The first year we were married, I decided to make a nightstand for my wife Jenny for Christmas.
Because I am stupid.
I’d never built anything in my life, but in my arrogance thought to myself, “How hard can it be?”
So I tore out a picture of a nightstand from the Pottery Barn catalog and went to Home Depot. Without any sort of plan, I walked the aisles picking up random items. “Jigsaw? Probably going to need that. Hand saw? Why not. Hammer and nails? Of course.” Then I bought a bunch of lumber.
Driving home I thought, “This is going to be too easy for me. I’ll probably finish too quickly. Why don’t I learn woodcarving too? I’ll get some carving tools and carve out a topiary into the front of the nightstand. How hard can it be?”
So I purchased some more tools and retreated into our basement in Arlington, Massachusetts.
Hours later I emerged with the world’s heaviest, nail-iest box. It weighed 14 pounds and had 27 crooked nails jutting out of it. My dad advised me to take the wood to a retired carpenter from our church. He was in his 70s and agreed to help me build the nightstand in his shop. In about 15 minutes, disgusted with my complete lack of skills, he asked me to leave the shop and said simply, “I’ll call you when this thing is done and you can come pick it up.”
If you ever come over to our house, you can see the nightstand, a shameful monument to my completely warped expectations of what I am capable of.
Expectations are a funny thing. The tighter we hold on to an expectation, the more it shapes the actual experience. When you think something is going to go a certain way, you tend to judge how it actually went by your preconceived expectations. They become your measuring stick, filter and scoring system. What is ultimately just an idea in your head can strongly impact the reality in your life.
And if I’m honest, I do that sometimes with God.
I caught myself doing that a lot this fall. Once my book Quitter released I felt a great sense of “What next?” There’s this weird feeling of emptiness that happens once a book is released. You write and write and run and run and then things go quiet. This project that consumed you is suddenly complete. And, in those moments, I started to wrestle with God about what he was calling me to.
The path forward didn’t have the clarity I would have liked. It was darker than I liked. It was murkier than I wanted it to be. As I’ve said before, I felt like everyone else had a plan for their life except for me.
This was frustrating, in part, because of one of my favorite verses. In 1 Peter 5:6 it says, “Humble yourselves, therefore under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” I felt like I was doing that. I was humbling myself under God’s mighty hand. So why then did it feel like I wasn’t making any progress? Why did it feel so dark? Why did it feel so uncertain?
Because of my expectations.
I failed to realize that sometimes being “UNDER God’s mighty hand,” can feel a lot like being in a cave. That’s the reality of being under something. Have you ever been under a blanket? Or under a bed? You’re hidden. It’s quiet. It’s safe.
But it’s not what I expected. I didn’t want the David experience, where he retreated to a cave with his men and his God. I wanted the verse to say, “Humble yourselves, therefore on top of God’s mighty hand.” I had a secret expectation of what it means to be protected by God and it didn’t include the word “under.”
I also hadn’t expected the phrase, “due time.” I expected the verse to read “your time” or “Jon’s time.” Due time? What does that even mean? Can we get an ETA God? Can you set some expectations please?
But he doesn’t, not always, and not in the way we might want him to.
Right now, it might feel like you’re in a cave. You’re in the middle of a divorce you didn’t want from a person you don’t think you can live without. You’re staring down graduation, and your future is looming in a menacing way. You’re unemployed, and “due time” feels like “never.”
Don’t listen to the voice that tells you that you’ve failed if you find yourself in a cave. Sometimes, that’s exactly where God calls us when we find ourselves under his hand.
Because it’s safe and secure and maybe even quiet enough for you to hear him say, “I love you.”