dead but those left behind.  I think sometimes these stickers, pencil sharpeners or notes are more encouraging to Christians than they are to everyone else.  As I said I know its true Jesus loves me and I should smile, but this is not necessarily the message the world needs to hear.  It’s not always even the message the church needs to hear.  We need the ‘pre- funeral eulogy’.  The words that speak of hurt but also hope.

Christians suffer unthinkable tragedy; death, miscarriage, loss, and pain.  Christians suffer from mental illness.  Christians go through divorce.  Christians are broken and hurt and torn apart.  We don’t need cute messages or to be told to cheer up.  We shouldn’t have to expect to smile all the time.  We do need the truth and the miracle of the Gospel.  We do need powerful prayers and Bible verses spoken over us.  And we do have access to a peace that can pass understanding and a joy that can remain in the midst of unspeakable pain.

I don’t think I am getting my point across too well.  But I saw the sticker and it frustrated me.  I know today is World Mental Health Day yet I’m not sure how much that will be spoken of in churches tomorrow.  I know that there are 27 million plus people trapped in modern day slavery, yet so many don’t know.  I know the world is in turmoil, and we grapple for solutions.  I know millions live in abject poverty, whilst I live a life of comfort. I know there are thousands in children in the UK in the care system without a family, and so many homes closed to them.  I know there is darkness and despair.  So I just think that ’Smile Jesus loves you’ doesn’t always cut in.

We have a hope, a joy, and promises of new and better tomorrows.  We have so many reasons to smile, but that needs to come from a place of people being told the truth.  Not just to smile because you’re a Christian so you should be happy.  Not just to tell someone who doesn’t know Jesus that it will all be ok of they just follow him.  Not just to tell the world that Jesus and the Church have an answer to the suffering, but to actually live it.  We need to be the hands and feet of Jesus.  We need to give people a reason to smile.  We need to feed the poor, give homes to the orphans, set people free from slavery and do all we can to spread hope.

We need to tell people why we can still find joy and are able to smile even in the depth of suffering because of the hope we have found.  I need to tell people how I have learnt to smile rather than put it on a sticker.

I am thankful now that my story and my smile can bring hope to others.  I want people to know that God is good even when life isn’t.  I want them to see that it can get better, that life can turn around.  I want them to believe that people can be forces of good and miracles can happen.  I believe my life is a miracle.  I believe there are so many reasons to face tomorrow with a smile.  I know it can be hard and seem hopeless and hurt.  I know that having Jesus in your life doesn’t magically change that.  But salvation is, being delivered from dire situations or harm.  I know now this doesn’t mean we won’t get hurt.  I know it doesn’t mean we won’t face terrible situations and see unthinkable things.  But it does mean that we will survive them, we will get through, and we have hope and a future.  In the end of the story Jesus wins.  Love wins.  Hope wins.  That gives me reason to smile.  I hope it does you too.

“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing'” -Mother Theresa

If you are suffering or struggling there is hope and there are places you can get help and people who can help you.  you are not alone…