Only one week stands between me and the GRE subject test in Literature in English, which I have been dreading for the past two months. Unlike the creator of the study site I have been using (Vade Mecum), I did not study for fifteen hours a week for five months. Two months will have to do, ready or not.
On Tuesday, I took the full-length practice test sent to me by the Educational Testing Service. When I finished scoring my 2+ hrs of effort, I had to face a number that was good, but still lower than I had hoped. I had expectations, and I was not able to meet them.
Of course, since then, I have been studying harder than ever, and I hope the test next Saturday will show some of that effort. But nonetheless, not measuring up to my own standards was a blow.
This weekend, I have been hit by another example of how powerful expectations can be.
On Thursday, my family’s twelve-year-old Dalmatien, Pepper, had to be put down. His legs had been getting weaker for several months, and he was finally unable to stand up at all and was in pain most of the time.
In the back of my mind, I knew he was getting old, and that he might not make it much longer. I didn’t expect it to happen so soon. I still expect to hear him bark when I get home and have to fumble for my house key. I still expect to step over him when I start a load of laundry. I have expectations, and they are not fulfilled.
Of course, since then, I have been digging up more memories than ever: when he used to drag me around as a skinny eleven-year-old, when he ran through the snow using his nose as a snow plow, when he stood on the doggie gate and tapped me on the shoulder with his paw to remind me to pet him. But nonetheless, not seeing him when I walk in the door is a blow.
Expectations can be powerful – and painful. I am beginning to realize that I have a lot of expectations, like those about my dog, that I am not aware of having until they are not met. I expected to get into grad school last year. I expect God to answer my prayers the way I want Him to, not the way He knows is best. I expect life to make sense. And when it doesn’t, I get disappointed, discouraged, or angry.
One of the hardest lessons I am learning this year is to recognize that my expectations do not fail because they are too high, but because in God’s grand picture, they are pitifully small. I am like the woman at the well in John 4, so caught in the idea of physical water (“you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep” vs. 11) that she could not see what Jesus was offering her.
He did not meet her expectations. He exceeded them.
As I wrestle with my unmet expectations, especially this week, I am driven to think about the people who plant seeds for giant, shaped gardens like this one. All they see is a few misshapen, shrivelled grains of life being buried, when in reality, it is the foundation for something beautiful.