[NOTE: I am writing this post to my college student friends tonight]
Sometimes there is a gap between your expectations and reality. When that happens, what do you place in that space? Often it depends on the quality of a relationship. What do I mean?
Let’s say that a student named Allie was taking Chemistry with Professor Smith. Allie always showed up on time to class, always took notes, always turned her assignments in on time, and was a real encouragement to all in her lab group. Later in the semester, Allie took a test and scored 58%. Yikes! Professor Smith was surprised by the results, and figured that Allie must have had something go wrong in her life to end up with such a poor performance on the test. Professor Smith approached Allie after class the next session to make sure she was doing alright and to compassionately enquire “what went wrong.” In the back of his mind, Professor Smith was trying to decide how to give Allie a second chance at taking that test.
Now, let’s say that Professor Smith had another student in his Chemistry class named Billy. Billy was often absent from lectures, but when he was there, he was late and looked disinterested. In lab, he frustrated his partners because he never seemed to be prepared or take the assignments seriously. All semester long Billy barely kept a low “C” average on all assignments. Later in the semester, Billy took a test and (amazingly) scored a 98%! Professor Smith is surprised by the results, and figured that Billy had done something illegal to make this score possible. “He must have cheated in some way,” was the Professor’s thought. Before class the next session, Dr. Smith checked video footage of his classroom to determine how Billy pulled off this academic misconduct.
Do you see what happened there? In both instances, the students (Allie and Billy) performed DIFFERENTLY on the test than was EXPECTED. But the response that Professor Smith had for each varied greatly, depending on the relationship he had with the students. For Allie (who he had a good relationship with), he gave her the benefit of the doubt, and looked for a positive explanation for why the difference in performance. For Billy (who he had a bad relationship with), he expected the worst, and assumed he must have broken the rules.
Now, I am not implying that this situation above actually HAPPENED . . . after all, I think most Professors have a standard of ethics that would not allow such disparity of actions . . . but I am saying that the PRINCIPLE this story conveys is both relatable and timely.
The Principle?: What we place in the gap between our expectations and reality depends on the quality of the relationship.
Now, why do I belabor this point today. Well, all of our lives have just been scrambled. The fun spring events you thought you would be participating in right now have been cancelled. The graduation you thought you would be celebrating has been postponed. The summer internship you thought was headed your way has evaporated. The camp you were going to volunteer at this summer is no more. The semester you hope to return to in the fall is shrouded in a cloud of uncertainty. Let’s face it . . . right now . . . for all of us . . . there is a big gap between our expectations and our reality. So, what are you filling it with?
I don’t mean what are you filling the TIME with . . . i.e. what XBox game you are playing, or which show are you streaming on Netflix . . . I mean spiritually. How are you and God dealing with this moment together? My guess is, it depends on the nature of your relationship with Him.
If your relationship with God entered March 2020 going well . . . my guess is you are leaning on His Sovereignty right now, looking for how He will “work all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).”
If your relationship with God entered March 2020 somewhat rocky, or non-existent . . . if you are thinking about God at all at this time — you are wondering “where He is” or “if He cares”?
What we fill the gap between our expectations and our reality says a lot about our relationship with God.
BUT . . . I want to add three levels of nuance to this conversation.
#1: Though the two caricatures of responses listed above may be where we end up . . . it has been my experience (both personally and biblically) that most people will spend at least some time asking hard questions when life falls apart. The disciples in the boat on the Sea of Galilee wake Jesus in the storm and ask Him if He cares (Mark 4:35-41). The Psalmist wonders aloud in Psalm 73 why the Lord is allowing evil to win. Even Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane asked for His preference of having the “cup” pass (Matthew 26:36-46). When we feel the pain of unmet expectations, we ALL struggle. The difference is not what we initially FEEL . . . or even initially SAY . . . but in where we ultimately DWELL. The disciples turned to Jesus and saw Him work. David meditated on heaven, and found His answer. Jesus committed to “Thy will be done” and accomplished the greatest thing in the history of creation. It is OK for us to turn to God at this time and ask Him our hard questions . . . express to Him our real emotion . . . just don’t stay there. Move beyond that emotion and choose to fill the gap between our expectation and reality with something better than just our anger.
#2: Instead of just imagining what God is like, get to know who God really is. I promise that the God who really exists is WAY BETTER than the God our minds can imagine. In this time of disappointment, open God’s Word and read about the God who never disappoints in His identity and character. He is wiser than we know, more righteous than we expected, and more loving than we deserve. Read a Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) to see what God looks like “in the flesh.” Read a Psalm a day and make a list of the different characteristics of God that you see there. Take advantage of this moment to get to know God better. As Paul says in Philippians 4:8-9, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence , if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things . . . practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Look to Him and you will find a God who loves you and offers you peace in a time of problems. You can actually strengthen your relationship with God RIGHT NOW, and that will begin to change what you are placing in the gap of your unmet expectations.
#3: Don’t try to do this alone. None of us have enough perspective on our own to see things correctly. We need others to help us. When we lack courage . . . we need friends to en-courage us. When we lack wisdom . . . we need the wise to instruct us. When we lack hope . . . we need those with perspective to remind us there is more that we cannot see. God’s plan for delivering these things to us is often through the ministry of others. We need to move toward others who can help us through the hard times. AND, we need to move toward others so that we can encourage, instruct, and admonish them as needed. We may be told to be “physically distant” but stay “socially connected” to Christ followers who can encourage you along the way. Start an accountability relationship with a friend, join a “Zoom group” Bible Study, or pray with your roommates during this time. Don’t try to go it alone.
One last thing . . . for all of us there is another gap that needs filling. It is the gap between our brokenness and God’s perfection. Jesus chose to fill that gap with His love, dying on the cross for you and me so that we might be connected to God forever . . . Praise Him for His grace!! Get to know that God of grace, and see the gap between our expectations and reality filled with His love and not just our loss. If you want to talk more about this, I’d love to dialogue about it with you.