Friday, May 23, 2014

Learning from Disappointment

This is my ninth post in a series on Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. Each post will cover one of the eleven chapters of this book on seeing God and learning how to live fully... right where you are. Each post will be tagged 05/2014 and One Thousand Gifts. All quotes in italics are from the book.

Chapter 9: Go Lower

My husband and I dated for five years before we got married. You'd think that time would have allowed us a seamless entry into married life, but as it turns out, we had (have) a lot of learning still to do. Thankfully, both of us are avid learners and in the nearly-six years since our wedding day, we have done a lot of studying, growing, changing.

One of the greatest lessons I have learned through my marriage has to do with disappointment. I have learned that for the health of my marriage, it is best if I don't view my husband as a magical mind-reader, but rather, that I practice honesty, laying out my expectations clearly. This might have to do with who takes out the trash and where to put dirty socks; it might have to do with my deepest emotional needs or some way he has hurt me. I have learned that the magnitude of my disappointment is the distance between reality and my expectations. I am brought as far down as the space between what I want and what I have or what I got. If I expected a diamond necklace for my birthday and instead got a $0.99 Walmart greeting card, I would be sorely disappointed. If I expected a sweet note and instead got that same greeting card, I would be mildly disappointed. If I am honest about my expectations ("Honey, I'd love flowers for my birthday," which is exactly what I said to my husband a month ago), then, provided those expectations are reasonable, I suffer no disappointment. My honesty prevents strife between us.

Sometimes, my expectations are unreasonable. Sometimes, my expectations would require my husband to be someone other than who he is. Those times require a healthy conversation and a strong dose of compromise. If I cannot change the situation, I can change my expectations. If we, say, can't afford that diamond necklace, I can work on my heart to change my desires. I can accept our financial limitations and be fully satisfied with a sweet card. I can change the desires of my heart, not by willing myself into a new want, but by focusing outward, not on myself and my desires, but on my marriage, on my family, on my spouse.

Chapter 9 is about humility.

When we confront the wall of our own hearts and minds, we have these two options: make our desires possible or create new desires. Either we can attain what we want -- and we will if it is possible -- or we change what we want to make it something we can have. This is the only way. Otherwise, we end up stewing and hating and coveting and pining and all of it fruitlessly so. It's that worn out serenity prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Ann says it this way...

"The quiet song of gratitude, eucharisteo, lures humility out of the shadows because to receive a gift the knees must bend humble and the hand must lie vulnerably open and the will must bow to accept whatever the Giver chooses to give."

This dance is all about humility. When I approach my husband and demand something that cannot be given, I have a choice: I can beat my chest in pride and force his hand. Or I can bow my head in humility and accept him. In my seeking God, I can either beat Him into the God I want Him to be... or I can bow before Him and graciously accept His gifts.

"Joy is a flame that glimmers only in the palm of the open and humble hand. In an open and humble palm, released and surrendered to receive, light dances, flickers happy. The moment the hand is clenched tight, fingers all pointing toward self and rights and demands, joy is snuffed out. Anger is the lid that suffocates joy until she lies limp and lifeless... The demanding of my own will is the singular force that smothers out joy -- nothing else."

This disappointment/expectation thing doesn't apply only to my marriage. It applies to my connection with God. When I lay my cards out on the table before God and show Him exactly how I want things to be, I am drawing a line in the sand. I am putting conditions on our relationship and I am asserting my will above His. The amazing thing about God is that He always seeks our good and His glory. By submitting to His will, I am actually doing myself the most good.

"Instead of filling with expectations, the joy-filled expect nothing -- and are filled!'

God has made promise after promise after promise to us. He has promised to love us, to care for us, to seek justice for us, to treasure us, to deliver to us the inheritance due His Son. Somehow, we have distorted this to mean that He promises us health and wealth and a pretty, perfect life. We expect these things. We expect our lives to look a certain way and when they don't, we blame God. We bring Him down with our expectations and we only find disappointment. With a heart of gratitude, we can change that. With a heart of joyful, patient waiting, we can find God instead of frustration and anger.

"All these years, these angers, these hardenings, this desire to control, I had thought I had to snap the hand closed to shield joy's fragile flame from the blasts. In a storm of struggles, I had tried to control the elements, clasp the fist tight so as to protect self and happiness. But palms curled into protective fists fill with darkness. I feel that sharply, even in this... And this realization in all its full emptiness: My own wild desire to protect my joy at all costs in the exact force that kills my joy."

It strikes me, the vast pride I display when I indulge in the demanding of my way or a hearty bout of worrying. I can fret and worry over what I think will happen, but how could I possibly presume to know? How could I possibly conceive of what will be? I worry about such-and-such happening (or not happening) when in truth, God could play it out millions of different ways and I can stretch to think of two or three. My pride clutches on to those and becomes sure of the destruction that will come my way, when my reality, a fundamental part of my creation, dictates that I cannot see, cannot dictate. I must... receive.

Because we think we know, because we think we have this thing under control, we lay out the demands and we fall hard. All this shows that we have not learned how to trust. We scramble fast for what we think will fill us, what we think will bring us joy, and we fall hard in disappointment when we are not delivered, are not given what we want to build ourselves up. We have not learned to trust the God who promises us all good things and that through those things, He will gain glory. We don't see this. We turn our eyes inward and we see everything we lack. But a life of gratitude, a life of thanksgiving, a life of open receiving: that is a life that begins to build trust and, thus, begins to build joy.

"Fullness of joy is discovered only in the emptying of will. And I can empty. I can empty because counting His graces has awakened me to how He cherishes me, holds me, passionately values me. I can empty because I am full of His love. I can trust. I can let go."

God brings us to places where this is so clear. Sitting by my daughter's bedside, watching her breathe because I could not hold her, I knew I could not fix her. I could not make it better. I could not will her to live. So I prayed. "God, please protect her, but in all things, Your will be done." I never would have chosen that road; it was hard and it hurts (still hurts), especially her. But I have counted His graces. I know that He is in this place. And even then, I knew that whatever way He had this go was the best way, even if it didn't feel like it.

We can never meet joy if we continue to beat on the wall of our own desires. We cannot force God's hand. We cannot make Him into our image. But we can change our desires. God promises us this. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation." (2 Corinthians 5:17) "Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life." (Romans 6:22) We are new creations, set free from our desires and the bondage of sin. We can have new wants, a new perspective. We can adopt the attitude of grace and receive God's gifts in humility, all of them, even the ones our flesh tells us we do not want. We can accept rather than demand. We can embrace rather than fight. We can be reconciled rather than alienated. We can be brought into the arms of love instead of left cold and lonely.

"If the heights of our joy are measured by the depths of our gratitude, and gratitude is but a way of seeing, a spiritual perspective of smallness might offer a vital way of seeing especially conducive to gratitude."

A spiritual perspective of smallness. A spirit that says, "Not my will but Thy will." The humble spirit of Jesus. Jesus who says those humble, those meek, they will inherit the earth. Not the proud and the loud and the chest-beating demanders. Not the control-freaks and the power-hungry and the big, mighty strongest. The humble. The meek. They will have the earth. They will open their hands to receive -- and God will give.

Tune back in on Saturday, 5/24, for my post on Chapter 10: Empty to Fill

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