Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away" (Matthew 21:18-19). *
Jesus had expectations--normal and realistic. He was hungry, and seeing the fig tree, He expected to enjoy a measure of satiety with a handful of luscious fruit. Imagine His disappointment when there was no fruit!
Jesus used this experience of an unmet expectation to share another lesson His disciplines: "Verily I say unto you, if ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done" (verse 21). We too can still be victors in the throes of unmet or unreasonable expectations!
TO BE OR NOT TO BE
Which pastor’s wife does not enter the ministry without numerous expectations? I had mine. These expectations were set against the backdrop of what I had observed in other ministry wives, as well as what I had jotted down on my own wish list—my cherished hopes and dreams.
Some of these expectations were realized; some were not. Some turned out to be unrealistic; others were fulfilled.
At the top of my expectations roster was that I would mushroom into a spiritual giant. I wanted to be a Bible-devouring, prayer-passionate pastor’s wife. Yes, I read my Bible daily and faithfully studied my Sabbath school lesson, but the spiritual giant I expected to become kept stubbornly outrunning me. Then I realized that spiritual growth has to be nurtured and cultivated with the help of the Holy Spirit. A pastor’s wife does not automatically become spiritual! It is a progression, sometimes a painfully slow process demanding perseverance and patience.
Another expectation on my list was that I would have a sanctified temperament. I felt that my clerical assignment would clothe me in robes of habitual sweetness and calmness. My words were going to be "apples of gold in pictures of silver." Imagine the disappointment and horror I experienced after I responded with a volley of sharp words to a "sister" who criticized my husband. I handed her a generous serving of a piece of my mind. Another unmet expectation? Yes, but this incident taught me two valuable strategies to implement before attempting to handle criticism or negative commandments: (1) count to 10 and (2) breathe a quick emergency prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
I also expected that church members would see me for who I was, not view me in the shadow or context of my husband. This did not happen. I seemed to be able to make it only on the hem of my husband's garment.
After initially fussing and complaining and feeling sorry for myself, I gave up in desperation. I counted my blessings that I was bound to the hem of a man of God, rather than to a godless man. It is amazing how a paradigm shift can restore our sanity. In additions, I had an affirming husband who assured me that I was an integral partner in a team ministry.
My greatest challenge was when I was forced to cope with my husband’s frequent trips away from home. Somehow I did not expect that I was marrying an absentee husband. Everything seemed to spin out of control when Jansen was away. The kids got sick or an appliance broke down. In addition, I was sleep-deprived because the night sounds and fear of intruders kept me awake at night. Then God showed me Psalm 3:5: “I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.” He also gave me Psalm 4:8: “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety." How comforting!
Through the years, God has sustained me through my expectations--met or unmet. He understands the challenge of our expectations and offers us in the assurance of His plans. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).
OUR PERSONAL EXPECTATIONS
Some of the most suffocating expectations are those we impose on ourselves. We set goals that are sometimes too unrealistic to reach. We compare ourselves with others: the previous pastor's wife, an efficient leader in the church, or a smarter woman in the community. The result? Internal torture. I am so thankful for the biblical exemption from comparison with others: “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise" (2 Corinthians 10:12). Thank you, Paul. We want to be wise. We want to be free to be ourselves.
So, how can you handle your own expectations?
1. Recognize your uniqueness and thank God for it. Our awesome Creator custom-made each one of us. From the beginning, God took the time and lovingly "formed man." Unlike the birds, fish and other creatures that God spoke into existence, humans were not mass-produced. We enjoyed the Creator’s special, personal touch. He packaged us with our specific talents and personalities, then placed us in this world to live, to enjoy life, and to minister.
2. Ask God to reveal to you your talents and His will for you. Lean on Him as you hone your skills. Use your gifts willingly, not sparingly. God too, has expectations of us according to the extent of the talents He has given us. “And unto one he gave the talents, to another two, and to another one, to every man according to his ability" (Matthew 25:15).
3. Celebrate your accomplishments. Praise God profusely as you check off your goals and meet your own expectations. It is a good idea to make a list of what you would like to accomplish and how you plan to go about it. Give yourself a timeframe within which you can work. Of course, there are some official factors you need to consider: your family, your season in life, possible personal limitations, etc. Just be realistic but place your expectations in God's hand.
EXPECTATIONS OF OUR PARISHIONERS
Alice Taylor, author of How to Be a Minister's Wife and Love It, encapsulated the expectations of our parishioners as follows: “So much is expected of her—the health of an Amazon and dedication of a Florence Nightingale; the patience of Job and the zeal of a Carrie Nation; the peace-loving thoughts of a Gandhi and the fighting spirit of a warrior; the charm of a debutante and the intelligence of a Phi Beta Kappa. Besides this, she must live her life in a goldfish bowl, well aware that it is her sole responsibility to see that the goldfish behave."
What a challenge! Pastoral spouses are not the only ones held hostage to the expectations of a constituency. Anyone who is considered high-profile is held up to the light of expectations. And different strategies can be used to deal with expectations. Some people complain about the expectations. Others feel sorry for themselves,grow ugly personalities, or even hate the ministry. The better way is to sift the expectations, separating the realistic ones from the unrealistic ones and discarding the unrealistic ones.
It may be helpful to discuss troubling expectations with your spouse. Above all, lean on God to help you handle them. He is your Counselor and Guide. Ask Him to bring joy into your life. Then move on in His strength.
EXPECTATIONS OF OUR SPOUSES
When was the last time we asked our spouses about their expectations of us? Too often we predict or imagine what their expectations are and try to meet them. Perhaps we try too hard. Could it be that we may be trying to fulfill nonexistent expectations? Since we are not mind readers, why not ask our spouses what their expectations are? This is a good starter for a dialogue. Pastoral couples are often so busy that they rarely take the time to open their hearts to each other.
Here are a few simple questions you can ask your pastoral spouse.: 1. What am I doing in our ministry that you like? 2. What would you like me to do better? 3. How can we work on this together?
Be sure to pray before you embark on this dialogue. The right thing for this discussion is also crucial. You will not want to have this dialogue after your husband returns home exhausted after a grueling committee or board meeting.
God's expectations are the most reasonable and realistic. He requires us to spend quality time with Him and to share His love with others. "And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach." (Mark 3:!4). He prepares us to meet His expectations by providing resources, instruction, and hope. Our Father is rich in resources, and His unrivaled wisdom can help us meet the challenge of expectations. "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever" (1 Timothy 1:17).
God's expectations are laced with potent instructions. We are not left to flounder in ignorance. Claim God's promise for instruction: "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye” (Psalm 32:8).
God's expectations are also undergirded with hope. Earthly expectations can sometimes be threatened with futility. But with our goals and dreams in God's hands, and with our lives intertwined with His, there is authentic hope: "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).
What is even better is that God's expectations are tied to an eternal reward! Let us not allow earthly expectations to strangle us. Let us focus on God's expectations. They are the most important. Who would not want eternal life, with a mansion, a robe, and a crown?
* Unless otherwise indicated, Bible texts are from the King James Version.