Expectation and Entitlement: Basically a Ton of Questions and No Answers

I grew up believing in a God who bestowed favor on his children in all kinds of tangible ways. When I snagged the last pair of shoes that just happened to be in my size and, surprise, they were on sale…divine favor. When the vending machine accidentally dropped two bags of chips instead of one…divine favor. When the closest parking space to the door became available just as we pulled up…divine favor.

We prayed big prayers with loud voices. We lifted our hands and we claimed the “promises of God,” whatever we thought that looked like in a given situation. We were bold in our requests and confident in the outcome. We cursed the devil and all of his works, from cancer to witchcraft to democrats.

We were like horsemen, using prayer to direct a mighty power, the way the rider uses reins to tell his horse which way to turn. 

In college I discovered theology for the first time. I learned about different forms of biblical interpretation and different faith traditions, and I started probing into the “why” behind what I believed and how I expressed it. Along with many other things I questioned, I started to feel like there was something pretty arrogant about telling God what you’d like him to do and how you’d like him to do it. 

If the favor of God* was evidenced by material gain, physical comfort, or what many would deem “good luck,” what did that mean for the mother trapped in a cycle of poverty, unable to provide for her children and hopeless to find a way out? Or for the child who was abused while the world looked the other way? Or for the man who was shot and killed because the color of his skin sparked fear in the heart of someone more powerful? I could not accept that God was answering my prayers and showing favor by arranging a convenient parking space while another woman died from a lack of clean water. 

The result was that over time my prayers became more vague. Now I pray for peace. I pray for God’s presence. I pray for direction. I pray for the faith to trust in God’s provision. I rarely ask for anything specific. This is partly from the theological conviction that we are not God’s puppetmasters, but if I’m honest, it might also partly be to protect myself from his silence. If I pray “God, please help my husband find a higher-paying job,” I am set up for disappointment if it doesn’t happen. If I pray, “God please be with me,” I am guaranteed a positive answer. God is always with us. Crisis of faith avoided.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I am living through a season of tremendous uncertainty. Every plan I had for the future and everything I thought I knew about the shape my life would take has changed. In about 4 months I will become a mother. On a very practical level, I do not know yet how we will provide for our child financially, what our childcare situation will be like, how my mental health will be impacted postpartum, or how long we will be in Hong Kong. These are concrete questions that need concrete answers. But I find myself unable to ask God for any of these things. I haven’t prayed for a higher salary or that I wouldn’t get postpartum depression. I’ve just prayed for “provision” and “peace.”

Is it a theological issue of believing it is wrong to pray for the things I want? Or is it that I no longer believe in God’s ability to impact real-world scenarios? Do I pray in big-picture terms for God’s provision because it isn’t my place to try to dictate how God should provide? Or is it because I don’t believe he is powerful enough or interested enough to change my circumstances? Do I dare ask God to provide a way for me to stay home with my baby and still save money for our eventual move home? Is that an arrogant request in the face of a world with so much real need and real suffering? Or is it holy boldness? The kind that gave Peter the confidence to say to the lame man, “Stand and walk” ?

Can I ask God for something and believe wholeheartedly that he can make it happen without believing he should make it happen? And if so, how do I ask with expectation-with hope–but without entitlement? ________________________________________________________________________________

*I wrote a post a long time ago now about how my understanding of divine favor has changed. You can read it here.


Eat, Pray, Love: How things you won’t find in a Family Christian Store can move your soul

Well, it’s been a while. In the time since my last post I’ve been to Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario, Canada. I have seen the Amish, been to Niagara Falls, lost two more pounds (for a grand total of 12.2, for all you Weight Watcher buddies,) watched a delightful performance of My Fair Lady, decided to move to North Carolina, and underwent minor surgery. But I don’t actually want to write about any of those things. For now, at least.

What I do want to write about is how I am borderline obsessed with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. My first encounter with it was last summer when the movie first came to theaters. I was mesmerized. I was literally unable to look away as I watched the movie. Since then I’ve read the book and seen the movie several more times and each viewing evokes the same response in me. Admiration. Longing. Inspiration.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Eat, Pray, Love it is the true story of writer Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey to find peace and joy and balance in her life. Gilbert travels to Italy where she spends several months eating Italian food, learning to speak Italian, and learning to really enjoy and savor life. Then she spends several months in India at the ashram of the guru she follows, devoting herself to spiritual disciplines and making peace with God. Then she finishes her year with several months in Bali making friends with natives, and learning to love others.

It’s not that I agree with the particulars of her journey. I don’t think I should leave my husband and travel the world to find myself, I’m not Hindu so her version of spiritual truth doesn’t impact me, and I hardly think that a Balinese medicine man holds the key to balance in life. What I find so compelling about Gilbert’s story isn’t really the particulars, it is the overall sense of the journey. Besides feeding my overwhelming desire to travel and see everything in the world before I die, the thing I find most captivating is Liz Gilbert’s honesty in admitting that although her writing had won prizes and she lived a life that most anyone would have called successful, there was something missing. She recognized that she needed to find spiritual peace and that she needed to understand herself better. From the way she describes it in her book, the majority of her adult relationships had been co-dependant ones in which she lost herself in trying to become the perfect match for whomever she was with. Her journey was about self-discovery, it was about spiritual discovery, and it was about learning to balance those things in such a way as to be loving towards herself and towards the rest of the world.

Julia Robert’s version of Liz Gilbert sums up her journey here:

I admire this woman for her desire to know God and the lengths she was willing to go to to make that happen, regardless of whether or not I believe in her religion. While not many of us have the means or ability to leave everything and go somewhere new and unfamiliar to devote ourselves to nurturing our spiritual lives, I am convicted that I am rarely willing to leave anything or put anything aside for the sake of developing my spiritual life. I have many questions for God and I also want to come to peace with God and with the truth, but if I am going to be honest, I haven’t really devoted my energy to it. I have thrown up questions to the sky as though I wasn’t expecting them to be answered. This final clip of the movie about what Gilbert calls, “The Physics of the Quest” is a challenge to me. I have asked and continue to ask my questions. Getting to the point that I allowed myself to ask them in the first place was a journey of its own. But now that I’m here, I realize that I need to do that second part. To regard those I meet and the experiences I have as teachers and lessons. To acknowledge that God works in our lives through other people and through our circumstances and to pay attention to the ways in which he is offering answers. Granting peace.

This is what I wrestle with…I want to believe that God has a purpose for my life that doesn’t include wandering aimlessly through it, but lately I just can’t see it. I want to believe that God is good in such a way that I really can trust that the events of our world are in his hands, but sometimes I feel like we just attribute good things to him and write bad things off as his inexplicable sovereignty. I want to believe that God is perfectly just, even when I don’t understand how he’s displaying that in a particular situation. And finally, I want to be open to seeing and hearing the ways God meets me in my doubt in my everyday life.

I think we are all voyeurs at heart. It’s why we read people’s blogs and stalk their facebook pages, and (even if we aren’t the type to seek it out on our own) can’t help being interested when we hear a detail about the Royal Wedding or Lindsay Lohan’s arrest record. We love to take our stories and lay them beside other peoples, compare and contrast. We are comforted by finding that someone else thinks like us, struggles the way we do, wants what we want. Or we are (strangely) comforted by seeing someone doing worse than we are and pumping ourselves up about it. Whichever one you are (and don’t be ashamed because I’ve definitely been both) I want you to know that I’m inviting your voyeurism. I invite you to watch and to listen to my ramblings. And I invite you to participate.

PS. If you want to read some supremely witty and clever commentary on movies and media and life, check out my hubby’s blog, Found Footage.