I was almost 3 years old when my parents brought my little brother home from the hospital. The timing was perfect. I loved to keep my baby dolls comfortable in his bouncy seat, baby swing and even his car seat. And of course, having a real baby around was a dream come true for a natural-born nurturer. Even before I could read, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: a mother.
This desire only grew with time, maturing into an expectation that I would leave home and have my own family as soon as possible. But right now, as I approach a decade since high school, I’m finding that few things I expected have happened.
I still live at home. I still work outside my degree field. This isn’t where I thought I’d be at age 26. And as I talk to others in their 20s and 30s, I realize my story is not unusual. For many of us, our stories right now don’t match the dreams we have always had. But within that hard reality, I’m learning that life isn’t about my expectations and never has been really. And God’s plan is bigger and greater than any I would have written on my own. (Shocker, I know.)
In the face of unmet expectations, I’ve found a rock-solid foundation in this truth: As a redeemed child of God, what I do have is so much greater than anything I lack. In Ephesians 1:3-4 Paul offers this encouragement:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
Every spiritual blessing. Every single one. Paul goes on to say that we have been chosen and adopted. And in the next few verses he proclaims this amazing truth:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight.
Paul’s language here is dripping with grace. We haven’t just been blessed — we have been blessed with everything. There really is no way to adequately summarize or communicate what we’ve received in Christ. Even long-winded Paul ran out of adjectives and said: “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15, NASB). Through the greatest possible sacrifice, the perfect, eternal and all-powerful God made us His children, with all the blessings and benefits and eternal security that come with that.
The summer I turned 20, two of my friends got married. I was six months younger than them, so I assumed, naturally, that it would be just a few more months, maybe a year, until my turn.
But it wasn’t. Both of those friends now have three kids each, while I find myself essentially where I was a year ago … two years ago … and the year before that. Same job. Same routine. Same not-what-I-had-planned life.
I think most of us have felt that twinge of missing out. Contentment and gratitude can feel hard to find. But when we live in a mindset of “if-onlys” and focus more on what we don’t have than the treasures we do have, it’s like looking at Paul’s list of undeserved blessings and saying, “Thanks, God. That’s all great. But what I really wanted was … ”
Shortly before His death, Jesus prayed for His disciples and all of us who would eventually believe in Him, saying that part of his purpose in coming was “that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23).
Think on that. Hold it in your heart. That the world may know that you … loved them even as you loved me. Nothing we can ever ask for — no matter how legitimate and important — will ever come close to God’s love for us. Even when our reality doesn’t look like we imagined it would, we can trust that it is His perfect design. And He has something great for us to do.
Seeing the Possibilities
Anyone who’s been a single adult for any length of time has likely heard a message on 1 Corinthians 7. Paul’s teaching on marriage and singleness — especially the part about being concerned with the things of the Lord instead of a spouse — has become a theme chapter for single adults.
While there is so much we can learn from Paul here, let’s not stop reading at the end of the passage that singles out (pun intended) our current life stage. Just a few chapters later Paul compares the unity and differences within the church to the parts of the human body: feet and hands and eyes and ears that perform different functions but still work together as one unit. Soon after that, he tells us all to “strive to excel in building up the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12).
Our marching orders are to encourage our brothers and sisters in the church. Doing this is not dependent on a certain relationship status or life stage, and when I focus on that fact I begin to see the many opportunities around me each day.
I can help stock a church’s supply closet for the homeless or for kids in foster care. I can provide transportation, a listening ear or food for a church event. Building up the body of Christ will look different for each of us as we look for the needs in our local church and strive to help meet them.
Not long ago, I went to a young mom’s house to relieve her for a couple of hours while I watched her kids. Instead of hurrying out the door for some peace and quiet, she lingered over her kitchen table and asked about my day. “I guess I just want some adult conversation,” she explained. I was surprised to realize, even though she had what I desired, she felt like something was lacking. I forget to notice the needs of others until I press pause on the busyness of my own life and serve them.
A friend of mine visits an elderly church member weekly, sometimes just to sit with her and sometimes to drive her to an appointment. Another friend has been to the Middle East twice for extended trips to support a missionary family there. Exotic? Yes. Adventurous? Absolutely! But at the heart, it’s the same thing you and I do when we volunteer at our churches, help serve a meal or pray for other believers. Together, in a thousand different ways, we can strive to excel in building up the church.
Knowing What We Have
Last Sunday, I held a baby at church. She dimple-grinned and giggled and babbled. I laughed and tickled her and tried to babble right back. Her mom had a few minutes’ break, while I felt the assurance that our Father does give good gifts to all of His children — even if they are not when or what we expect.
Most of us know what we want out of life and have possibly been hoping for these things for many years. But too often, even good desires cloud our view of the many treasures we already possess. If we could only glimpse the true value of all we have, I think our perspective would change. Peter writes that even “angels long to look” into the gift box that was handed to us (1 Peter 1:12).
Even if life doesn’t look like we expected, we have something of deep and enduring worth. Because of God’s incredible love and generosity, we can pour our hearts, time and energy into the great project to which all believers have been called: building up the body of Christ. And in that calling we will find more meaning, satisfaction and purpose than we ever could have imagined.
Copyright 2018 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.