As the saying goes, expectations are premeditated resentments. Yet expectations accumulate like stains on a white couch, appearing without us knowing when or from where they originated.
As a teenager, I acquired an expectation that my girlfriend would not criticize my singing voice, but that didn’t stop my girlfriend from giving me a book on being tone deaf. I also didn’t expect that she would later breakup with me in the most Jesus Juke way ever — by giving me a copy of I Kissed Dating Goodbye.
Expectations don’t reside just with dating. They extend into the divine.
I expected the 2,000-plus year old book that changed my life, the Bible, to always live up to my modern expectations for what an inspired text should be.
I expected that drawing near to God would prevent any dark nights of the soul.
I expected that if I did the right things by God, like marry a good Christian girl and become a preacher, then I would never find myself without a job or without a way to provide for said Christian girl when she was pregnant with our first child.
I never received the fulfillment of these expectations, but my soul did receive plenty of resentment. When God doesn’t do what we’ve superimposed upon God with our expectations, the blame doesn’t go to the earthly creator of the expectations, but instead to the heavens. We would rather blame God than do the introspection required to gain awareness of how I authored those expectations.
And why wouldn’t I?
These days, resentment and bitterness toward God can be spun into a badge of enlightenment, especially online.
Peter expected a messiah to look more like a conquering military leader like David than one that hangs upon a tree. Upon Jesus foretelling his suffering and death, Peter rebukes him, which in turn caused Jesus to call Peter “Satan.”
A fitting title for the expectation-heavy-Peter, because the accuser continues to use broken expectations to steal, kill, and destroy life with resentment.
But for the resentful and disheartened, there’s hope in the Gospel of McConaughey. My city, Austin, Texas, has a patron shirtless saint — Matthew McConaughey — who can guide us to salvation.
Over the past decade, many have marveled at St. Matthew’s Oscar-winning performance in Dallas Buyers Club, his Emmy-winning performance in True Detective, and Interstellar, the movie that made me sob uncontrollably in the theater while unaccompanied by any friends, much to the dismay of the theater’s other patrons who didn’t appreciate the existential crisis my 33-year-old self was experiencing while sitting alone in the back row.
Before this decade’s McConaissance, Hollywood relegated St. Matthew to romantic comedies. Couples across the nation blithely spent date night amused by his southern drawl and gratuitous abdominal shots, unfettered by the possibility of post-viewing plot ruminations or personal introspection. Unlike the McConaissance-era work like Insterstellar, which briefly inspired me to shun all work trips in fear that when I returned home my daughters would have rapidly aged to the end of their lives because a misdirected flight took me into a different gravitational field that prevented my aging. You know, the normal things many of us worry about.
The pre-McConaissance rom-com plot almost always revolved around a miscommunication between McConaughey and the female lead, a workaholic with no margin for romance. Until the climactic moment, when we discover that one (or plot twist: both) is jaded on love because a previous relationship broke their heart because it didn’t go as expected. In the obligatory Hollywood ending, St. Matthew and his love discard their resentments, because they experience something more powerful: love.
Love freed them from resentment.
And this is where I compare Jesus to Matthew McConaughey.
When resentment reigns in your heart, faith doesn’t thrive in your soul until the emergence of something more powerful.
One day in the synagogue, Jesus gives his followers the disturbing command that unless they eat and drink of him, they will not have life. A statement that eventually contributed to some outside the Christian community thinking Christians were cannibals and immediately caused many inside the community to stop following Jesus.
Upon seeing the exodus of followers, Jesus asks the disciples if they also want to leave. Peter responds, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
They don’t stay because Jesus lived up their expectations of never making disturbing statements or weighty requests.
They don’t stay because Jesus fulfills every one of their personal messianic expectations.
They stay because they’ve experienced something they can’t live without. Something more substantial than their own disappointments.
As Eugene Peterson says, “Jesus does not always meet our expectations, does not always give what we ask for or what we think we need. When he doesn’t, we feel let down, deflated, disappointed, or we surf to another channel on the TV, or we try out another church that will, hopefully, give us what we ask for.”
Like those early followers of Jesus, many walk away when Jesus doesn’t meet our expectations for the Bible, suffering, the direction of our life, prayer, or countless other expectations. But those of us who stay, or who return after a season wandering in the distant country, do so because we’ve experienced in Jesus a life that transcends this age.
We experience the life-giving power of love that’s more powerful than resentment. The expectations continue to be unrealized, but we experience a connection with God that transcends the disappointments of this age.
The next step is the creation of a lifestyle that keeps us connected to this resentment-conquering love. We develop and maintain practices that sustain our awareness of the presence of God. We do the introspections to examine, to name, and to eradicate the unrealistic expectations we’ve accumulated.
The gospel for us is that light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. The light reaches into the darkness of our resentment and invites us to receive God over our definition of good.