Do you ever have days or seasons when your expectations and reality just aren’t matching up? Like the time I ordered three slow-cookers online in China and expected to be able to actually use them and bless friends with them. When they arrived, I couldn’t get them out of my house quick enough. “Cheap crock-o-junk” doesn’t even start to describe the mess I had on my hands. Or, the one night we stayed in a tree house in Thailand and could hardly sleep as we feared our condition in the morning after the cat-sized mosquitoes migrating through the gaps in the floorboards had their way with us?
Perhaps, like me, you’ve settled into life overseas, and whether you want to admit it or not, you have come to expect a few things. According to your expectations, everyday life should have a certain level of comfort (at least in your own home where you’ve been able to set things up the way you like).
You can approach the culture with a level of understanding in which you feel you should be able to predict the outcome of certain situations that used to leave you bewildered. As the neighborhood has become familiar, there’s now a sense of safety in your day-to-day routine as you cross the street, get on the bus or walk down an alley. You know where to access some sort of healthcare and you’ve found a place in your community. These things, which I once saw as huge, unexpected blessings have now become normal. If I’m not careful, I can begin to live out of the demand that these expectations shall be met or else! My demands lead to a sense of entitlement and a sour attitude.
If you’d like an example from my own life, I’ll spill a few beans for you. My husband and I have been whining to each other lately about the inability to plan our lives when it comes to short-term stuff, like where to spend Christmas and when to travel this summer because “yada, yada, China, blah, blah, blah.” I’ve been waking up in the morning expecting the unexpected, but not in a good way. I’m wondering what challenge or trial is going to rear its ugly head next.
Will it be two weeks of sickness, indescribably oppressive air pollution, more visa and passport headaches, misjudgments and heartache in relationships, or an insane traffic incident involving our children? Those things all happened in the past month or so. Life isn’t always this way, but there are seasons when it just seems like too much. In these moments, instead of trusting God with each trouble, I’m on the brink of an angry tantrum in which I shout “I’m entitled to better than this!”
As I read the Christmas story this year, I’m struck by how many unexpected things happen to Mary. I mean, if I were Mary, I might have told God that society would never accept my explanation of my unexpected pregnancy, and that his plan for my life shouldn’t include the hardships I’d endure as a pregnant virgin. Oh, and don’t get me started on how I would have reacted to the news that I had to travel in DONKEY CLASS (which is probably just above “standing room only” in Chinese train terms) in my THIRD TRIMESTER!
Then, to arrive in Bethlehem and find that there’s no place to stay? Oh, how I’d rant about how ridiculous this whole census thing is and how I can’t believe pregnant people aren’t exempt and what in the world are we gonna do?? And, this is God’s plan?! To have a baby in a stable (or a cave or a barn or whatever it was), away from my family and friends without even a mid-wife to assist me? Where am I supposed to put the baby? In a manger full of HAY?!
I can just hear the bitter carol now:
“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
Are you kidding? This is where he’ll lay his sweet head?
The stars in the sky look down where he lay,
My little baby Jesus should not sleep in hay!”
I’m dumbstruck as I fully digest the outrageous, unexpected nature of all of Mary’s life from the time the angel showed up and onward. Not only was that promised Son of God born in a barn, he died a convict’s death on a cross while she looked on and had her heart broken into a million pieces–shattered into unrecognizable heap. Why? Because she chose to say “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
The theme of her life became “expect the unexpected.” But, when the unexpected happened, she didn’t become jaded about her unfulfilled dreams. She continually put her faith in God to show up in the midst of the uncertain, painful and unplanned moments, and in those moments she saw God provide for her. He blessed her with an understanding, supportive husband. He gave her the strength she needed on that trek to Bethlehem. She saw JOY in a manger and received confirmation and encouragement from angels and shepherds and foreign wise men. Later, she’d see God provide eternal life when she saw her son alive again!
The focus of Christmas is on the baby in the manger, but as a woman striving to trust God and put my own expectations and entitlement aside so that I can serve Him with all my heart and soul, I’m intrigued to find Mary there, quietly gazing at her newborn baby, treasuring God’s goodness in her heart.
How about you? Are you experiencing the Christmas story in an unexpected way this year? How does Mary’s attitude toward the unexpected challenge or encourage you?
Photo Credit : Gratisography