I think we can all agree that life does not look anything like we expected it to right now.
I recently received a lengthy, heartfelt email from a student whose message can be summarized in one question, “What’s the point?” She expressed the lost desperation a lot of people are feeling right now as they mourn unmet expectations.
As a teacher of 140+ seniors, I regularly receive emails from students expressing the disappointment with all they lost when Virginia schools closed their doors for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. Prom, senior picnic, final sports seasons, graduation ceremony, etc–everything they had been looking forward to was taken away in an instant.
Students aren’t the only ones feeling lost and disillusioned as the impacts of COVID-19 ripple out. My Facebook feed is full of parents with heartache over what their children are missing out on this year, small business owners concerned over lost revenue, out of work individuals not sure what to do next, and media messages about people in other countries who are unable to receive proper housing and nutrition due to social and economic shutdowns.
As I said, life doesn’t look the way people expected it would. I mean, seriously, no one thought they would spend the spring confined to their homes hoarding toilet paper.
But unmet expectations, failed dreams, and loss of life and security are not new events. They are built into the human experience, and we can continue to live full, peace filled lives if we accept the reality of the now, embrace the mystery of why, and move forward each day.
Accept the Reality of Now
Feel the feels, cry the tears, and ask the “whys?” We have to acknowledge the disappointments, the hurts, and things that did not come to be. We can’t skip this component of accepting reality, but we also can’t allow it to be our singular modus operandi. Our focus must shift from what is not to what is.
If we spend all our time analyzing and grieving what is not, we will miss the experience and the joy of what is.
It is easy to spend all day thinking about the things that are not happening right now and the uncertainty of the future. But life doesn’t stop, and we can’t skip ahead. We can join the card game, go for the walk, and have the conversations with friends and family. We can be here now.
Jesus was well aware of the battles we would fight in our minds, and he gave us instructions on how to live with peace:
34 “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.Matthew 6:34 (MSG)
We, as people, have done this before; at least I know I have. This is not the first time in my life when expectations and reality did not line up and I had to figure out how to keep living.
When I had two miscarriages, I felt the losses deeply. I even went off the deep end a bit and created more disappointments. But then I had to look at where I was and make a choice to live there instead of where I’d hoped I would be.
I couldn’t lock myself in a room and spend my whole life grieving the losses or trying to control the future, so I fought the fights, cried the tears, laughed at the jokes, ate the meals, ran the trails, graded the papers, and found joy in the now.
Live today with a focus on the beauty of what is happening in your home. It won’t all be perfection, but it will be life. Chose to see the gift of now.
Embrace the Mystery
With hard work, determination, and a bit of luck, we can make good things happen and achieve all kinds of goals. So we often begin to think our control over ourselves means we can also control the world around us.
When something big disrupts it all, we begin the futile search for answers to the “whys?”–Why me? Why now? Why did this have to happen? Why….? Because we think that knowing the answers will restore order and give us a sense of control.
The truth is we do not have, we have never had, and we never will have all the answers. Sometimes “why?” just stays “why?”
How’s that for calming your anxiety? lol
BUT… The mystery is the beautiful part. It is the part where we rest. It’s the part where we surrender to the mystery of “a peace that passes all understanding.”
I believe God is in control, he knows the bigger picture, and he loves us. I may not be able to understand all of who he is or how what is happening can work out for good, but I do know I can trust him. I can release the illusion that I can control my circumstances and rest in his hands.
I can control me and my thinking. That is all.
When I embrace the mystery, I find it easier to accept the reality of now. I don’t need all the answers because I trust the one who is beyond understanding to work all things together for good.
The apostle Paul tells us how to embrace the mystery:
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.Philipians 4:6-7 (MSG)
We can rest without knowing all the answers because we know the one who is sovereign.*
This is the short and simple one because we can do it each day.
We don’t have to have a perfect plan for what life will look like a year, or even a month, from now. We simply need to assess where we are in the moment and decide what the next step forward is. We don’t need all the steps, just the next one.
I can’t help but use the Frozen II song. It’s just so spot on:
I won’t look too far ahead“The Next Right Thing” Frozen II soundtrack
It’s too much for me to take
But break it down to this next breath
This next step
This next choice is one that I can make
When you don’t know what else to do, do the next right thing. Then rinse and repeat. Every day, take a step forward.
All through life we will encounter times when our expectations and reality don’t line up. There will be many times where things don’t go how we hope or dream. In those moments we must remember the lessons we are learning in this pandemic season.
We can’t change the past, we don’t have all the answers, and the future is impossible to predict. But we can accept where we are, embrace the mystery, and move forward each day.
*If trusting God in the pain feels too hard right now, I encourage you to read Our Broken Hallelujahs. You are not alone in your hurt and doubt.