Giving Up Expectations: Old First E-pistle 02.22.13

Giving Up Expectations: Old First E-pistle 02.22.13

One of the wisdoms I’ve been thankful has arrived with age is twofold: 1) I know I can’t know what’s really going on much of the time, and 2) I can’t foresee what will come next.

God help me, were that not so! Or, if — as I grew older — I was moving in the opposite direction– feeling I was getting closer to omniscience!

My epistemological or seeing-into-the-future capacities have been humbled by the ways I’ve seen life lead me places I have not expected– some I wouldn’t have wished for, others I couldn’t have dreamed of. More poignantly, I find the circumscription of my foresight reinforced in the deaths of friends who were lost too early. It’s as if I’m left blinking in the too bright sunlight, surprised that this one or that one isn’t around anymore to go on with me.

I was really surprised then to read of a recent psychological study. It found, as one might expect, that as we age, we increasingly acknowledge how much change we’ve seen in ourselves and our world over our lifetimes.

The surprise finding, however, was that we are forever certain that most of that change is behind us. …That in the coming years, we’ll stay more or less the same — who we are and how we see the world now will remain fairly constant, even if the world around us continues to change.

Not surprisingly, however, time proved folks’ expectations wrong. Despite their certainty that most of their development was behind them, interviewed later, they reported that they and their understandings had continued to change a pace.

About the time I passed 40, I became interested in how my life was going to turn out — fully admitting I had no idea where it was heading. I also sensed that the rate at which I am changing is picking up speed, increasing — the result of accumulating experiences.

So it doesn’t surprise me in the psychological study I mentioned that when the researchers checked with their subjects on down the line, they and their lives had kept changing no matter how certain they had been that they’d attained the plateau at which things would now be “steady as she goes.”

Expectations are understandable, even if not very reliable! We want to expect we can see what’s coming or that what’s coming will be more of what we know already. There’s comfort in the familiarity (unless we’re in an impossible situation currently — then we might look forward to some change!). If the future is like the present or some repeat of the past, albeit reheated somehow, then I can rest assured that I’ll be able to handle it.

But I wonder if we aren’t misplacing our need for constancy. Amidst all life’s changes and uncertainty, we want that which is familiar to hold and count on. It just seems funny that from our experience we might decide that the constant is either us or the world around us. (Maybe some of you are more stable than I!)

There’s the mantra, “God is the same, yesterday, today and always.” It drives me nuts. It’s ike grasping at straws. Again, maybe others have a more constant faith than I. But for me, God has changed over the years too — in some ways quite radically –as I and as the world around me have.

It could be that God has not changed, but that in the changes I’ve experienced myself, I can and do know God differently, like the parable of people each touching a different part of an elephant, and describing it variously as its long, strong trunk; or rough, leathery hide; or hard ivory tusk; or large flapping ear; or little switching tail. Still practically, my experience is that God Godself has changed too!

And I like that. I get to develop and evolve, why shouldn’t God? Could our changing be one of the ways we are reflections of the image of God!

And I’m glad I’ve experienced as the changing nature of God. It’s meant, God has “kept up” with me. Not that I’m out ahead! But that God cares enough about me to go through the changes need to stay close to me.

The hope that either we or the world around us is going to remain unchanged seems dubious at best. At least I’m not going to hang my hopes on that one. Even God is sort of a moving target. But, as I get older, it reassures me how God is always there.

Finally, I believe in a God who changes to stay in close relationship with us. The constancy we can expect and count on isn’t us, or the world. God never promises not to change. God neither promises future circumstances, uninterrupted prosperity or steady health. God’s only promise is to stick with us through it all.

Read Genesis 12:1-4a, and consider what it must have been like for Abraham to go someplace unexpected and where he couldn’t know how things would work out.

Read John 3:1-17 and consider what made it harder for Nicodemus to understand what he didn’t expect.

See you in church,

Michael