So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about expectations and how they shape our experiences and attitudes in life, partly because of my training at MTI, partly because of my recent reading of Sue Eenigenburg's Expectations and Burnout, and partly because of some experiences I’ve had or witnessed others have since coming to Kenya only one month ago.
It seems that for anyone moving into an area of newness (cross cultural workers especially but by no means exclusively), having realistic expectations of one’s life and work within the new context is key. Although I haven’t done any formal research on the subject, from what I’ve observed recently, it seems that Christians working or living within a new faith-based context tend especially to struggle with unrealistic expectations. These expectations, I believe, subsequently contribute to a struggle with disillusionment, cynicism and burnout that many believers might be reluctant to admit to.
Here are some of the expectations I think many believers living or working in a faith-based environment might have:
· The expectation of having fulfilling, encouraging relationships with other believers in the new context
· The expectation of having similar values as the believers in the new context
· The expectation of feeling a sense of fulfillment, progress or accomplishment in one’s work, and of seeing the fruit of one’s labor within a “reasonable” time-frame
· The expectation of harmony and camaraderie among co-workers and fellow believers
· The expectation that at least some of the people being served will acknowledge and appreciate the sacrifice and hard work of the one serving
· The expectation of experiencing personal spiritual growth and a feeling of increased closeness with God
These seem like reasonable expectations to have, but I’ve realized recently that God doesn’t really guarantee any of these things to His children. Yes, He in His graciousness grants many of these things to those who follow Him (plus many more unimaginable blessings), but they’re not givens, so perhaps we should stop expecting them. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have hopes or goals. On the contrary, I think it’s good to dream big and not be timid in what we ask of the Lord. The problem comes when we forget that being a Christian is hard, that this world is broken, that the church is full of fallen people and that God’s redemptive work in the world, according to His good plan, often takes time.
As I said earlier, I think that having the right expectations, realistic ones, is the key to living and working in a new context and of avoiding the disillusionment, cynicism and burnout that can result from unrealistic expectations. One way to guard against unrealistic expectations is to make sure to have good, honest communication beforehand with those whose context one is preparing to enter, doing a lot of research etc. There are many resources out there for shaping and managing expectations that I will not reference here. For me though, I've found that the best way to guard against unhealthy and unrealistic expectations is to make sure to have healthy, realistic expectations of God and to understand what He expects of His children.
So what can believers expect? What sorts of expectations are realistic? Believers can expect life and work to be hard, but they can also expect God to be faithful, and to give them what they need for each day. They can expect Him to always be listening and to always care, even if no one else is willing to do so. They can expect that He will not give them more than they can handle. They can expect Him to never leave or forsake them. They can expect Him to accomplish in them more than they could ever ask (or expect) or imagine.
And what does God expect of His children that He has brought into areas of newness? Faithfulness. That’s it. Not success, not progress or accomplishment or results. Just faithfulness. And faithfulness is not easy, but what’s so great about God is that He promises to give His children what they need in order to be faithful. For anyone in a season of newness, isn’t this great news? Doesn’t it take so much pressure off? God doesn’t expect results from us. The results are not our problem. What He expects is for us to be faithful, with His help, and trust Him with all the rest of it.
I will write a more "newsy" post soon, I promise (because a lot is happening!), but this is what has been on my mind lately, so I thought I'd share it. This nugget of truth has been absolutely invaluable to me as I have been settling in to my new life here in Kenya, and I hope it can be of some encouragement to anyone else experiencing 'newness' in their lives. I must be honest, I've never been a huge fan of blogs, but I've realized the importance of Christian testimony recently, and since I'm not with most of you to share mine in person, this will have to do :) Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who is keeping me and the work of Kids Alive Kenya in their prayers - know that you are in mine as well!