By Dani Maddox
Christmastime. Isn’t it fun? Well, it’s supposed to be, right? Fun parties, good food, glorious desserts, friends, family. Why wouldn’t it be an enjoyable time?
Many people chalk it up to the fact that it’s just too busy. Maybe there’s the constant family drama that keeps people from truly enjoying this holiday season. Or perhaps we’re just losing our focus with all the presents and activities.
What God has been speaking to me is that it’s all in my expectations—of the attitude I should have, of how others ought to behave, of the fun memories that should be had, of the games that ought to be played, of treats that should be baked, of the presents I ought to buy, of the parties I should attend.
Several days ago, God gave me an example of the power of expectations in an incident involving one of my children. We put on a movie for the kids and I allowed them to have some animal crackers as a treat. I then proceeded to offer my husband a snack, which said child thought she deserved along with the animal crackers I had already given her.
When I explained to her that she would not be receiving the additional snack, she began whining and complaining. In that moment, God gave me a glimpse of her heart—ingratitude.
This may seem like such a small, trivial event, but God was showing me something very powerful and he revealed to me how I had contributed in creating this attitude in my own child.
God showed me that because I have expected (i.e.—needed) my children to behave, I was willing to offer them anything to get their obedience. It seemed to work just fine for all these years. I give them snacks, offer them movies to watch, give them computer time, make fun outings a regular occurrence, etc. and then I get the behavior that I want. It’s a win/win, right?
Wrong. The hearts of my children have become spoiled as they have learned to just expect things from me. And I fed into it. In the meantime, I am so exhausted from doing everything for them and maintaining the balancing act of co-dependency.
But thank you, God. You know our hearts and lead us in your way (Psalm 139:23-24). You show us the depths of our sin and reveal truth.
If I wanted change, I had to allow God to change me first. Through the refining of my heart, God has been able to bring me to a place of freedom where I no longer need anything from my children. I am free to love them and discipline them without my hurts, wounds, and unmet needs getting in the way. God is continually pouring out his love on me and filling me up, giving me the freedom to truly love my family.
After God revealed to me the hearts of my children, he proceeded to give me the wisdom in tackling this issue. They need to understand that they don’t deserve these things. It takes a whole lot more than just telling my kids this. They needed to experience it.
Without going into all the details of what this looks like for my family, I will just say that I had to apply more consequences for ingratitude. I had to take away the things they thought they just deserved. I also had to make them earn their special treats and privileges.
I do not, however, make them earn my love, acceptance, and empathy. That is my free gift to them. This also shows them that my love for them is not tied to these special things. Giving them presents is a manifestation of my love, not a substitute for my love. In other words, if I stop giving them gifts and special treats, they still understand that I love them because it’s been shown to them consistently no matter the circumstances.
Now, back to the topic of Christmastime. Could it be that we lack joy because, like my spoiled children, we have come to expect so much of the things that are essentially out of our control and we are lacking in hopeful expectation from God?
Let’s think about this. When your children have a bad attitude and you get overly angry, is it because you are expecting them to have the right attitude? When you roll your eyes at a family member creating drama, is it because you expect this person to behave? When you host a party even though your calendar is already jam-packed, is it because you’re placing impossible expectations on yourself? When you run yourself ragged trying to make this season as special and memorable as possible, is it because you have expectations of how things ought to be?
The fruit of unwarranted expectation is either anger and resentment if my expectation is unfulfilled, or ingratitude when I receive what I expect. Either way, its effects are relationally destructive. My thought for you is to notice these things that steal your joy and consider them the red flags of your heart, not merely outward things to fix or avoid.
Allow God to personally speak to you during these times of anger, sadness, and frustration. Allow him to reveal the deeper heart issues that no amount of fun, food, or festivities will repair. Allow the discomfort to pull you to our Healer and Comforter.
Psalm 4:7 states that, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” Think about that. God can give us more joy in our difficult circumstances than when life is going perfectly smooth. Think about the joy we can have in celebrating the birth of our Lord. According to Galatians 5:22, joy is a fruit of the Spirit; joy is something God wants to give us!
We cannot expect anything from anyone because, sooner or later, we will be let down and utterly disappointed. But God has promised us abundant life (John 10:10), healing of our wounds (Isaiah 53:5), fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11), and eternal life (John 3:16). And because God has promised it, we can expect it and receive it.
Now that is something to rejoice in!
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. –Romans 15:13