Is it odd that I remember the first funeral I attended and cried? I’m not exactly sure how old I was, but I remember missing school, so for the sake of the story, let’s say I was about eight. My great uncle had died and I wasn’t particularly close to him, but his laugh was easy and he made me feel special. I had loved him.
The tears were different from the “I’m mad that I have to go to bed at 8:15” or “My brother hit me” or “I don’t want to take three more bites” tears I was accustomed to crying. These tears came from a different place in my soul and snuck out of the corners of my eyes and embarrassed me a little.
At the graveside, my mom let me pick a pink carnation from his casket and I clutched it to my chest. To me, it was the most beautiful flower I had ever received and I wanted to keep it forever.
But my heart was broken afresh a few days later when my carnation began to brown around the edges. Another loss seemed brutal to my tender heart, so my Dad and I found the roll of wax paper and he helped me press the flower between the pages of the heaviest book we owned. He explained to me that pressing it would preserve the flower. I know my dad explained it clearly…. but in my head, I was sure he meant that my flower would be restored to its pink and carnation-y state forever.
You know where this story is going to end up, don’t you?!
A few weeks later, when I simply couldn’t wait anymore, I cracked open that big book only to find my pink carnation had turned brown and brittle. And that’s when my heart crumpled. I slammed the book closed, disgusted.
It’s the first time I remember wrestling with the discrepancy between my expectations and my reality. And it made me so sad. Sad that life ended in death, in both my great uncle and my beautiful flower.
As an adult, I chuckle a bit at that memory. It makes me want to pat my eight year old self on the head and say, “Bless your heart. You have no idea what sorrows you’re going to face.”
I’m guessing if you were to look back on your life and memories, you’d quickly be able to pinpoint dozens of times when what you hoped would happen took a very different path, for better or for worse, in big and little ways. Our expectations and our reality often stand in stark contrast.
We so desperately want to get it right… whatever “right” means. We strive to create a life that’s happy and pleasing and fulfilling. But then real life gets in the way. Death, bankruptcy, depression, divorce— any number of things— forces its’ way into our days and suddenly our reality is very, very different than what we had hoped or expected. The tears come from a deep place in our soul that we didn’t even know existed.
In Psalm 62 we find King David, threatened by the assaults of his conspirators and feeling very weak. It’s just a hunch, but I assume it’s not how he pictured the end of his life playing out. And yet,
“My soul finds rest in God alone;” he writes, “my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.” (Psalm 62:1,2,5 NIV)
In the King James Version, verse five reads “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him.”
David firmly places his expectations in God alone. Hannah Whitall Smith says, “The last and greatest lesson that the soul has to learn is the fact that God, and God alone, is enough for all its needs. This is the lesson that all His dealings with us are meant to teach; and this is the crowning discovery of our whole Christian life. God is enough!”
How would our lives change if we declared “God is enough!” when our realities fall short of our expectations? In those moments, what if we chose to rest in God instead of scrambling? What would it look like if we allowed God to shape our expectations?
When we get stuck wishing our lives were different, we’re missing out on what our life actually is. We’re missing all the glorious ways that God is shaping and working and giving. We don’t have to live resigned to the circumstances that seem less than what we had hoped, we can look with hope to God. He takes our less than ideal situations and reminds us that He is enough.
I found that old book again with the brown carnation pressed between the pages a few years after I’d placed it there. I opened it and carefully took the wax paper off the flower that lived there, forgotten and unnoticed. It wasn’t pink and beautiful anymore, but it held a sweet fragrance. Gone were my feelings of sorrow. Instead I saw a reminder of a great-uncle who had loved God. I saw parents who had allowed me to be sad, a dad who had taken the time to save a reminder of my tender eight year old heart.
God redeems our broken messes and our lives crumpled around us. He draws us close, restoring and working in our souls. Give Him your unmet expectations and allow Him to reconcile your reality. You can safely rest in Him.
Sarah Damaska is a regular contributor to Soul Care Collective.