One of the wonderful things about teaching is the fresh start each year. There is nothing quite like brand new Expo markers, neatly written out nametags, and the anticipation of the opportunity to be a better teacher this year who learned from last year’s mistakes.
And some years you get off to a nice, smooth start…
and other years…well, they’re not so pretty.
That was this year for me.
In several different areas, it has been a difficult start to the year. My expectations of the year kind of came tumbling down when reality hit.
We all have those experiences where expectations meet reality…and reality wins. Perhaps your school year expectations aren’t coming to fruition. Maybe you had to switch grade levels at the last minute. Maybe you got that really tough class. Maybe your grade level just decided on a new curriculum, and you have to start planning from scratch.
Perhaps your expectations were dashed in a relationship, parenting, a new job, news from a doctor’s appointment, or the struggles of a close loved one.
Our lives are full of unmet expectations. When reality hits, it hurts! But that painful reality is the perfect training ground to help us grow in Christlikeness. So here are a few lessons that God has been reminding me of lately…
Remember that there is hope
When you are swirling around, just trying to keep your head above water, it may feel like it will always be like this. You may feel completely alone in your struggle. You may feel like there is absolutely no hope.
But that is not the truth.
There is always hope. There is hope because there is a Sovereign God up in Heaven orchestrating His perfect plan for your life. Nothing about your situation is a mistake.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (I Cor 10:13)
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Rom. 5:3-5)
God loves us so much that He allows us to struggle in life – because He is training us for more! Those painful times are the times when He is growing us to become more like His Son.
In Hebrews 12, I really enjoy Paul’s imagery of running a race & God’s discipline/training. I am kind of a runner so I can identify with it. So let’s imagine that I decide to run a marathon (hah!) and hire a coach to help train and prepare me for it. The first day of training, he shows up and tells me to run one lap around the track, and then we’ll go get ice cream. Each day continues like this. I may like this coach because, hey – this is easy! I can do this! But when race day comes around, I am never going to make it! My coach failed to train me!
Yet what if I had a coach who pushed me to do 3 miles…then 7…then 15…even though they were hard? Even though my legs were exhausted? A coach who knew I was tired and knew that my legs were going to hurt, but still pushed me to go just a few miles further? On race day, I am going to be prepared. I will be ready to run.
It’s a small picture of what God does for us – He takes us through difficult times that we don’t enjoy, but they are necessary for our training. Christ knows the race course ahead of us- He has run it before, and He holds the course record, if you will. So He is going to push you to do 15 miles when 15 miles seems to be impossible. And He is going to run right beside you the whole time. And if you are His child, through His grace, you will finish the race…and all of that training will be worth it all!
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil. 1:6)
So don’t give up! Fix your gaze on Christ and focus on daily putting one foot in front of another. God doesn’t promise us grace for the week, month, or year. He promises us grace enough for today. And when tomorrow comes, His grace will be there, too.
But this I call to mind ,and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:21-24)
Check your heart
When you are struggling, ask yourself why it is that your new reality is such a challenge for you. It’s going to require looking deep and being honest with yourself. It’s not always pretty, but the good news is that God can handle the ugliness of our hearts! The ugliness may surprise me, but it never surprises Him! For me, I realized that I am struggling this year because I want a smooth & easy year more than I want to grow in Christlikeness. I know that God has ordained all of the circumstances for this year…but they weren’t the circumstances I wanted. I had my agenda…but God knew I needed something better.
Track your thoughts
I already know that Phil. 4:8 is going to be a staple verse for me this year!
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phil. 4:8)
If I am going to grow in Christ this year, I have got to rein in my thoughts. I don’t know about you, but once I start allowing those negative thoughts to creep in, they pretty much swirl round and round until they have created a giant funnel cloud that ruins my day and most likely the days of those I come into contact with. I need to run my thoughts through the filter of Phil. 4:8, and if they don’t pass the test, then I need to stop dwelling there and replace them with thoughts that are Christ-honoring. It’s going to be a daily battle – but if I want to please Christ, it’s a battle that I must fight.
Find a way to serve others in your new reality
I am already a very selfish person. However, when my expectations are dashed, my world tends to shrink even smaller. I really don’t care about anyone else’s problems because I am wrapped up in my own.
By the grace of God, I need to stop spending so much time lamenting over my own issues, and I need to turn my eyes to the needs of others. There have been many times when God opened my eyes to some of the struggles of those around me, and my own problems were quickly put into perspective.
Find ways to be a blessing to those around you. It doesn’t have to be something that takes tons of time – a quick text to let someone know that you are praying for them, a quick note placed into that difficult student’s desk, anything! Trust me, it’s amazing what a difference it will make!
So if you are facing discouragement or struggling with unmet expectations, remember that God already had your reality perfectly scripted out for you. Take hope, check your heart, track your thoughts, & find a way to serve others through it all. One day we will see that God’s reality, even when painful, was so much better than our expectations would ever have been.