waiting, hoping, expecting the wrong things

oh, advent started out hopeful for me.  and then this past week i tanked.

the trouble is that i actually tanked myself.  i did the thing  i should not do, should not do, should not do. i read too much online. i looked at too many other churches’ websites. i read about $40 million building campaigns and all the reasons why that is somehow a good idea,  i saw new buildings completely paid for thanks to an influx of millions.  i saw male pastor after male pastor after male pastor.   i saw female ministry assistant after female children’s director after female ministry associate.  i saw series that are influencing thousands of young people on biblical manhood and biblical womanhood and “the importance of upholding certain roles that God has designed specifically for men and women.”  i even did the unthinkable: i hit “play” on some promo videos. don’t ask me what i was thinking, i knew it was a terrible, horrible, awful idea, but i couldn’t stop myself. (john, quit shaking your head right now, i know, i know, i know).

and it came up on the heels of last week standing in target starting to cry when i realized we were $400 over budget on buying all-the-stuff-a-homeless-single-mom-and-her-4-children need to move in to transitional housing.   the refuge is re-doing the room & our budget is so tight right now that i have been stressed.  and a little scared.  we have always squeaked by, but it just is hard when it’s always so freaking tight financially.  of course, it will work out. it always does.  every single time, some little gift from above makes the difference, manna drops from heaven, and we eat.

that’s not the issue.  sure, part of the issue is with the “system” that drives me nuts, and many of us know that so many “church” resources are horribly misallocated.  the issue really is with me.  it is that i sometimes can’t seem to keep the tunnel vision i most desperately need.  when i am focused on what is right before me–hurting, beautiful, doubting, hoping people who are trying to figure out life, love, and God all mixed together, i am fine. it’s glorious.  it’s wonderful.  it’s hard but good.  it’s when i look up too long, when i focus on all that is “wrong” with a system that i cannot in any way, shape or form fix, that things go awry in my spirit. and i lose hope.

a huge piece of advent is focused on waiting, hoping, expecting.  i had this realization (yet again, it’s not like it’s brand new) that i am waiting, hoping, expecting for some of the wrong things. i keep waiting for a sugar daddy to rescue the refuge and make our lives-with-people-in-hard-places easier.  i keep waiting for someone “powerful” to believe in us (even though all of the underdogs seem to love us; please forgive me for sometimes not honoring properly your love, i am beginning to see all the wild and beautiful ways we have had help and encouragement in very tangible, manna-from-heaven-like ways, it just hasn’t come from the places i wanted it to–people with lots and lots of money, ha!).  i keep waiting for equality in the churches so many of my friends attend, knowing it’s probably realistically never going to happen there.  i keep waiting to “belong” to something that will make me feel valued and supported in more than just words from afar.  yes, i am waiting, hoping, expecting some of the wrong things.  i know this.  this isn’t news to me.  but i think somehow this weekend i got a glimpse of how expecting the wrong things guides more of me than i wish.  that it is subtly robbing me of peace and freedom.  it steals my hope.  and i let it.

so, something is shifting today. i confess, God, i often am waiting, hoping, expecting the wrong things.  i guess once again i am like the israelites–wanting a strong and powerful-in-the-worldly-ways messiah and ending up with a little baby in a manager who changed all the rules.

yes, my life is a gift.  the people in my life are a gift.  they have provided in ways that no sugar daddy could have ever provided.  they have encouraged and loved and shown up and supported in ways that money and power can never buy.  i have more than enough of the things that really matter.

so enough whining.  enough torturing myself online.   enough waiting, hoping, expecting the wrong things.

Jesus awaits.  the kingdom awaits.  it’s here, now.  the wild and beautiful upside down story where all the things that “make sense” don’t really make sense.  where the last will be first and the first will be last.  where “daily bread” sustains.  where shelter and help comes from the least likely of people.  where we turn the other cheek.  where we heap kindness on our enemies.  where we focus on our own log and not worry about our brother’s speck.  where we learn that love hurts sometimes.  and grace seems to pool up in the lowest of places.

that i can wait for, hope for, expect, and actually experience.

i know it looks different for everyone.  some of you might obsess about the same things i do, for others you don’t have church psycho-ness and your waiting, hoping, expecting is related to things completely different.  but my guess is many of us might be stuck waiting, hoping, expecting something that probably isn’t coming.  and in the midst of all that isn’t, we might miss what is.

this advent, i’m not going to miss it.

as always, i love to hear your thoughts & experiences.

* * * * *

christine sine is hosting a lovely series of posts this season called “advent: what are we waiting for?” check them out if you get a chance, a good mixture of thoughts & perspectives.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

24 Comments

  • Beautiful sharing, Kathy! I want to help but I’m a charity case myself right now. However, I, the atheist, am going to pay this article forward in hopes of helping your cause.

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  • You are SO not alone in this valley. Your post made me cry. My list would be a little different, but the feeling is the same — I’m waiting for it all to be the way I think it should be…and it’s not going to be. But it is. I just have to adjust my lens to see it! And I never liked those old glasses anyway.

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  • Wonderful post, Kathy. I’m so glad that people like you are out there trying to make a difference in the world.

    I do believe that gratitude is absolutely important, but so, sometimes, is anger. What if people like Martin Luther King had ONLY said, “Let’s rejoice in what God has given to us,” WITHOUT also saying, “But this isn’t how the world should be. Let’s work together and build something BETTER.”

    I love that you have both those energies inside you; they’re both so crucial. And, it seems like you know how to channel your anger and your frustration into creativity and community-building.

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  • God can be your sugar daddy!!! LOL!

    Thank you for your eloquent words and sharing your heart.

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  • Yes, thank you for sharing your soul Kathy. The uphill swim is exhausting and maddening at times. You’re not alone even when it feels like it.
    The books I’ve read and the ones I want to read tell me that somewhere there are a lot of people, not screaming loudly, but those who are just staying in the process that they believe is true. The truest way to live out the ways of Jesus.
    I believe as more people, like you, “stand up” from whatever dark corner they’re in and have the courage to live out their faith in the same vein as The Refuge that the collective voice will begin to be heard.

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  • Had a bit of a confessional myself this week. Way too many of my thoughts are consumed by the “big rescue” senarios. I get wanting the “Sugar Daddy” solutions. And, not wanting to pick a fight with Mark (I don’t think he meant it the way I heard it) but the answer that God can be my Sugar Daddy just makes my blood Pressure boil. I spent too many years in congregations that treated God like an over grown Santa and those who weren’t getting their slice of the God blessing like out of favor (in the closet) sinners. I think if I start by expecting today to be different in more peace, more hope, more love kinds of ways and I am active in pursuing those three things this season I will experience the magic of Christmas like never before. And, I will maybe find some of what I am expecting is a lot closer than I think.

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  • randi – thanks for your faithful encouragement…

    val – just love and support and encouragement is enough. thanks for it, it means more than you know, and always interesting how the least likely places of support (aka athiests, hahah and those without resources & a variety of other odd-connections) seem to be the most strong and real. thanks for your love from afar, facebook is so cool, the weird ways we can all re-connect and journey together.

    lori – thanks & yes, i know everyone’s situation is so different but that same waiting/hoping/expecting something that probably isn’t coming in the form we want it is probably something so many of us can connect to. see you saturday!

    joel – this is why i am so glad you comment because you offer a fresh honesty & truth that i always need to hear, a reminder that change requires stirring and standing for and being willing to rock the status quo. sure, there can be gratefulness in the mix and that’s where i want to remain, but that doesn’t mean complacency or acceptance of things we passionately disagree with, either. thanks for your encouragement and challenge.

    ryan – thanks for sharing, am going to go take a look tonight!

    mark – you always make me smile. thanks for your encouragement from afar…

    mary – i really think you are right on in terms of just doing it, living it, quietly, passionately, loudly, whatever it looks like, doing it…..and that so many are doing it and it is changing things. i didn’t mention that in my post but in the same vein as all my crazy looking at all the life-sucking sites there are just as many life-giving sites, amazing people really living out the ways of Jesus tangibly, simply, quietly, beautifully. that gives me hope. i need to constantly remember that and seek out their quiet and powerful voice instead of the loud blaring one that is so much easier to listen to…thanks for sharing your thoughts, as always

    minnow – yeah, the “big rescue” scenarios can really leave us disappointed, but as you said, seeking simply more peace, more hope, more love, whatever that looks like–hmm, that feels possible. if you knew mark, you’d know he totally doesn’t mean it that weird-santa-way, but i know how it can tap into that, especially when that’s been drilled into so many cultures. i know it is in me, more than i know sometimes, and i ask “is our struggle because i don’t have enough faith, don’t do this, don’t do that. and maybe if i could figure it out, God would deliver the goods the way it seems like happens for other people?” oh that is so messed up!!!! and thankfully much less present in my life than it was, but once that gets in the fabric of your spirituality, it’s hard to shake out. thanks for sharing…

    jasmine – oh you are so great. sending love across the miles and hope for you, too, in the midst of so much unknown.

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  • I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t sad reading this.. for you, for me, for all of us. I see it and hear you clearly (up close and personal) about the “church” resources being horribly misallocated.. I mean, it wasn’t like we were trying to budget for a marbled fireplace, but sheets and towels and blankets for an almost-not-homeless family of five that has nothing.

    I love, however, that how once the fog lifted, there was a fresh reminder of what really *is*. What I see here is a glorious community so beautiful, so safe, so creative, so loving, so real, so generous, that it makes me ache with happiness. Can’t always find that on a promo video. 😉

    In this season, I am also trying *really, really hard* to see the unseen, and have faith where it looks kind of fuzzy.. Not just for our finances, but for our lives and hearts. What I do know for sure is that we write HOPE on the wall. 🙂

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  • Kathy – Why do you look at those sites? I know I need to stay away from them just like one friend needs to stay away from porno sites and just like another friend needs to stay out of bars. Those sites and the stories they tell do not nourish my soul.

    The people who are part of those groups have convinced themselves that those of us who are called to social justice have been cajoled out of our social indifference by guilt, fear, shame and moralism. They see those of us in the “following Jesus movement” as doing what we do because we are giving in to “the temptation of the devout that Jesus described, of the evangelical Pharisee”, who are “anxiously comparing ourselves with ‘the rest of the world'” (This comes from an article in the October issue of “Christianity Today”. I’ll send you the link if you like, but it may make your blood boil.)

    Such an out-of-hand dismissal of those who seek to follow not just Jesus, but also His commands (“If you love me you will keep my commands”) serves not only as a salve for the conscience for those who are otherwise occupied, but also serves to validate why they spend huge sums on themselves (beautiful buildings, people hired to do what they themselves do not want to do and programs that make them feel comfortable), and invent fantastic theologies (supposedly based on the Bible) that keep women, the poor, the oppressed, those they disagree with politically, and certain classes of “sinners” in their proper “place”.

    That is religion, pure and simple. Undoubtedly there are those within the ranks of these groups who are indeed followers of Jesus. Of course we think they have been deluded into giving millions to pay for glorious new cathedrals, and they think we are helping the poor woman and her children get off the street because of our guilt, fear, shame and moralism.

    I know some of these people. They rationalize that they are not involved in helping those who need a hand because they are not “called”, nor do they have the time. In the next breath they are talking about their trip to this place or that place, their new swimming pool, the restaurants they have been trying out, the new car, the newest and latest technological product they just bought or of which they are comparing the fifty top models.

    Jesus said if we love Him we will keep His commands. Nowhere do I find commands to build buildings in His name, hire huge staffs to “do ministry”, spend vast sums for landscaping, Easter pageants and you-name-it. But I do see a lot about helping the poor, the oppressed, the afflicted, the lonely, and almost everyone else who needs a hand. We do this not out of guilt, or because we are merely emphasizing the “horizontal” (a reference to the “Christianity Today” article), but because we have chosen to take up our crosses and follow Him. We love Him and keep His commands because He first loved us. We serve people because He came not to be served, but to be a servant. We can not do this through our own power, but only because of our direct connection to Him.

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  • Kathy,

    I especially like this sentence “when i focus on all that is “wrong” with a system that i cannot in any way, shape or form fix” because you’re right – we can’t fix it and we’re not supposed to. Remember the tares and the wheat growing together – the real church is present in the middle of what looks like Christianity. The real church obeys its Lord and lives to please Him, not to build beautiful buildings, orchestrate programs and play church. It takes such faith and intentionality to trust God, look to Jesus and run the race.

    Thank you for your honesty and the courage that you show in living what you believe and trying to share your vision with those of us who have given up….

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  • Sorry that I don’t have *more* encouraging words — or any actual words other than “wow”. I’m sure you understand though that when I say ‘wow’ = I’m saying — powerful, deep, sad and that I’m here and I hear. I’m listening! 🙂 Thanks kathy

    I definitely hear you and minnow on this too — many times I get into the trap of thinking $$$ = blessing or God’s favor….

    yet I turn to the Bible and I don’t see that everywhere. I see contentment, warning against chasing $, and even in Proverbs – God just give me enough to survive nothing less nothing more…..

    it seems that we all have our own unique struggles…. and God has people struggle with finances as well…..I know there’s a lot of questions on God’s sovereignty and all that….. but anyway — seems to me many times the heroes of the Bible had SO many more struggles than us … God’s favor isn’t always evident in earthly ‘things’ huh? hard to conform our mind to that though….

    the world judges spiritual health by so many things other than spiritual health.

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  • Mark–I hope you understood that I was not saying you were saying what I heard. The tapes I keep hauling around with me from some very old and ready for the burn pile thinking get triggered every now and then and well, I respond.

    Randi–“the world judges spiritual health by so many things other than spiritual health.” That’ll preach!!

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  • I always struggle at Christmas time; too many expected disappointments. I am always grateful that it ends on Jan 2, my birthday. I can’t bear the thought of advent. Please forgive me and I will return to “normal” after then. Great post by the way. Sometimes I think you should just write.

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  • A lot of people missed the first Advent, a few got to see it but most missed it. Rome was doing it’s thing, religion didn’t want to know and I’m thinking …

    the dominant culture still don’t want to know and religion don’t want the Kingdom messing with it’s thing.

    He went about saying – change your ways of thinking the Kingdom is here.

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  • Kathy. I have been struggling with my own feelings in this same regard. I was excited about advent…hoping once again that the ‘experience’ or the process would somehow magically recapture the old feelings I once had back in my Mega church days…I too find myself waiting for alot of the wrong things…instead of just ‘being’ in the moment…being where I am.
    It’s those pesky ‘expectations’ that limit possibilities for something other…I think I have too many ‘old’ expectations.
    I really set out to be ‘joyful’ this advent…thinking I had come so far since last year…but…the feeling that seems to be the most overwhelming in my life this year is sadness. I am on the verge of tears all the time…Maybe that’s better than this time last year when it seems I was mostly feeling the need to seriously hurt someone…I had so much anger!
    However, I still have hope that all of this …my life…and my current experiences with my wonderful new community etc…arenot just a ‘loss cause’ but instead part of the mystery of God working in my life.

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  • Kathy, a great post from a woman’s heart. I am in the US for a little while to finish up closing on my house so I can get back to H. I get distracted by the number of amplifiers in our assembly room in my Mega Church in the US. Or the need for air conditioning in December in case we get stuffy. In the main church I attend in H, we have air conditioning courtesy of unfinished walls that no one as money to fix. And no need for fancy lighting as we have a few bulbs hanging from wires from the tin ceiling. I miss that church b/c we have faith, worship and an experience with God, even if the pews are unfinished wooden benches, and the parking lot is gravel and stones. In two different churches of widely different methodology I heard virtually the same sermon two weeks in a row lately. The Kingdom is not here yet in its fullness. But it’s coming. And we may be surprised at the reversals that God will institute when the Kingdom is truly a reality. Keep going against the flow Kathy because you are storing treasures in heaven, not soundspeakers and fancy parking lots on earth. In the meantime I am believing God for two things I am asked for most in Honduras: food and Bibles.

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  • sorry for the delayed response. been down with a nasty cold, argh!

    stacy – thanks my hopeful friend and your sweet words and faithful presence mean more than you know. no more internet surfing, hahha. keep helping me see what is right before me.

    sam – i know, i know, i know. it is just plain dumb to even “go there”. i know what i will see and et it and it is always bad for the soul. no more, i am working on my sobriety… i do so agree with you how disparate and messed up the system is. i do not want to lose sight ever of how inconsistent some of our decisions corporately are and how disconnected from real life the church can get. i think the real change that will continue to happen is when more and more people’s hearts are stirred up to love in really tangible ways and refuse to participate in a system that is disconnected from real life. thanks as always for sharing.

    ginger – thanks for posting & for your beautiful words. i especially liked what you said here: “the real church is present in the middle of what looks like Christianity.”

    randi– thanks for your thoughts. i have felt so encouraged in this past week, sometimes just saying it is enough for me (i think you might be able to relate). i really like what you said: “the world judges spiritual health by so many things other than spiritual health.” i do agree, what we call “mature” is usually related to education, bible knowledge, put-together-ness, and not relational ,in-the-trenches-with-hurting-people kinds of things. interesting, eh?

    mark – yes, my friend, the kingdom is here. i see it a lot. and i know you do, too.

    joy – oh thanks for sharing and yes it is beautiful to see what continues to emerge in you…i think the anger is a way through. i love your heart, your passion, and am with you on learning to embrace the mystery and just go along for the ride and enjoy it instead of kicking and fighting it.

    laurie – oh i always love to hear from you. yeah, once you taste the things from below, we can never go back. i am not in typical church very often but once in a while i am and i am always so reminded of how “weird” it is feels. how can we help with food & bibles? send a link so i can pass on. love & hope to you in the trenches.

    christine – thanks for the invite. it’s always fun to be part.

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  • minnow & keith, somehow i missed you guys when i responded, sorry!

    minnow – yeah, i am glad you clarified. it’s funny how we all have our little triggers and how powerful they are. i know the feeling. thanks for your honesty.

    keith – no need to ask for forgiveness, i know it’s a rough time for so many at the refuge right now. not the merriest-time-of-year. we miss seeing you though and glad you could come to joshua station last night. hope we can celebrate on january 2nd, a new year. thanks for sharing

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  • Hey Kathy….. I love you.
    A long time ago I used to pray to see and feel things as God saw and felt them… as the pain in my heart grew I knew that I couldn’t survive long with that prayer and dropped it. I’ve been thinking about you a lot these last couple of weeks and was reminded of that prayer. Maybe I’m way off but I think that the anger and frustration you (we) feel when we see the distortion & misrepresentation of God is a smidgen of what God feels. I don’t think our hearts were made to hold so much hurt but maybe a touch of that hurt makes the love we have that much sweeter to those of our community.
    I love that you can find the words to write and share this great big heart of yours… I hate that it knows pain but it helps me knowing I’m not alone.
    Donna

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  • donna – oh how i love you and am glad that we share the journey from afar. yeah, i am glad God’s God and i’m not. so hard. but even a smidgen of connection with the reality of pain and suffering up-close-and-personal does do something to our hearts. and no doubt, i do think that tasting the pain helps taste the sweet somehow…xo

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