Freedom from expectations: Running to be free

I have tried to do it all.

I have tried to do it perfectly.

I have tried to wow the world, or at least just my husband.

And every time I come up short.

Expectations are probably the number one struggle in this life for most of us – our own expectations, expectations placed on us from others, floating cultural expectations, made-up expectations. You name it, someone or something expects it.

The difficult reality is that without belief we will not be able to manage all the expectation. This is Biblical fact. Goodness, it’s hard enough to manage expectation even with the hope of Christ.

Paul lays out this reality for the Galatians in Galatians 3:10-14:

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

It is so easy to run from belief in order to be free.

Belief to unbelievers often feels too much like expectation – following rules, making commitments, organized nonsense.

There is expectation in life. Yes, it’s a thing. Without belief, these expectations are my doom. The Greek word for curse in Galatians 3:10 is kataran or a curse, doomed one, due to condemnation.

The curse Paul talks about in Galatians says, yes, I will never measure up to any expectation, not a single one.

Galatians 3:11 says:

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law…

The irony is that in facing the expectations head on, in looking the law in the eye, living in belief of God, instead of closing our eyes to all the expectation and running away to hide in unbelief, if we just open our eyes, we would see the beautiful Truth of redemption:

In Christ, the law looks a lot less like expectation and a lot more like crucifixion.

Christ Jesus came into the world so that we no longer live under this curse. Those expectations? Every single one – whether they are appropriate, inappropriate, or somewhere wonky in the middle – is intended by God to remind us of freedom.

When someone puts an expectation on me, when I see, hear, or feel an expectation rising up within my soul, now, because the curse has been lifted in Christ’s crucifixion, I respond with freedom.

Freedom to live in Christ, to love in Christ, to carry out my vocations and roles honoring others, serving in His name.

Every single expectation is in my freedom.

Cooking dinner for the seventieth night in a row – freedom in Christ! I do it because I like food, and I love my family, not because I have to.

Talking nicely to someone I don’t like – freedom in Christ! My eternity is secured whether I talk nice or not, but life is better when I do.

Giving time or money – Freedom in Christ! I could keep it all, spend it all, or Ebenezer it all, but something in my heart just won’t, because God gave me people and people matter more.

It’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. Freedom doesn’t look perfect, but it doesn’t cease being freedom. I have it, whether I use it or not, feel it or not.

Today I am praying for that Spirit of Faith and Freedom in you.

…so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Let the Holy Spirit well up. Write it on your wrist, your hand, or wherever you can see it as a reminder. Every time you feel the weight of expectation, of “not enough,” say it out loud:

Freedom in Christ!

And then go about your business. Do what needs to be done in your home, your family, at school, at work, at church, in life, but knowing that curses are for unbelief, expectations are the law- pointing us straight to our freedom in Christ.

He lives! And so I do to. I live in belief, and truth in love, because that’s Him in me, that’s real freedom.

Spirit, speak freedom into our lives. May expectation only point us to Him, every time, to live free and full, and abundantly, eyes wide open, in love, in care, in giving…

Freedom in Christ!

(INSERT GRAPHIC freedom in Christ!)

Discussion questions:

What expectations get to you – at home, at work, in friendship and relationships, at church, as a citizen, anywhere?

How does freedom through Christ Jesus change expectations for the believer?

How can we help one another live in freedom in our vocations and roles, while being faithful to the Word of Truth?

 

The great conundrum – Mama life v. Work life

Casting Away Stones – Ecclesiastes 3
Week 9 – Conclusion
 
Day One: The great conundrum – Mama life v. Work life
Day Two: On having it all…finding happy
Day Three: Eternity in my heart and the “also-s” of faith
Day Four: Time management v. time stewardship
Day Five: Rising up from the dust
 
 
Heart verse:
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
                                                       1 Corinthians 13:12
 
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Day 1 – The great conundrum – Mama life v. Work life
 
Wife, mother, daughter, deaconess, friend, pastor’s wife, social worker, therapist. My many vocations, on this particular day were getting the best of me. I dropped my kids off at school and drove down the highway struggling with what was most important. Where was the balance? How do other women magically find it?
 
My oldest daughter’s parting words to me, as I kissed her goodbye at school were, “You just don’t care anymore. You’re always working. Work matters more to you.” My heart entered my stomach. I knew her words were fueled by the argument we just had, the chores she didn’t want to do, the challenge of growing into one’s own body and life at her given age. The question I always ask myself as a parent however is…Is there any truth in it? Even a morsel?
 
Am I casting aside my family, my children, my husband, those whom I love…for my work? I wanted desperately to run back to the school and hash out this conversation with my beautiful daughter. I wanted to yell back, “I’m trying my best! I love you. I love my work. I love Jesus. I’m trying to mash them all together in a life that is going to be less than perfect.” I settled for crying in my parked van, waiting for the Aldi to open. In that moment, my distorted picture said to me in flashing marquee letters that I had failed…at everything…again.
 
After walking around Aldi, putting items in my cart and praying to God for forgiveness, I sat down at the coffee shop to work on Bible study. Sisters, God is more clever than we give Him credit for. I sat down and what was my given study concept for the day? Vocation. I love how He works like that- weaving pieces of His Word into the moments of our lives. Living, breathing, and active Word.
The problem that I encountered was that most writings on vocation, Luther’s included, simply affirm any work as “working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:17). What we do gives glory to Him. Luther’s primary concern was that church work not be elevated to superstar status in the church and also that Christians find joy and contentment in their daily duties, as good gifts from the Father above.
 
This was not my problem though. I find joy in the washing of the dishes, the packing of lunches, the parenting, the wife-ing, the cooking, and in the leading, the writing, and the teaching I do for my deaconess call. Contentment in my callings was not an issue for me. Desiring to serve my neighbor, in my household and around the world, not the issue. Knowing that each and every piece of it glorified God, not the issue.Feeling like I was incapable of actually doing any of it to the best of my ability…that’s my issue.
 
Sorting what to give time to each day, in a practical sense…just plain hard. I know I’m not alone. I know many a wife and mom and worker feels paralyzed out there by a seeming inability to balance all the parts of life that work together. To find pleasure, not in just the work, but in the knowledge that they have chosen well on this earth.
 
Ecclesiastes to the rescue! Ecclesiastes 3:9-11 –
 
“What gain has the worker from his toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”
I want gain from my toil. I want success and whatever that looks like in my worldly little mind. I want my children perfectly healthy and well and happy with me. I want my work to be excessively well done and reach and touch every single life around me. I want my husband to think I’m a rockstar.
 
This, however, is not my reality. Ecclesiastes urges me to tone down my expectations. The Lord wants me to do it well, but doing it well means doing it with an eternal perspective. I am convinced that on this earth there will never be a moment where I find the perfect balance. There will be times that are more out of balance than others, and God can help me readjust, shift priorities around, but most of the time “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” means that this world feels confusing, as I try to work within the element of time. There are many tasks to do, and not enough time to do them. He has given us joy for our work, but not perfection, and for some reason I’m constantly aiming for perfection. Is it ok to settle for good instead of “success”? Yes! This is an important part of the doctrine of vocation to hash out.
 
God doesn’t say “Whatever you do, do it perfectly for the Lord, and in your amazing-ness they will see Jesus.”
 
God does say, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
 
It sounds so Ecclesiastes-ish. Do everything in Jesus name. That is our fulfillment of vocation. My children see Jesus in me far better when I seek Him in all of it…in my uncertainty, in my insecurity, in my much less than perfect, forgiveness needing self. They see Him, when I pray with them after the argument, “God help us figure all this out.”
 
If I have learned anything from Ecclesiastes, it is this…
God makes everything beautiful. It takes time. It takes struggle. There is beauty in the figuring it out. And often, there is more beauty in the middle of figuring it out, than in the solution. His name is written all over my walk of figuring it out. His name is in the journey, as much as in the eternal destination. He values the walking alongside.
 
Half of the struggle with my daughter is that we are still in the transition. I have only been doing this working mom thing for a short time, really, and we all need time to adjust, time to transition, time to talk it out. We won’t ever get it perfect. But figuring it out together- I’m gonna call that very good.
 
Father, thank you for our families. Thank you for our work. Thank you for our homes, and our fridges filled with food to cook, and our living rooms filled with things to pick up. Lord, help us to enjoy the journey in you. Help us to lay down everything before you. Guide and direct our days, let us eat the fruit of Your mercy and goodness in the joy of the everyday. Make all of our struggles beautiful in Your time. In Jesus name, Amen.

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Discussion questions:
What work in your daily life has God given you in your present season?
List some of your current vocations. Pray over 2 of them and ask God to guide you in that work.
What aspects of your life do you have the hardest time balancing currently?

 

*I asked my daughter’s permission to share this story. In no way is it intended to shame her. We are all figuring it out together! 🙂

What I know now…

It is good for a man, that he bear the yoke in his youth.

                                                                                           Lamentations 3:27

My husband just celebrated a monumental anniversary- 10 years in the parish. It may not seem that big to those outside the church work world, but for those of you in, you know – It’s exciting stuff! 

It got me thinking- what are things that would have been helpful to know on day one? It’s almost like being a new parent. Would I have even been able to listen if someone would have tried to enlighten me on the difficult stuff? For what it’s worth, though, here are some of the things I’ve discovered in this ministry life that I just wish I would have understood earlier. Things they either don’t say in Seminary or my ears just weren’t open enough to hear them.

#1 – Church hurts. 
It doesn’t always hurt, there are endless joys, but I just didn’t know that it would be so hard. There is the timeless joke that church is hard because it’s full of sinners. And this rings true! We are all sinners, so why am I surprised when someone says something hurtful, when someone criticizes my husband unnecessarily, or someone (myself included) fail to put the best perspective on it all? Ministry is a wonderful and beautiful gift from God. But let’s not fool ourselves- It’s difficult. Someone please tell us this. Shake us and tell us the reality of watching families fall apart and children become prodigals and friends walk away from church forever. It won’t scare us away from ministry, it’s part of strapping on the armor. Would I trade it in? No. Because God heals the hurting places, and unlike basic Neosporin, His healing creates something completely new and worthwhile, better than before, and this testimony in Christ will go out and reap a bounty.

#2 – Finances will always be difficult.
No one ever got into the ministry looking for the big bucks, it’s true. But when we pulled out of the seminary parking lot and into the parsonage garage, I thought that with a regular paycheck and some savings in the bank, it might at least get a little easier. Truth: money is a struggle for all people, all the time. Yes, there is contentment and I feel like we’ve gotten there (or at least closer to the “I know what it is to be in plenty and in want…”) but whether you have millions (ha!) or the small salary of covering a vacancy, stewardship always will require thought and sacrifice. Money is difficult because you care about what God thinks about it. You are constantly living in the realm of should we use a little to go out to eat or buy the little one a new pair of shoes, should we spend the fuel to visit a good friend…well, then we have less money if the youth group has that fundraiser next month. Ahhh! Constantly thinking and planning with money is exhausting and there will never be enough of it because our sinful flesh always craves just a little bit more. I am glad I finally understand that there isn’t a magic amount in a paycheck when it just all gets better and contentment comes. It’s time to lay it before God, ask Him to help our churches be faithful to their pastors and help us to be content in each circumstance and help us find answers to the difficult times. He is faithful when people are not. 

#3 – When people don’t choose church, their not choosing between something else and you…they’re choosing between something else and God.
Ok, hear me out- it’s not that when someone misses a Sunday they’ve gone heathen and we’re all judge-y about that. Nope! But it does hurt when a visitor comes and they pick the church down the street, or you invite someone to Bible study for the fourth time and they have too much going on to do it. This is a weird church worker family emotion, that I’m not sure others understand. It’s personal. We have to work to not take it personally, because even in this, it’s about God, it’s not about us. People have to make all kinds of decisions and it’s not the preaching or the programs or the anything that people come to church for, in the end. It’s about Jesus. It’s between them and God. Maybe God has a ministry plan for them in this other choice, maybe they’re ignoring His still, small voice to get involved in a Bible study…who knows, God knows. We invite and we love, He fills the gaps when people disappoint. Know that He thinks highly of you. You are complete enough for Him in Christ, it’s not personal.

#4 – You will need someone to spiritually care for you.
As much as we wish God gave us superhero powers when we entered this church work life as a family, He didn’t. (Well, He gave us the Spirit, so that’s arguable…but you get the point.) We need spiritual care, just like the next guy. And for us, it’s not as easy as showing up and sitting in a pew on Sunday. How many of you feel like a single parent on Sunday mornings? I get the sermon recap at lunch, so that helps. Our husbands are our rocks, but they can not be everything to us at all times. And there is a weird and wonderful and complicated dynamic involved with sleeping with the pastor. This is personal opinion here, not Biblical truth, but I believe we need to seek spiritual care in other places also. Who else do you have in your life that can fill you spiritually? Maybe for you it’s not a person, but your own quiet time with the Word in the evening, or you have a spiritual mentor from your home church, or someone you know that lifts you up in prayer regularly. I have a women’s Bible study that meets every Wednesday. I can share my real self there. I don’t have to hide. I am filled weekly. I have a tiny group of gals from college that I talk to every day in a little chat group. I get a text from my friend, Sarah, that says “What’s your day look like today? I’m praying for you.” almost every morning. These people fill the Spiritual places deep in my heart and my husband helps them to overflow. 

So- would I have listened had someone shared these jewels early on? I hope! But who knows. When we are young, whether in age or experience, we feel like we kind of know. We almost need to be in it to experience the yoke and lift it before the One who can make it something beautiful. 

I pray for ministry wives every day. What would you add to this list? What wisdom can we glean from you, sister? May those yokes of “youth” be a blessing to you eventually. May you always be filled with the Truth and Knowledge of the One who trades us His yoke, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light. 

This is us, feeling youth-filled 🙂