When I was newly engaged, my fiancé sent me a gorgeous bouquet of red roses to my office. All my female coworkers oohed and aahed over them, but then the tone turned cynical as they warned me to enjoy the romance while it lasted. Every single one of them told me that they couldn’t remember the last time their husband sent them flowers and that the romance in their marriages had long ago died.
As my relationship with Aaron moved forward into marriage, I remembered the women’s advice and couldn’t imagine I’d end up in the same boat. After all, Aaron was SUCH a romantic!! This was the man who surprised me in the middle of our wedding with a song he had written just for the occasion! It was so beautiful I heard sobs during his serenade—from a groomsman! He even secretly recorded it onto CDs beforehand to give the guests as favors, and we danced to it at our reception. I couldn’t imagine a day when Aaron wouldn’t surprise me with flowers or a fun date night or even a dreamy getaway!
But you know what? Those women were right—here I am many years later, and I can’t remember the last time Aaron sent me flowers.
I think about those expectations of romance I had as a young bride. I thought that roses or a poem or a fancy date were evidence of true love. And perhaps they were at that point in our relationship. What I didn’t understand was that as love deepens and life changes, love reveals itself in different, more meaningful ways. Maybe I don’t remember when Aaron last sent flowers, but for the last 5 years, Aaron has worked two jobs so that I could stay home with our children. He has worked 6 days a week, never complaining, always praising God for his provision even though I know he is weary much of the time. And despite that weariness, he insists on putting our babies to bed every. single. night. He brushes their teeth and gives them their asthma medicine. He puts their pajamas on and makes sure they’ve gone potty. He tells them the gospel story and prays with them, and then he cuddles them and smooches them and tucks them in. And that to me is worth more than all the flowers in the world. When Aaron comes out of the nursery, a tired smile on his face, chuckling over something one of our babies said—that is worth more than all the roses in the world. I could go on about all of the ways he selflessly loves me. The beauty of Aaron’s love overwhelms even the most exquisite rose.
I laugh that I once thought red roses were so important, the pinnacle of love. I didn’t understand what love really is—sacrifice and selflessness, compassion and kindness, forgiveness and commitment. Roses fit in there somewhere, I’m sure, but they’re at the bottom of my list these days.
Oh, how expectations can damage relationships! Just this past Christmas, I had asked for a new FitBit; my old one was on its way out, and I was eager to upgrade. So I was surprised when Aaron didn’t ask me what kind I wanted or anything. On Christmas morning, none of my gifts matched the description of a FitBit box. Hmmm. I opened a gift from Aaron—a cordless phone charger, which was very cool—but then all that was left to open was my gift from my sweet little boy. Every Christmas and birthday, Von wants to shop for me at my favorite downtown shop, Terra Verde. This Christmas was no different, and it turned out that when Aaron took him, Von picked out such a sweet and perfect gift that Aaron couldn’t say no, and he allowed our 5-year old to spend the rest of his Christmas budget!
I looked at this necklace, such an extravagant gift, and I looked at my little boy’s happy face, so eager to please his mama, and I looked at my husband, grinning at the entire situation. Part of me wanted to hold onto my expectations, but by God’s grace I realized that Aaron saw a bigger picture: an opportunity to enable his son to love his mama lavishly, an opportunity to give his wife a gift of beauty that overshadowed a silly FitBit, an opportunity to be an example to his son of generosity. My petty expectations paled and my heart filled with gratitude. I will have this necklace long after any FitBit, and I will treasure it all my days as I cherish the love of my boy and my husband.
In a similar way, I carry expectations of God that are not only unfair but that do his love for me a serious injustice. It reminds me of the story of Lazarus in the Gospel of John, chapter 11. Lazarus, Jesus’ dear friend, has fallen ill, but when Jesus hears the news, he doesn’t go to him; he instead stays out of town. He eventually returns, but only after Lazarus has been in the tomb for 4 days. Four days! And when he gets there, Lazarus’ sister, Martha, says to Jesus, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Later on, Lazarus’ other sister, Mary, says the same thing: Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
I can’t even imagine their disappointment. They knew that if Jesus had been there, he could have healed their brother. I picture them holding space for Lazarus in his last days, praying for Jesus to come, assuring their brother that Jesus will show up, imagining him arriving and touching Lazarus ever so gently, anticipating laughing with joy as Lazarus sits up in full health. I picture the feast Martha imagines preparing in celebration, her smiling eyes forgiving Mary’s lack of assistance in the kitchen as she tends to their brother instead. But none of those dreams—those expectations—were fulfilled. They must have been shocked that Jesus didn’t come. Devastated. They had sent word to him, surely he would come! When he finally does show up and weep with his friends, members of the community say, Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?
Oh, how we all have expectations of God and what we think he should do for us!
Jesus does in fact have plans to heal Lazarus, but in a bigger way—by raising him from the dead! As he explains to his disciples, it is an occasion to show God’s glory by glorifying God’s Son (v 4). We can only speculate the crowd’s response, except as Jesus is raising Lazarus, he prays that they will believe that God has indeed sent Jesus. Surely many believed that day, and those who already believed had deepened faith that day. Faith that was deepened in incredible, profound ways!
I imagine Mary, Martha, and Lazarus sitting around the fire telling and retelling this story into their old age, Mary and Martha laughing as they remember what they said to Jesus: Remember when I said to him, If only you had been here?! I was so mad at him! If only I had known his glorious plans! The big ways he was going to love us, how he was going to draw so many to him! I held him to my expectations, and yet my expectations were so small!
I find myself holding God to my expectations so often. I make demands and hold onto what I think is the best gift God could give me without considering that he could have something so much sweeter, lavisher, glorious in mind. And then when I don’t get what I think I want, I get angry. Ugh. When has God ever let me down? When has he ever failed me or any of his children? When has he ever done anything that was outside of beauty, faithfulness, or compassion? Never. My faith is so small.
The verse I’ve chosen to meditate on this year is Psalm 37:3:
I love this idea of befriending faithfulness, but I love that before that are the instructions to trust and dwell. In fact, this Psalm is full of similar commands: delight, commit, trust, be still, fret not, wait, behold, and of course, befriend. Nowhere does it say to cling to expectations or make demands. Instead, they’re all quiet acts of the heart that move toward believing that God loves me, that God has something bigger in mind—bigger than my petty expectations. Bigger than Mary and Martha’s hopes, too! Just as Jesus blew their expectations out of the water, I can trust that he will blow mine out of the water, too. Maybe not right now, but the time will come, and it will be perfect. He won’t just put a bandaid on my brokenness and heal me in the limited ways I can comprehend—he will restore me fully, redeeming my pain and making it come undone. Will I trust his love? Will I walk in his grace? Will you join me in this journey of faith?