Often those unwanted feelings of defeat can wash over us without warning. What if we learned how to change the way we see our disappointments and receive peace, instead?
I launch myself out of bed at the ever-familiar sound of a second alarm coming from the phone on my bedside table. They need me. I get the coffee started in anticipation that the glorious effects of caffeine will soon give me the kickstart I need. I can hear my two older kiddos getting ready upstairs and know I must get it together because by nature, my tongue does not deliver rainbows and butterflies early in the morning. So with grit and determination, a messy pile of hair on top of my head, and fluffy socks on my feet, I get to work.
“We will have a wonderful morning” I tell myself. I finalize lunches and prepare all of the little details they require to have a good day at school. As they come down the stairs, I can hear the bickering begin. Pure dread washes over me knowing that it’s going to be one of “those mornings.” I find myself quietly longing for the hour or so after they leave for school and before my littlest one wakes up, to just sit in solitude. To fill up and bathe in worship and God’s word, because I so desperately need that truth to function and fill my head. On my own morning-strength I am full of expectations, short on patience, overflowing with mom guilt, and usually hanging on the end of my rope. I try my hardest to make the most of the morning and let the kiddos work out their differences. I even try to turn the morning around with a smile and extra encouragement…it does no immediate good. Finally, I have to step in with correction and this particular day my words go in one little ear and out the other. The morning continues down the slope of disappointment with no shortage of sass in the air. As the bickering persists they get on the bus, one half-heartedly waves goodbye, and the other won’t even look at me. I wave and smile anyway, turning to walk back into the house even more tired than before. With each step, I am greeted by the unwelcome feeling of defeat as it slowly creeps over me.
This feeling of defeat is one I have battled all my life it seems. It comes in waves. I felt it when I was younger but am much more aware of the crippling cycle now that I’m a mother. The discouraging feeling used to successfully cause days of great depression and anxiety within me. It would physically, and emotionally wreak havoc on my life and relationships.
I once read something like, “Expectations can be a thief of peace.” As I read the words over and over, they sank in and planted a seed in me. I wish I knew who wrote those words because God has really used them thoroughly in my life and I am so grateful for that. With that phrase I began thinking: so much of the anxiety and frustration in our lives tends to happen when the expectations we put in place eventually fall through or don’t match up to the standards we have pre-set in our minds. When I am not the friend someone expects me to be, there is tension. When I am not the friend I WANT to be, there is self-disappointment. When my kids make bad choices and I expected them to know better, I question my parenting. When I have a disagreement with my husband and he doesn’t respond the way I am hoping, I grow bitter. When I start a diet and indulge a little too much, I give up.
Satan really uses the high expectations we put in place to try to destroy us and he gains leverage by wreaking havoc inside our emotions. He wants us to FEEL defeated and turn inward to self-hate, because if we turn inward on our own failing strength, he wins. All that negative self-dialogue takes up the precious time we could be spending actually filling our hearts and souls with TRUTH found in God’s word.
So what do we do once we recognize some of our expectations are harmful and causing us to feel anxious, depressed, and defeated? The seemingly obvious answer is to just lower our expectations. But that won’t give us the deeper, heart-fix we truly need. With lowered expectations, we put up walls and shut people out. We still EXPECT people will fail us, and we try to protect ourselves from that disappointment, so we disengage. Or maybe we even lash out before they can hurt us again as a means of prevention. We say to ourselves, “You are not doing what I expected you to do, but at least you won’t disappoint me anymore.” We do it to ourselves as well. We may say, “Why should I set a high goal and expect results when I’ve never been able to have victory over that area in my life?” So you see, following a path of keeping expectations low STILL steals our peace, takes away our joy, and hurts our hearts. With that, we now we lack interaction, intimacy, and the possibility of overcoming difficult obstacles while leaning into God for strength. We begin to grow plagued that nothing meets our expectations anymore…so why try?
It’s a rugged place to be in when you believe those lies. I know because I’ve been in that dark hole and it’s hard to climb out of when all of the sides are slippery and covered discouragement.
If you find yourself relating to what I’m talking about, it’s time to clean house. And by house, I mean the heart.
“Everything you do flows from it.” Everything we pour into our hearts and minds comes right up out of us. And when we use the world and its beliefs to fill in the gaps of our heart, what we will come back with is a disappointing void that leaves us weak and unsatisfied. When we put our expectations in people and circumstances we will find that they will not fulfill what we are so desperately searching for. We must guard our hearts by meeting with God and covering our lives in prayer asking Him to give us His perspective. He tells us not to worry about anything, but to instead pray about EVERYTHING. We then can lean into His truth as the peace only He can give us, will help us guard our hearts. So when we let ourselves down, when others don’t meet our expectations, He gives us that peace and understanding that the world cannot give.
After I’ve been in that difficult place and finally get my head right and turn back to Jesus, He always faithfully pulls me out of the slippery, mucky hole. I imagine Him as He quietly stood beside me all along, whispering and reminding me to rest under His wings. I think of Him as He watched me plowing forward in my own thoughts and ways. Always with me, always calling my name, calling me to see the lesson in my unmet expectations, calling me back to His certainty. There is no doubt I feel His presence in times of unrest, but what peace He gives me when I finally surrendered and turned my eyes towards Him. When I FINALLY let go of what I expect to get, how I expect to be treated, how I expect my marriage to be, what I expect to gain, how I expect my kids to grow up, how fast I expect to lose weight, etc., etc. I learn to see myself and other people on their very own broken path, equally trying to find their footing, where He waits, whispering and calling to them as well. I become more aware that we are all on different parts of our journey. That God gets the victory in each and every circumstance and that He can use us to further His kingdom when we stop putting our “self” in the way and stop making it all about what we want and how we want this life to turn out. The feeling of defeat dissipates the more we understand who God is and why He sent Jesus here to die for us, to take away the misery and disappointment, to show us how vast His love is for us.
Father, you know every single shortcoming, you know the broken pieces of our heart and how much we need you every moment of each day. Thank you for guarding our hearts against the lies of this world. Thank you for giving us peace and an eternal perspective as we lay down our expectations and lean on you for truth and wisdom. Help us see the world with your eyes instead of our own. Help us to rest in YOUR love and fulfillment. When we are weak you are strong! I pray that in each feeling of defeat, you get the glory over our heart and lives by reminding us of your solid foundation. That you will give us courage to stand apart from the world that so deceitfully tells us we are failing. Jesus, with our limitations, use our lives to bring others closer to you, to point them to the beautiful way you saved us and bore the burden of our sins. Defeat has no home here, because the victory will always be yours…always.