July 13, 2020
By Stacy Mallard
Ex·pec·ta·tion: “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.”
My birthday is this month and I expect to have a warm sunny day to celebrate with friends and family. July being the month for warm sunny days, this is a reasonable expectation. Unfortunately, since I live in Michigan, that expectation does not always equal reality. I have spent plenty of birthdays huddled in a sweatshirt trying to keep warm or taking shelter in the house due to a sudden thunderstorm raining on my party.
My natural bent is to take life as it comes and go with the flow, and I try to be a person who doesn’t invest too much in expectations. Looking back from the halfway point, I am realizing that I came into this current decade with some focused plans and goals. It started with plans to ride my bike 147 miles in a one-day ride across Michigan, then to continue biking or running some races after that, and just generally working to become stronger, better, faster. No downhill slope for me! This grandma was going to do amazing things!
And then on a training ride, someone suddenly fell in front of me and I went over my handlebars. Just a little more than a week after the candles, cake, and big plans, I was going for an ambulance ride. There was no siren, just me wailing pitifully that I was not going to be doing the things I had expected to do.
Five years later, as we are experiencing a global pandemic, I am once again dealing with unmet expectations due to things completely out of my control. We have all had to change and adapt, fearfully expecting and often experiencing the worst we can imagine. Despite the uncertainty, God has been reminding me that hope is always better than expectations. We use the word hope so casually. We say, “I hope I get a new bike seat for my birthday!” or “I hope it turns out sunny for my party!” In contrast, the Bible often associates hope with patience during trial or suffering. And patience means, in the words of my granddaughter, “waiting, with a good attitude.” I had a long year of trying to keep a good attitude as I waited for my body to heal from my accident. A long wait that included some hard days of feeling sorry for myself that I could not do the things I longed to do. It took a long time to get back to normal, only to find it was a different type of normal, requiring me to adapt and grow and trust God.
It helped to shift my focus to the New Testament definition of hope. The type of hope found in Hebrews 11:1, which tells us, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (NIV) It is what John Piper describes as “confident expectation and desire for something good in the future.” It is a confident hope because God knows what is ahead and will use it for my good, even if it causes me to experience growing pains along the way. I’m also reminded that if we focus only on our current situation—the statistics of the day—and trust our limited vision for the future, we will soon become fearful. In the words of Star Trek’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard, “Hope and the odds make poor bedfellows.” We are better served by the words of British missionary William Carey, who said simply, ‘Expect great things from God.”
I did get back on my bike, and although I did not ride across Michigan, I have completed several thousand more miles in the last 5 years. I have been finding joy in a new challenge, as I learn to mountain bike, with the hope I will be able to ride for many years to come. In the same way, I have hope—confident expectation—that God knows what is ahead and has a plan for us. We may have to adapt, and we will surely be expected to grow, but I am doing my best to trust in the one who knows and holds the future.