It’s never what you thought it would be
I have been thinking a lot about unmet expectations and how those often unacknowledged ideas rule our lives. They can often even be the driving force behind what causes new missionaries to return home. I had the same experience. Let me share it with you in hopes that maybe it will help you see that even in the death of your highest hopes, God will resurrect his true purpose that is more than you could have imagined.
Our first term as missionaries was a case study in unmet expectations and seemingly surprise disasters. We were supposed to go to Peru to lead teams of young men into the ministry of planting churches in the villages and training them up in the skills they needed for that task. Here is a short list of our dashed hopes just for giggles:
- Six days after arriving I had an accident. I broke my back, both my arms and was paralyzed from the waist down (yeah that was a good indicator of things to come).
- Six months of surgeries, rehab, and recovery in the US. I could no longer walk without the assistance of a walker or cane.
- Upon returning to the field, I was not allowed to live near our area of ministry but had to live in a big city near a hospital.
- Medevac #2. I finally thought I had made enough progress to drop the cane. But I fell on my vacation, shattered my femur, back to the states, more surgery, rehab & recovery.
- Four years dealing with infertility.
- 1.5 years into our first term, my supervisor and mentor decided to transfer, and I found myself leading a team of 35+ people from 5 different cultures.
Yeah, it was a tough four years. All my hopes and dreams of the type of missionary I wanted to be seemed to be killed, buried in unmarked graves spread all over the country of Peru.
BUT as those dreams died, I found glimmers of hope. I learned things about God that I never knew or understood previously. I learned things about myself that surprised me. Maybe, just maybe, God knew what he was doing.
So, I just kept dying. I got up every day, picked up that cross that was stained crimson with my ambitions. The splinters of unmet expectations dug into my back as I carried this burden daily, not knowing what God was doing, but sensing he had a purpose and trusting him to fulfill HIS purposes in me.
That is precisely what He did. As I look back now (that was 19 years ago), I can’t help but laugh at my arrogant and small-minded plans when compared to my Maker’s intricate design. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for those hardships.
- If I had not endured the destruction of my body, God could not have taught me these profound life lessons about the Body of Christ, which have shaped my ministry ever since.
- If I had not spent six months fighting my own body, I would not understand the hard work required to prepare the Bride for the Bridegroom & the great Wedding.
- If I had not been forced to lead my team from a distance, I would never have learned the intricacies of mentorship & multiplying what God has taught me into others.
- If I hadn’t broken my leg, I would never have learned to trust God even when it makes no sense.
- If we had been given children when we wanted them, I would never have had those four years to work so closely with my wife in ministry, and we would not be the team we are today.
- If my mentor had not left, I would not have found my love of strategy, training new missionaries & taking the Gospel into the impossible places.
It never is what you thought it would be…and that is the good news!
I love my life, and I love the task God has given me. There have been many disappointments and unmet expectations even after that first term. But I learned a valuable lesson those first four years.
There will be pain & death, but that is what brings forth new life and new meaning. Without it, we will never find His purpose for this short life we have been given. Remember, unless something first dies…it can never bear fruit.
So my last bit of advice for this post. If you find yourself in this difficult refining time, memorize this passage.
…live there and let God teach you what it means.