Last December, emotions were at an all-time high. Our family had endured a long and painful season with one of our children and, deep down, I hoped (and expected) that Christmas would offer a much-needed dose of joy.
It turns out, God’s plans and my expectations were sailing in opposite directions.
To my great disappointment, a nasty virus hit me three days before Christmas, with my children and husband soon to follow. Not only did it squash my own hopes and expectations but also my children’s—and the rest of my extended family’s plans along with it.
As I lay on the couch with a sick body and an aching heart, the Spirit and flesh went to battle within me. “This isn’t fair,” I grumbled. “What did I do to deserve this on top of all the pain we’ve experienced?”
Immediately, the Holy Spirit challenged my pity party with a different question: Are your expectations rooted in what you think you deserve or what God has actually promised?
Despite my emotions throwing an internal hissy fit, it wasn’t hard to answer that question. I was expecting God to give me what I felt I needed most and was convinced that my desired plans were far better than his at the moment. And the pain of my dashed expectations was multiplied because, deep down, I believed that I deserved better.
With all the joy and excitement that surrounds the Christmas season, expectations run equally high. And the higher the expectations, the further they have to fall.
So why is it that we often go through life with so many self-made expectations?
Knowing what to expect often makes us feel in control. Therefore, we project our future desires (often good and right desires) into the form of expectation. We desire our family get-togethers to be tension-free. We hope our long-anticipated vacation will go off as planned. We desire healthy children who will enjoy a long and full life. We expect our spouse to be faithful and always by our side. And we work with the expectation that it will bear the desired fruit. But even when desires like these may be good—reflecting God-given longings for peace, security, and satisfaction—such projections can set us up for disappointment for two reasons: we don’t control the future, and we are living in a post-fall reality.
The Apostle James wrote: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring . . . Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13,15).
Our natural inclination is to live and think as if we rule our lives and control the world around us, whether that be little things (like expecting our children to naturally know how to properly clean a bathroom) or bigger things (like believing that our efforts guarantee a desired outcome).
But the truth is, God never promised us self-sufficiency or heaven on earth. And special occasions, such as Christmas, pointedly remind us of that.
There’s something about birthdays, vacations, Mother’s Day/Father’s Day, and other holidays that often heighten our projected desires to a new level—as if those occasions are magically protected from the realities of life.
But what if God has more for us than our expectations allow for? What if we’re so controlled by our own plans and desires that we miss the good God has for us in unexpected—and even unwanted—places?
Our gracious and patient Father loves to give his children good gifts. And sometimes, he allows our expectations to be exposed or unmet in order to make room for true joy and rest in him, rather than the shifting winds of this world.
What, then, can we expect, especially during this busy and often stressful time of year? Here are four ways the gospel helps reframe our perspective, with both reality and hope.
1. Expect every part of life—even the wonderful parts—to be impacted by the fall.
It might sound like I’m being a Debbie Downer, but it’s simply the reality of living in a fallen world. Jesus told us plainly, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Part of guarding our expectations is simply acknowledging that this isn’t our home. Which means that our cookies may look more like a blob than a Christmas tree, in-law relationships may be complicated, and Advent may not consist of perfectly behaved children. If we expect heaven on earth, we will constantly live in a state of disappointment. However, if we expect imperfections, interruptions, and occasional disappointments to be a part of even the best circumstances, then we will be able to embrace the blessings right in front of us, even in the least expected places.
2. Expect God to provide opportunities for growth.
We celebrate Christmas because our Savior was born into this world to save us from our sin and make us more like him. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised when opportunities arise that test our patience, challenge our selfishness and pride, and allow us to feel our weakness. It’s God’s grace and love for us to allow opportunities to shape us into his image and give us a greater peace, joy, and confidence in him, rather than ourselves or the world around us.
3. Expect God to be faithful to his promises.
We have to know God’s promises to be able to see his faithfulness to them. He is with us—strengthening, helping, and upholding us. He offers us his perfect peace. He establishes our steps and rescues us when we fall. He gives rest to our souls. . Carving out consistent time in God’s Word this Christmas season can help us to take note of promises like these, and then watch with anticipation as he faithfully fulfills them.
4. Expect blessings in unexpected places.
There are countless blessings to be found, often where we least expect to see them. Our season of sickness last year ended up being an unexpectedly sweet time with our family. Once I finally accepted the reality of a “canceled” Christmas, I experienced a peace, joy, and gratitude for little things that I would have otherwise easily missed. Instead of busily running around to parties and other activities, we ended up being forced into a quiet, slow, and sweet time together, which was greatly needed for our family. As I surrendered my will to God’s, I was able to truly enjoy the blessings and provisions that were right in front of me.
Friend, whatever this Christmas season may hold, may we enter it with open hands and humble hearts of surrender to our Savior who came to earth and gave up everything for our forgiveness, freedom, and eternal joy. Trust his grace one moment at a time and you just might find beauty in the most unexpected places.
 Isaiah 41:10
 Psalm 37:23-24
 Matthew 11:28-29
Originally posted on Risen Motherhood