Distracted by the Shoulds

by Robert Jacobs

As a kid, I wanted everything to be in its proper order. My room may have looked like a mess, but I could always find everything in there and even tell you a story about it. This is the rock I found down by the creek three summers ago when I went exploring with my friends. This is my favorite cookbook to checkout of the school library because it has color picture instructions. These are my prized collection of Star-Wars VHS tapes that can only be used under my supervision. This desire for order, obviously, drove my parents a little crazy.

One morning, I was awakened by my father telling me that we needed to go to the hospital so my little sister could be born. I immediately began my routine for leaving the house: go to the bathroom, wash my face, get dressed, eat breakfast, and walk out the door. As I began to make my way through the process, my father exasperatedly explained to me that we did not have time for the full routine, quickly dressing me in my Mickey Mouse robe and slippers. I was appalled. How could I go out dressed like this? To make matters worse, my mother, to my horror, was also in her night clothes. I protested, explaining that the doctor would be very mad if we showed up at his office like this. They assured me that the hospital would be fine with our attire and rushed us all out the door.

Today, I am waiting for my own daughter to be born. Counting down the final weeks, my wife and I are thrilled to finally meet her. As I look back on the birth of my sister, I cannot help but laugh. While there are many funny aspects of that story, I am most amused at how I missed the truly important event happening that day. I was so distracted by what we SHOULD have done, that I missed the wonder of another life coming into this world. Although I do not think that I will be as concerned with my clothing when I rush my wife to the hospital, I must admit that I still often overlook the important things God is doing because I am distracted by my unmet expectations.

Far from being a twenty-first-century problem, this kind of distracted demeanor can even be seen in the people who walked with Christ. One such example comes in the story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus. Upon hearing of his friend’s illness, Jesus decides to wait two days before beginning the journey to his home.  When Christ finally arrives, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Upon seeing Jesus, Lazarus’ sister Martha exclaims, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Interestingly, this same sentiment is echoed by Martha’s sister, Mary: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32). Even the crowd at the tomb jumps on the bandwagon, stating, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37)

All three of these responses focus on what the speaker believes Jesus SHOULD have done rather than looking to what he WAS DOING. In their grief, these onlookers could only see the situation through the lens of their expectations. They knew that Jesus was capable of miracles (see verse 37) and they reasoned that he could and should have healed his friend. They were correct in acknowledging His power, but they wrongly attempt to submit Him to their own will by scripting Him, explaining to the Son of God how He should display His glory. Christ even explains why he let the situation happen as it did, “that they may believe that you (God) sent me” (John 11:42).

What about you? In your prayers, are you telling God what he SHOULD be doing? Are you telling him that he should have taken away your sin struggles? Are you telling him that He should have given you a spouse by now? Are you telling him that He should provide you with attention, affirmation, and affection in the way you have envisioned it?

Rather than telling God what He should do, we need to instead look to what he is doing. What is God doing in your life right now? How is he offering you attention, affirmation, and affection in ways that you did not expect? What miracles have come out of your past, unmet expectations? When we look to what God is doing rather than waiting for him to work in the ways we have planned, we find that He indeed gives abundant life (John 10:10), unlike our anxiety which only produces sin and death.