Expectations Cause Suffering
How do you separate what you want from what you need?
Glancing out his car window, pastor Harley Camden saw dark clouds approaching; another summer thunderstorm was on the way. Powerful gusts came in from the west, and then rain fell in waves of such volume that his windshield wipers couldn’t clear it. Motorcyclists huddled under overpasses to wait out the storm, and a number of motorists pulled over to the side of the road.
And then it was over. The rain stopped and the wind ceased. Shafts of bright sunshine broke through the clouds, causing steam to rise off the wet pavement. The traffic quickly returned to normal speed, although the danger of standing water remained, and a few people performed dangerous evasive maneuvers to dodge puddles.
Harley marveled at how people seemed to resent any disruptions of their anticipated travel plans, driving with reckless speed to regain any time they felt they had lost. He, on the other hand, had learned to modify his expectations and to anticipate that there would be disruptions of almost any trip around the metropolitan area. Clear roads were an anomaly, and he had come to see a smooth and uneventful trip as a gift rather than a right.
Harley Camden, the main character of my novel City of Peace, realized that expectations always caused suffering, whether someone expected to have clear travel lanes or a long and happy life.
Jesus knows what we need for life, and he promises that God will provide for us. He says, “ Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” (Matthew 6:26). Then he points to the lilies of the field and says, “If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully … won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith?” (verse 30).
Jesus doesn’t want us to worry about what we are going to eat, drink, or wear. God knows that we need these things, so God will provide them. But so often we want more than what we need, and we have expectations that are completely unrealistic. We want gourmet meals, sparkling drinks, and designer clothing, and we fall into the trap of thinking that such luxuries are a right, rather than a gift. We get frustrated when we cannot have everything we want, like the motorists around Harley who expected clear roads and uneventful trips.
Jesus knows that expectations cause suffering, so he shifts our focus: “Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (verse 33). When we stop worrying about getting what we want, and focus instead on God’s kingdom and righteousness, we will be given everything we really need.
Help me to focus on you, Lord, and to trust you to meet my needs. Amen.