Tara and I have officially been in the process of house-hunting for a month. In other words, we've been in the game not quite long enough to fully understand the depth of the plight which afflicts many would-be home-owners in the state of New Jersey, but certainly long enough to taste just how frustrating the process can be. In fact, it's easy when facing inspection fees, renovation costs, and other up-front buyer expenses, to lose heart at the base of what can seem like an insurmountable mountain.
As we stand in this place -- uncertain yet determined travelers with our necks craning to see the peak, invisible behind a layer of fog -- another hiker comes up beside us. His name is Anxiety, and the task we face is the kind for which he likes to invite himself -- even though we have not asked for his company. His face is careworn, the kind that cries victim while surreptitiously demanding sympathy, but beneath this martyr's skin is a darker nature. Jesus would equate Anxiety with Pride -- a perfectionistic type of legalism that doggedly insists, "I must make the perfect decision because this is all on my shoulders" -- all while He, shaking His head, reminds us yet again that worrying doesn't add any extra hours to the length of our lives.
Anxiety has taken it upon himself to bring along another partner in crime, if only to entrench us in a protective layer of justification when things inevitably go downhill. This second traveler's name is Expectations. His face is young, naive and angular, with scrupulous eyes full of eager demands for the road -- dreams that will be easily crushed. Anxiety plays the pessimistic uncle to this opportunistic nephew. Being the more experienced, Anxiety wants to introduce Expectations to the cruel, ever-present governess known Reality, but Expectations doesn't see the need for instruction. Because of his jaded nature, Anxiety steels himself for what's around the corner, fearing the potential, while Expectations prepares for the great things he is certain are forthcoming.
Forgive me for waxing allegorical, but I think we can all insert ourselves into that place. We've all reached (or will inevitably reach) the fork in the road where the stakes have never been higher, and all our other traveling buddies -- Reason, Faith, Good Humor, and the rest -- have disappeared, leaving behind the less desirable companions.
When we find ourselves there, looking up at the mountain, arm-in-arm with our overwhelming anxieties on one side and our unfair expectations on the other, we begin to behave a lot like Peppermint Patty in the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special. We are inevitably disappointed when we come to the table of life and find that God has placed a plate of jellybeans, popcorn, and toast in front of us. We are taken aback by this dish, because we came across town with Marcy expecting turkey with all the trimmings, but Charlie Brown had something else in mind. In our eyes, this alternative is degrading. Tears of frustration well up in Expectations' eyes, and Anxiety begins fretting about how he will fix this situation.
Instead of recognizing that God is all-wise, all-knowing, and all-benevolent, we post our fists on our hips and allow ourselves the indignant pleasure of thinking that we know best. Being offended is so delicious when we are so very righteous.
"What kind of Thanksgiving dinner is this?" we demand, because our expectations have not been met, and - furthermore - have not been surpassed. Why is this mountain here? We want to know where the turkey is, because in order for life to be reasonable and fair, we have to have mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce on the side, and pumpkin pie for dessert. We want flat roads and plateaus, not valleys and foothills.
"Don't you know anything about Thanksgiving dinners?" we demand of our Father, forgetting the fact that not only does He completely sustain all life, but that He also knows how to give good and perfect gifts to His children - the gravy on top of it all.
And yet, we remain unsatisfied.
Tara and I have barely begun our journey up the mountain, but we are choosing to reflect on God's goodness to us in the past and to place our trust anew in His perfect provision for the future. With that perspective in mind, I find myself so immensely grateful for the fact that, even if we find the perfect home tomorrow that fits into our narrow mortgage window and meets all of the needs we think must be met, we will still not yet be home. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we are sojourners in a land that will never be anything but a tent, a rental. This world is just the less-than-adequate bed & breakfast on the way to our final destination.
Through this process, Tara and I are learning anew to trust that our Good Shepherd will continue to lead us in the same patient and instructive way in which He has always lead His people -- through the waters and through the flames. We are trusting that He will lead us to the perfect living situation by the end of February when our current lease expires, and ultimately that He will lead us all the way to our final home in His very presence.
Therefore, this Thanksgiving, I am leaving Anxiety and Expectations at the wayside and am consciously choosing to be thankful instead -- not only for the fact that I know God will continue to provide, but also for the fact that He alone is our fulfillment, in this life and the next.