My kids started school this week and I was reminded of one of the most profound lessons God has taught me about expectations. Several years ago, when our youngest child was entering first grade, I thought I knew what to expect. My two older children soared through first grade with flying colors, so I wasn’t the least bit concerned when my newly minted first-grader had her first-ever spelling test. When my other two children were in first grade, they would write their spelling words each day after school, we’d take a mock spelling test on Thursday evening, and then they’d go to school on Friday and ace the spelling test. And so it would go for my third child. Write words. Mock test. Ace test.
Except it didn’t go that way at all. When my youngest first-grader brought home her first spelling test, she made an F. She failed her first spelling test of first grade. Until this point, I’d not seen a failing grade from any of my children and I guess I assumed I never would. Well, at least not on a first-grade spelling test.
It pains me to say that as soon as I saw that failing grade, I was full of guilt (How could I let this happen?); shame (We don’t make these kinds of grades!); disappointment (Did she even try?); and all kinds of other thoughts I’m too embarrassed to admit. And while my feelings were very real, I knew they were also very wrong. My child was in tears as she handed me the failed spelling test, and I knew what I said next would have a profound impact on her – for better or worse. I didn’t want to act on my feelings and shame my daughter or speak words of failure over her, so I said nothing and just hugged her and prayed. And prayed.
Still hugging her, I told my daughter that I loved her, and we would find a different approach to studying the next week’s spelling words. She dried her eyes and went to her room to change into play clothes. As I sat alone at the kitchen table I was so shocked at the impact my daughter’s failing grade had on ME. I feverishly prayed, “Lord I am disappointed at unmet expectations that I didn’t even know I had. But I know what I am feeling is not from You, please deal with my heart. Help me to say the words she needs to hear right now instead of meeting her with disapproval. Lord, these feelings are wrong, but they are real. Please step into this situation now.”
As I continued praying, I heard her footsteps coming down the hall. Instead of joining me in the kitchen, my youngest child stopped at my desk and took a seat at my chair, very sure of her every move. She took the microphone next to my computer and adjusted it. I was curious as to what she was doing, so I just watched. When the microphone was positioned just so, she began to call her imaginary audience to order. She invited them to open their Bibles and follow along with her as she taught from scripture. Her theology was spot on and she had all the charisma of Beth Moore and spoke with the conviction of Billy Graham. I knew her imaginary audience was as captivated by her teaching as I was.
At once my wide eyes filled and then spilled over with tears. I heard the Lord say in my heart, “I have plans for her. She is so much more than any grade on a spelling test.” And at that moment I went from being anxious about her failing out of school in the first grade to on-my-knees thankful for just the way God created her. And I was grateful for the extravagant, over-the-top gift of watching a snapshot of the good work He began in her. In a matter of minutes I went from having expectations crushed to expectations far exceeded. But isn’t that the way God so often works?
It reminded me of one of my favorite exchanges in the Bible. The proper name for the exchange is the Davidic Covenant, when God tells King David that He will send the Messiah through David’s family line. While that is the core of the Davidic Covenant, I’m always drawn to the beginning of the story – David’s crushed expectations. Second Samuel 7 starts with David’s grand plan to build God a house – quite a lofty goal. I’m sure David expected the Lord to be pleased with his plans to honor Him in such a way. However, no sooner than David made his plans to build God a house, did God tell David he would not be the one to build Him a house.
If the story ended there, we would expect David to be disappointed and perhaps feel rejected by God. He might have even felt like he fell out of favor with the Lord. But, just after God told David he wouldn’t be building Him a house, David heard, “The Lord declares to you that the Lord Himself will establish a house for you.” Pause the story.
David wanted to do something to honor God, but God refused David’s plans. Expectations crushed. Then God said He would build a house for David. David already had a grand palace, but God was talking about something even better than a palace. God promised David that his kingdom would last forever, and that Jesus would come though his family line. Expectations far exceeded.
With that, David seemed to forget his squashed plans to build a house for God and launched into one of the most beautiful prayers:
“Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family that You have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant.” I imagine David being dumbfounded and almost breathless at the extravagant, over-the-top snapshot of what the Lord would build from him. Then David adds, “Is this Your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign Lord?” Here is David, the writer of most of the Psalms, staggering to make sense of God’s supreme generosity.
But that’s what God does and who He is. He exceeds our expectations. It’s part of His character, His very fabric. As Paul writes in Ephesians 3:20, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly more than we can ask or imagine….”
David wanted to build God a house, God told him “no,” BUT God honored David by placing Jesus in David’s family line. I wanted my daughter to ace her spelling test, she brought home an F, BUT God gave me a foretaste of His mighty plans for her. Is this Your usual way of dealing with moms, O Sovereign Lord?
It doesn’t make sense to say I was blessed by my daughter’s F. However, if she’d made a perfect score on the spelling test per my expectations, I would have missed out on the gift of seeing her the way God sees her. That momentary glimpse was more than I could have asked for or imagined. And He has continued to bless me with a front-row seat to her steadfast determination, resolve and perseverance – traits she wouldn’t have developed if the A’s came easy. I don’t hope for failing grades, but I no longer see failing grades or other momentary disappointments as the end of the story. God has proven over and over that there are no expectations that He cannot only reach, but far surpass.
Lord, thank you for not being satisfied with giving us only what we expect or what we believe will make for a comfortable, happy life. You love us too much for that. I pray that all who read this, whether they are sending kids back to school or are in some other season of life, would come to know You as the God who able to do exceedingly, abundantly more than we can ask or imagine. Lord, please let our expectations of You be greater than any expectations we have of anyone or anything else. It’s in Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.
• Shared with permission from my daughter.