Have you ever had to learn a lesson over and over again until one day your brain decides to just wake up and get it?
That pretty much sums up my life. At least the majority of it anyway! Never content to learn the lesson and move on, I would thrash it out until every last possibility was exhausted and my heart laid in shredded chunks – ready to be glued back together right in time for the next round of course.
As I’ve aged, and maturity has finally found and dragged me into adulthood, the rosy bush isn’t ringing so much anymore. Just as well, because present day Rebecca has a real issue with repetition. Meaning, I don’t like it. I believe that if you’re told something once, then once should be enough (what a stunning turnaround).
I’m not trying to validate this attitude – in fact I know it’s not the most gracious one to have. I’ve learnt how to curb my expectation toward other people who still visit that annoying rosy bush, and now I just get all judgmental on myself.
But there’s one lesson I just can’t seem to learn – yet anyway. And that’s the lesson of unqualified expectation. What is this unqualified expectation thing all about? Well, it’s basically about expecting the worst in any given situation. For no (qualified) reason.
There’s a part in my book that talks about it in relation to this cancer journey I’ve just been on, but if I’m honest, I’ve struggled with this thing for most of my life. I guess it’s understandable that because of the sheer number of trials, challenges, valley’s and mountains I’ve had to walk through in the last 38 years, there had to come a point where my mind and heart would default to expecting the worst to happen. That kind of makes sense right? I’m not saying it is right, I’m just saying that it is understandable. The cancer journey just solidified it even more, and much to my disappointment, still rears it’s ugly head every now and then. The only difference these days is that I know the truth. But the truth can sometimes be so damn hard to apply. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Let me tell you about my latest backpack filled with unqualified expectation.
I had just gotten the all clear for my yearly mammogram (yay!) and was feeling pretty good about life in general. Something in me started to relax just a little, as I gave myself permission to exhale for what felt like the first time in a long time. Not one week later I was adjusting my bra (sorry if that’s too much information) and what do you know….I felt a lump on my cancer side.
BAM. First unqualified expectation. To my credit I immediately replaced the tidal wave of panic with logical thinking and decided it was probably just my rib poking out. Two weeks later the lump was still there so I put my big girl brave face on and mentioned it to my oncologist. He checked it and decided I needed an ultrasound asap.
BAM. Second unqualified expectation. If the oncologist saw the need for a scan, then of course it was something bad. So I dragged my sorry behind to the hospital and went through the same old ground hog day motions. The grim expressions on the scanners face was enough to send me hurtling down the ugliest side of Rebecca’s memory lane, and when they told me I had not one but two lumps and needed an immediate biopsy, I burst into tears like a little girl. Because that’s what you do when the weight of your worst expectations tries to crush you – right?
And then the wait began which was fraught with even more moments of unqualified expectation, just.like.last.time.
If you’ve read Chapter 3 of my e-book Purpose Driven, you would know that in my opinion the waiting campsite is by far the worst. Not because it actually is, but because this is where your mind can do a real number on you. This is some of what I wrote;
Waiting can be its own special kind of hell. Dealing with every thought you can possibly imagine, and every emotion that ever did exist. Going through scenario after scenario, imagining all sorts of outcomes and scenes in your head about what you would say, what you would do, how you would handle this, that, and the other thing. This was probably one of the most painful campsites if I’m honest. There’s nothing like not knowing whether there’s some killer disease lurking inside your body and spreading its nasty poisonous tendrils around - or not.
So this is the problem, but what is the answer? Well not two paragraphs later the answer is written in black and white;
I know, it's hard to fill in and move forward when you're stuck in the campsite called Waiting wandering around in circles, because let's face it – there’s nowhere else you can go when you’re waiting. Hellllo! Not physically anyway. Spiritually you can still draw nearer to God - whether it’s you drawing nearer to Him or Him drawing nearer to you. Either way growth can still happen in that campsite if you set your mind on things above.
Thankfully I heeded my own advice (funny thing about giving advice – its easy to give it, not so easy to take it yourself), and after a day of feeling sorry for myself, I picked up the conversation with God. “Ok God. What you got for me? Here I am again, it feels like the same old same old. And we know how this story plays out….or at least how it played out last time. Does it really have to be the same again God (seriously!!)?”
A good friend of mine stopped by at just the right time and encouraged me with the story of Moses in the book of Numbers. In a nutshell, God told Moses to do something a certain way the first time, then do it a different way the second time. Moses didn’t heed God’s instruction (preferring instead to approach the issue the same old way – because well, it worked last time so why not?) and boy did he - and everyone else around him face the consequences for that.
The point – maybe God wanted me to grow a little bit more and approach this issue a different way. An even better way. Maybe that meant NOT entertaining my backpack FULL OF UNQUALIFIED EXPECTATION. Because if we expect the worst every single time then, well you guessed it - the worst can happen. Not to mention the fact that God has no room to move when you lock Him up in your mind and speak doom and death over yourself.
One week later and a whole lot of trying to approach this ugliness in a different way, I got my results back and they were clear. The lumps were benign. Is this because I dared to imagine the best? Because I tried with all my heart and soul to empty that backpack full of all its unqualified expectation? I guess I’ll never know but it kind of makes sense right? Give God an inch and watch what happens!
Of course this news was cause for celebration, but I couldn’t help but think that this was going to be my life from now on. That lumps, bumps, scans, and scares were just par for the course, a fact of life, a reality for me from now on, and I had better figure out a way to live with it – and to live with it well. Otherwise, you guessed it – there sits another backpack ready to cripple my walk.
I guess the overall lesson for me and for anyone else who struggles with these heavy backpacks, is obviously to stop expecting the worst to happen in your life. God does have good thoughts and plans for us, but sometimes we hijack and hold up the bus just by thinking, feeling and speaking negativity over our lives. Words can kill or give life – we get to choose how to use them. So why not use them to create life?
As I said earlier, I’m still trying to learn this lesson – as its not an easy one for me, but I take much encouragement from my latest lesson, and I hope you can to!