By Jennie Gordon
We’re going to be grandparents in December, so I’m knitting, getting ready, doing what I can in the waiting time.
Before I was a minister, I was a midwife and had my own business for a while running childbirth education classes for expectant parents. I always thought that when my own children were having children, I’d be there for them, every step of the way and I am, but not in the way I had anticipated.
I haven’t taken gentle time with my daughter over a cup of tea and talked about the changes that happen in your body and in your heart. I haven’t seen her beautiful expanding belly since before these latest lockdowns. I haven’t sat with her and helped her think through her childbirth choices and setting up the nursery space and wandered through shops together wondering at the changes in baby things.
I’ve done some of those things, but not in person, not in the way I had expected. That’s true of so many aspects of our lives right now.
Each of us would have a list about the things we expected we would be doing in 2020 and 2021. They’d all be unique lists, particular to our own circumstances, plans, hopes and dreams, but they would all have one thing in common: they would all be different from the reality of where we find ourselves in Spring 2021. Disrupted, dislocated, sometimes even disconnected from our expectations.
The global pandemic may have played a big part in that, but life has a way of unfolding that is so very different to what we might expect, for better or worse.
“Those who expect nothing will not be disappointed.”
Maybe that came from a time where children were taught that our great expectations can be, at the least, disappointing, and at the most, deeply dangerous. A way of protecting us, keeping us from aiming too high, reaching beyond ourselves.
I don’t know how to live without great expectations. The task is to learn how to live when they’re challenged and changed, and to readjust to the present reality and to see the blessing in it.
There was an expectation, a deep-seated one, in the people who gathered around Jesus during his time travelling around teaching, listening, healing and blessing, that he would conquer the conquerors. He would subdue the oppressors. He would turn every bad thing around. He did. Just not in the way they expected.
There’s an exchange in Mark’s gospel where Jesus is telling his disciples their time together is not going to end well, not in the short-term anyway. His words frame the most likely scenario that they can see all too well; he will be killed by the authorities for creating a disturbance, for upsetting the order and for challenging their authority.
He tells them that death will not ever have the final word, that he will return, but, but, but they expected so much more! Outspoken Peter pipes up, ‘No way Jesus, don’t even talk like that.’ Jesus responds to Peter, ‘Get out of my way, you devil.’
Jesus was trying to teach them about the mystery of life, all they could hear about was unmet expectations and death. For Christians, a blessing of Jesus’s crucifixion was that it was a letting go, a step towards resurrection. In the most powerful way, he showed us that nothing can come between us and God’s love, nothing, not even death.
Our unmet expectations can get in the way of us hearing, seeing and being part of the reality of what is happening to us right now. Sometimes dwelling in disappointment, resisting reality and feeling a bit “ripped of”’ is a good and healthy thing, but we can spend too much time there.
I wonder, what are the blessings that have come your way because things didn’t work out exactly as you expected? For me? Well, I’ve learned to knit booties.
Rev Jennie Gordon is a presbytery minister in Gippsland.