This week, with one phone call, I brought to a close a four year season in the life of our family. Some decisions are difficult, and this was one of them. My husband and I both knew it was the right decision, but sometimes knowing and having peace about a decision doesn’t take away all of the sadness that comes with it. A door has been closed that may never be reopened, and I am left grieving.
I am grieving many aspects of this closure, but the greatest is my own unmet expectations. I believed wholeheartedly that I would see a result that has not come to fruition. I am helpless to make it happen by my own willpower. Only God can see it through, and He will one day if He so chooses. Only now, it will not come in the way that I expected.
Grief has many faces. As a counselor, I have supported people experiencing many different forms of grief: grieving love ones who have died, grieving broken marriages, grieving their own poor choices, or grieving hard transitions in life. Grief is a normal reaction to loss, and losses are a constant part of life here on planet Earth. Some losses are unfathomably painful, such as the loss of a loved one. Some are common and expected, such as the loss of childhood that accompanies graduating from high school.
A dead end? Or a pillar of cloud to lead us out of the wilderness?
One rarely discussed form of grief is that of unmet expectations: grieving the life you thought you’d have. Maybe your health has taken a turn for the worse, and your future looks less active and more painful than you envisioned. Maybe you have a special needs child, and parenting is much more complicated than you ever imagined. Maybe you have experienced divorce or widowhood, and singleness was never in your plan. Maybe you struggle with infertility, and it’s too difficult to go to baby showers and show support while your womb remains empty.
These losses are valid and completely worth grieving. In fact, if we cannot grieve them, we may find the repressed feelings becoming a wellspring of stress, a root of bitterness, or a blanket of depression which isolates and keeps us distanced from others.
There is so much beauty in the Gospel: salvation, rebirth, renewal, forgiveness, and growth. However, before the new can come, the old must be buried, which is often accompanied by mourning. Jesus died, was buried, and then raised to life, which in turn gave us new life. Jesus said:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12:24-25 ESV
Romans 5:5 ESV
For believers, the incredibly hopeful thing about grieving expectations is that we’re not just laying something to rest. We’re exchanging it for something better. Our loving Father has a plan much greater than you or I can know. So, when we grieve what we so desperately wanted, but did not receive, we can look ahead with hope for what is coming. It may still be on the horizon. If not, eternity is the final destination, and we will lack for absolutely nothing there. We will not be lonely. Our health will be phenomenal. We will be radiant. Then, we will have new perspective and will be incredibly grateful that the Lord exchanged our paltry plans for His own.
So, I will grieve my own vision and expectation and place it in the hand of the Father, where He will exchange it for His plan.
Pause: Take a deep breath and quiet your soul. Read Romans 5:3-5. In this passage, Paul begins writing about suffering and ends with hope. How does this spiritual progression work?
Renew: Take stock of your own life. Is there an area in your life where there is an unmet expectation or a recent loss that you need to grieve? If so, give yourself permission to grieve. Cry, journal, pray, talk to a trusted friend, family member, or counselor, and work through it.
Next: Reflect this week about times that the Lord has exchanged your own plans for His. How did it work out? What did you learn in the process?
May the God of All Comfort embrace you and fill you with hope for the future!
Pause, Renew, Next!