I am a dreamer.
God blessed me with a vivid imagine. As a child, that took the shape of me dressing up in costumes and running around fighting crime in a world I had created in my mind. As an adult, I find my imagination no less vivid. However, I rarely dress up in costumes nowadays. (Note: I said “rarely.”) I do like to dream things up though, and I do it all day long. I am constantly imagining how my future will look, thinking through my next steps in life, pondering what is to come.
Now, mix that with my bend toward optimism and it can get a little romanticized. I think of life down the road and imagine all that God will have me do, where he will have me serve, and what joys and relationships life will bring, and I begin to paint a pretty, rosy picture.
In itself, I find no fault in thinking toward the future, and even dreaming up how life may look. Yet, when unchecked, the error comes in the development of expectations based in your imagination. In my life, these expectations can lead to entitlement, which is never warranted. I think on how I want things to be, and somewhere along the way, I begin to expect them to be that way. Then, when those expectations go unmet, a sense of entitlement snares me, and, in the end, I feel I did not get what was mine.
As this new year starts, I am learning to let go of expectations.
Six months ago, my life changed drastically once again as I packed my worldly possessions up in two little footlockers and boarded a plane for the States. Through all the changes, circumstances, culture shock and readjustment, I began to piece together a view of life on this side. I would be in school, working toward my PhD. I would move to North Carolina to do that. I would settle into a life here, at least for a season. All of that was true, but then my imagination began to work on the details. I filled in the gaps, imagining my future world and planning as though the resulting expectations were already fact.
Early morning, January 1, I found myself sitting on a couch realizing that the dust was finally settling from this move and that life looked nothing like the details I had created. The year staring me in the face was not at all the one I had expected.
This morning, I stumbled across Luke 18. Tucked in to the middle of that chapter is the story of the rich young ruler that confronts Jesus about eternal life. According to the story, this young man had approached Jesus wanting to know what he must do in order to inherit eternal life. The man had already done his homework. He knew the law, and he had acted accordingly. He had developed expectations about how to obtain this chief goal of eternal life. Now certainly his expectations were based in culture, religion, and what he saw the people saying and doing around him. He had all that was around him to inform him of the answer to the question he was now asking Jesus, and using evidence he had seen, he conjured up an answer to this question before he ever spoke with the Christ.
Jesus initially gives this man the answer he expected. He says to the young man, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.” The young man responds in the affirmative, knowing he had done these things. He had lived out his expectations.
But Jesus did not stop there. He continued on with these words, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Every time I read this story I try to imagine the look on this young man’s face as those words sank in.
I imagine the blood drained out of his face and his countenance completely shifted as he realized the thing he loved most in life had to go. If he was to follow Christ, he had to lose the thing that gave him his identity. After all, he was the rich young ruler, but Christ was telling him he could no longer be that person.
If you have ever heard a sermon on this passage, you realize that this call to sell everything is not a normative command for every living person. Please do not miss the point here. Simply put, this young man had developed expectations about what it meant to be Godly and inherit eternal life. Sure, he had been given those by his culture, and he had fashioned them out of his understanding of the Old Testament, but his expectations were wrong nonetheless. In his mind, he had a list of things he had to do (in specific the Ten Commandments), and if those things were accomplished, then he was in the clear. However, he also expected to continue in his riches and power. He thought his love for those and his love for God could somehow coincide.
Jesus clearly shows this man that, as stated in other passages, he cannot have two masters. The young man’s expectations about life had to change. If he was to step forward in obedience, he had to let go.
I do this too.
I construct these grand dreams of how life is supposed to be, as I seek to move forward in life and ministry. Then, when God makes it plain that pieces of these dreams are just expectations I conjured out of the blue, then I am left with a decision. Will I let go of my dreams in order to follow in obedience, or, do I hang on to them like a rich young ruler grasps his bag of money?