Many are the plans in a man's heart,
but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.
Expectations are powerful things. We carry them with us wherever we go. They shape the way we look at our world and interact with others. Some of our expectations are clear to us and to others. Some of our expectations are clear to us and hidden from others. Many of our expectations are only revealed when they are not met.
This past weekend I led our Men’s Backpack Trip on the Superior Hiking Trail along the North Shore of Lake Superior. That area is one of my favorite places in the world. I thoroughly enjoy the north woods. I also enjoy the challenge of roughing it in the back country. I poured over my maps and selected a segment of the trail that I thought would be suitable for our group. It was a stretch of the trail that I had covered several years ago with my sons. The total distance of the segment was 28 miles. I knew that might be a stretch, but I was confident that we could make it.
We began our adventure with high spirits. We were a little late getting started, but our first stopping point was only 9 miles in and we had at least 7 hours of daylight before us. We secured our packs and headed up the trail, literally. This first segment was a climb; often a pretty steep climb. Our pace slowed considerably as our energy quickly drained away. At 8 PM we were still 2 miles or more from our campsite. It was starting to get dark and we were exhausted. So we found a clearing on the edge of the ridge, unrolled our sleeping bags, and collapsed right where we were.
We rose early the next morning and hit the trail. It was a beautiful day and we made our way through the woods. The trail was more level and we progressed fairly well. We took regular breaks and had lunch on an idyllic little island on an inland lake. We made our final destination for the day at around 3 PM. We staked our claim to the campsite just before another couple arrived. Soon a second couple arrived, and instead of having the campsite to ourselves, we shared it with two other parties.
The next day we had ten more miles to covered to make our designated pick-up spot. It became obvious that we did not have the energy to cover that distance in the time we had. We made several attempts to contact our “support team” and arrange a closer meeting spot. We successfully connected and emerged from the woods eight miles short of our original goal.
This was a very good trip. We had no rain, no injuries and the bugs were tolerable. Yet, several of my expectations were not met. I had to adjust my expectations as we went along to conform to reality.
In many ways, life is like our backpack trip. It is a great adventure and we have many expectations about what we will encounter and what we will do. All of us begin the journey of life with enthusiasm and energy. Then the realities of life confront us and clash with our expectations. Our energy and enthusiasm begin to wane. For a time, we hang onto our expectations and will them to be fulfilled. There comes a time when we have to adjust our expectations to coincide with reality. We realize that some of our expectations will never be fulfilled.
The book of Proverbs reminds us that all of our plans are tentative. We shape our plans and our expectations with limited knowledge and understanding. But God sees the whole picture. He knows what is best for us and how best to accomplish that. Many times, what is best for us clashes with our expectations. This causes conflict within us. This conflict is a part of God’s plan to shape us and strengthen our spiritual muscles.
James advises us to embrace these conflicts as an opportunity to grow. Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
It is good for us to set goals that will stretch us. It is also wise to know when it is time to adjust our expectations.