The danger of expectations
This Easter was different than what it usually is. Perhaps I should re-word that: it was different than what I expected (and hoped) it would be. I like ending the forty days of Lent with the Easter Vigil Mass where I experience a rush of joyful emotions. Happy tears stream down my face as I watch the newly baptized welcome into the Church. I am overcome with gratitude and in awe of God's presence and unconditional love. This is what I always feel and that is exactly what was I expecting to feel again this year- a spiritual high. What did I get instead? A big fat nothing. Okay, "nothing" is over exaggerating a bit. But that is honestly how I felt this morning.
This is where I should tell you that I haven't been to an Easter Vigil Mass in a long time- probably since the time when one of my dear friends was confirmed when we lived out of state. I think that was plus or minus 5 years ago. While I LOVE the Vigil Mass, I haven't been able to go during this season of my life with four little ones and unfortunately today was no different. Attending is simply too hard on them and me. I look forward to the days when they are older and I can take them to my very favorite and very long Mass. :)
This Lent has been one of great spiritual work for me. I say that not to toot my own horn by any means. I say that to admit out loud how much I struggled. I completely failed with staying committed to excluding the two things I gave up. I did better with the one thing I acquired but overall I was an emotional mess (just ask my husband. He'll tell you.) I wrestled with my inadequacies and a few times I almost believed that awful whisper behind me that said, "God can't change a person like you." I experienced so many conflicting emotions- one minute I was joyful, at peace and felt wrapped in God's love. The next minute I was sad and/or angry and felt so far away from my Father who loves me. I was exhausted from all that I was feeling and learning. The one thing I kept telling myself was that "This isn't how it's supposed to be. Why is this so hard this year? I have a pattern to my Lent and this isn't my norm."
(I know, how childish and selfish of me, right?)
I expected to feel all the pleasant emotions that I have often felt in the past during this season but this year I felt none of them. I felt the opposite of pleasant and to be perfectly honest, it started to freak me out. I'm the kid who has always had positive, memorable experiences when it comes to my faith- at Mass, Adoration, during prayer... you name the situation and I've usually had a warm-fuzzy-God-loves-me feeling to accompany it. But this Lent was so different than all the others (as it should be because this isn't the past). I expected to feel a special closeness to God after all my efforts in growing in prayer, except I felt more distant than ever. When I expected to feel joy and thanksgiving, I felt nothing at all. Because I felt nothing I assumed nothing was happening just like that little voice kept repeating, "God can't change a person like you." It was the first time in my life that I felt nothing when I prayed. I felt alone and I could finally relate to the person who shows up at church and can't feel God's presence like so many others can. Or the kid who goes on a retreat and doesn't have a big, emotional experience like a lot of the other kids do. It was my much needed wake up call. I was reminded of three important lessons:
1. Don't limit God and His work to fit my expectations.
2. Quit expecting nothing better than my "normal" (my comfort zone).
3. Always stay diligent in prayer regardless of my feelings.
Placing expectations on God in the outcome of my spiritual growth just sabotages the entire process. More importantly, who am I to tell God what He can and cannot do and when He should do it? It wasn't easy but I learned day and after day to pray, whether I felt like it or not, to trust even though I sometimes felt like He wasn't always there and to ask God to help me live in His truth. Emotions aren't truth- they are feelings that are constantly changing and I could no longer allow them to rule my life.
Just like Lent, this Easter was also different than what it has usually been for me. I placed unfair expectations on my family and what I thought the day should be like which prevented me from fully enjoying each moment as it came. Our day was a quieter than I hoped it would be. Unfortunately, we have two sick kids. One is getting over a cold and the other has bad case of pink eye that earned her a trip to the emergency room last night. Everything is fine but the lack of sleep has left us exhausted. Those things coupled with not being able to go to Mass today left me feeling a bit down and out on what is the most glorious and joyful day of the year. Don't get me wrong, I had a great day. However, I was focused too much on what was wrong or unexpected and I wasn't focused on remaining joyous and thankful on this beautiful Easter Day. Just as I was about to call it a night when I remembered what I had learned. Always stay diligent in prayer regardless of my feelings.
So I prayed and then went on about my business.
Not too long after I found this picture that our daughter drew, sitting at the end of table. God reminded me through our sweet little girl that He is most definitely at work...
"Jesus is alive and I love him."
And then joy came flooding in. Pure joy.
And then joy came flooding in. Pure joy.
He loves me more than I will ever understand.
Don't limit God.
He is risen indeed!