God give us rain when we expect sun.
Give us music when we expect trouble.
Give us tears when we expect breakfast.
Give us dreams when we expect a storm.
Give us a stray dog when we expect congratulations.
God play with us, turn us sideways and around.
— Michael Leunig
Like many people, I suppose, I find times of waiting and expectation to be terribly stressful. I want to know what will be and what my life will look like, but so many of the factors are often (and frankly remain) out of my control.
I remember returning from my ordination in Boston to hear a sermon about advent and the season of waiting. I felt irritated by the message to live into the waiting season as I awaited to learn where my next ministry would be. I had the same sense of irritation when I was told seven months pregnant with twins to enjoy being pregnant. Clearly the well-intentioned person before me had lost their mind, I oft concluded.
And yet, all these months and years later, I know these expecting times to be the ones in which I grow, transform and edge closer to the clarity of purpose and place. There is a reason, slightly more anthropological than theological, that many of the world’s traditions include rituals of waiting. Certainly advent is the season of expectation as the story of a pregnant Mary and her husband-to-be await the birth of Jesus. Yet, there is also solstice when through ritual and story we are invited to kindle lights and wait in the darkness for the return of the sun. Even in Islam, the Hajj, or pilgrimage, is not so much about arriving in Mecca but the intention to journey, that is the expectation of the destination. The vision of Mecca in your heart is the true pillar, not the completion of the journey.
Expectation is not the absence of reality and dreams but the presence of our intentions and hope. As arduous, anxiety-ridden and uncomfortable waiting is, the discomfort readies our spiritual muscles to stretch and respond in new ways. The uncertainty prepares us to balance in the unimaginable. And the difficulty of the journey is the preparation for the destination.
One of my mentors when I began the discernment process in ministry told me to pray that “my wildest expectations are failed.” Who prays such a terrifying prayer? I think most Unitarian Universalists do! We hope for the surprise and unpredictability which is the evolution of all creation, the punctuated, painful and promising emergence of new life. Yes, may our well-crafted reasonable expectations be failed by the flawed, fleeting and tenacious hold that love and life offer our very souls!
In faith and failed expectation yours,