Replacing Our Unrealistic Expectations

Excerpted from
Get Your Life Back
By John Eldredge

I received another one of those videos the other day—an email from a friend with a link and the enticing line, “You’ve got to see this!” And it was impressive, no question. A beautifully filmed video of a professional dirt bike racer who had taken up surfing and wanted to combine his extreme adventures. So he constructed a dirt bike he could actually ride at high speeds on the ocean. Really. The gorgeous project was filmed in Tahiti. The climax of the video is him actually catching and surfing a wave on a motorcycle. Impressive. Outrageous. In the battle for our attention, this one is an easy winner; it’s arresting.

And completely unkind. Because the cumulative effect of this stuff sets up all sorts of unspoken, maybe even unconscious expectations within us.

I don’t think we’ve given any thought to what it does to the soul to live in a culture where that kind of stuff is the daily fare. This shows up in my inbox all the time; I know you get them too. First it was BASE jumping (folks leaping off cliffs and tall buildings wearing a parachute or parasail). That became routine, so it elevated to jumping without parachutes, in “squirrel suits,” flying through the air to safe landing zones. Now that’s routine, so the video I got the other day was of two guys jumping off a mountain with no safe landing zone within miles, flying in squirrel suits through the air and making their “landing” into the door of an airplane. The incessant upgrade of everything. Always pushing the boundaries. Extreme this, extreme that.

It sets up an unspoken set of expectations in our hearts that, unless your life is YouTube-worthy, your life is stupid. It’s boring. (Why else would anxiety and depression—and envy—rise in direct proportion to one’s consumption of social media? Because we’re comparing our lives to what’s online.) Creeping in is the message that if your life is going to measure up and be wonderful, it has to be fantastic. Men used to get on bended knee to propose to their beloved; nowadays you’re a loser unless you do it skydiving or kayaking over waterfalls.

This phenomenon is shaping Christianity, or Christian practices, and even more harmfully shaping our spiritual expectations. Modern worship bands not only need to be extraordinarily talented musicians, young and beautiful, but their live events employ multimedia to keep your attention as well. Now church services compete with concert-level staging, lighting, special effects and films. The terrible, unspoken assumption creeping in is this: If you’re going to find God, if you’re going to have more of God, it’s going to come through some amazing experience, something totally wild and over the top. Or we think that once we have God, the proof will be an over-the-top life. Not true. So unhelpful and immensely unkind. This expectation actually makes those deeper experiences of God seem inaccessible for most of us.

We do need more of God, much more. Little sips between long droughts will not sustain us. We need more of God in our bodies, our souls, our relationships, our work, everywhere in our lives. But when you live in a culture of the incessant upgrade of everything—the sensational—it gives the impression that if you’re going to have a deeper, richer, amazing experience of God, it’s going to have to come in some sensational way.

I have some wonderful news for you: Nope. Not even close.

Life is built on the dailies. Consider love, friendship and marriage.

Love, friendship and marriage are not built on skydiving together, trips to Paris, kayaking the Amazon. They’re not. Perhaps once in your life you might do something like that, but the fantastic is not your daily. Love, friendship and marriage are nurtured in the context of simple things like coffee together, hanging out, getting a burrito, holding hands, taking a walk, doing the dishes, reading to one another or just reading different things while you’re together in the same room. It’s the little things that build a beautiful life.

I love adventure. I love the ocean. I love rock climbing, canoeing, mountaineering and motorcycle riding. But here’s the deal—if you want to go to Yosemite and fulfill a lifelong dream of being a big wall climber, your daily doesn’t look dramatic at all; it looks like doing pull-ups at home. If you want to take a motorcycle adventure trip through Scotland, the daily looks like getting on your bike and riding around town. Just going out and getting used to it. Dodging the neighborhood dog that always runs in front of you and stopping when the old lady brakes without warning. You’re making it second nature so that when you do go out, you can handle the big wall climbing, the remarkable trips.

This is how life with God works, dear friends.

I think God has amazing things for us, I really do. I’ve been part of some extraordinary experiences with God. I’ve had global adventures with him. But I don’t live there. Getting there, just like getting to love or anything else that’s wonderful in this life, is in the dailies. It’s back here in the little things we do. That is how we practice kindness towards ourselves—in the dailies.

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Excerpted from Get Your Life Back by John Eldredge. Copyright 2020 by John Eldredge. Used by permission of Nelson Books, an imprint of Thomas Nelson.

John Eldredge
John Eldredge

John Eldredge is author and president of Ransomed Heart, a ministry devoted to helping people discover the heart of God and learn to live in God’s kingdom.