If someone made a movie about my life, there would be a few repeated themes: plan-making, good intentions, and clear expectations. In school, I expected to win tennis matches, please my teachers, date the guy I’d marry, and be accepted—with scholarship money—to the five colleges that received my application.
Some of that happened. Some of it didn’t.
Today those scenes of weighty expectations lean more toward anticipating my husband home at a certain time and being frustrated when he’s not (did I mention he’s a police officer, and getting home on time is practically a myth?). I get angsty when weekend plans change at the last minute. I hold out expectantly for vacations to restore me, for friendships to come effortlessly. I expect to be passionate about my next job and earn enough to enjoy a twice-weekly vanilla latte guilt-free. I expect that one day, I’ll get pregnant easily (and on my time). I hold all these things tightly in the palm of my hand, not acknowledging the inevitable gaps between my fingers until something goes awry, unscripted.
I’ve always been a bit confused by people who could so easily “go with the flow”—in small daily things, as well as in situations that especially push against the wall of personal expectations. The thread of my life—and maybe yours, too—has consistently included frustration over backed-up schedules and spontaneous reactions, the question “Why, God?” interrupting our neat itineraries of individual pursuits.
It’s probably about control. As long as we plan to the best of our ability and envision what’s next, then we feel we have some level of control. We can reasonably anticipate the outcome.
But obviously this little kingdom crumbles nearly every day. Disheartened, we turn to face God, suddenly re-aware of our grip on control, the sin of being so focused on plans that we forget to notice him in the midst of mornings and evenings unfolding in front of us (and sometimes we just turn to ice cream instead).
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he encourages the people to pursue the Lord even above their basic needs and says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness…” (Matt. 6:33 NIV). Jesus speaks to our priorities, insisting that God sees our needs and our wants and is big enough to meet them. Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrases verses 30–33 this way:
“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.”
My husband and I uprooted recently and moved to his Midwest college town for new jobs. I had five stretching months before diving into mine and held so many expectations for this free season. I wanted to write stuff that people would read and create a comfortable home. I wanted to focus on my own life’s trajectory and take a break from serving others out of obligation.
Some of that happened. Some of it didn’t.
What I did not anticipate were the questions that repeatedly confronted me during uninspired afternoons and dinnertimes, during sermons and Bible studies.
How can I give more of myself away?
How can I tend to this small piece of the kingdom I’ve been placed in?
I felt the Lord encouraging me to remove productivity and recognition from the pedestal on which I had placed them and develop a slower rhythm, with greater emphasis on loving and serving those around me. Nothing God tried to get through to me advocated for goal-setting or self-preservation like I desperately willed for myself in those five months filled with possibility.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness…”
God still calls us to seek him more fervently than immediate cures to our needs, steps toward our goals, and accomplishments for our own glory. And that leads me to ask:
It’s easy to wrap our fists so tightly around both wonderful things (passions and goals) and unhealthy things (how we can be served and rewarded) that we struggle when God wants to place something else inherently better in our hands and hearts.
Regardless of what those things might be, we begin by seeking God. It seems too simple in a world of methods and five-step programs, but that’s where he says to start.
So in the season that was supposed to be about me, I tried having unhurried thought conversations with God. I meditated on Scripture longer some mornings and felt the pulse of a created life that was meant to be enjoyed more intentionally. Stillness allowed me to see the grass turn from brown to green with each passing spring day, and I began to remember how to breathe and be without the demands to produce and be noticed for that production.
I considered small things I could do to be available for others, like listening intently to my husband and delivering breakfast to friends on a busy Saturday. Nothing revolutionary, but those actions primed my heart to lean in a little closer and notice the needs of those around me. And I think that was the purpose of this free season: to remember to loosen my grip on expectation in exchange for the joy of meeting God more clearly in the ways he offers.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.’” (Matt. 16: 24–25 NIV)
More than ever, I’m reminded that this is an over-and-over-again process. It’s a daily, maybe even hourly, call to lay down our own ideas of success for his goodness and his mission. It’s sometimes awkward, humbling, even maddening to hand these things over palms up. But we don’t want to be so busy looking in that we forget to look up and see what he’s doing.
Let’s seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.
He is worth the surrender.
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