I confess, I am one of those people who can have high expectations. I believe for the best in people. Even more, I expect great things of myself. I’m not looking for perfection, but I do highly value progress. I naturally see when there are opportunities for something — or someone — to grow or improve. Especially when that “someone” is me. It can be a lot of pressure. This inclination can be a helpful gift and it can be a great burden.
But I’m not offering this admission in order to wander into a detailed analysis of the strengths, weaknesses or sins of my observant, analytical, and deep-thinking ways. My aim here is to initiate some reflection on and potential transformation of the expectations caregivers can tend to develop.
You see, when parents find themselves in a life of complex — possibly even lifetime — caregiving, as we have with our daughter, Carly, we are regularly faced with hoping for healing, praying over various obstacles and longing for sleep. We are constantly grappling with expectations that life could get better or easier while frequently pushed to the limits of our capabilities and capacities. For me, this has been true countless times. It became exponentially truer when the pandemic hit.
Every special needs parent reading this has some idea about what I mean.
When the needs of our child are complicated by disability and/or medical issues, the bar of expectations is naturally raised. We are quite desperately reliant on having a robust system of supports in place in order to maintain quality of life. We need professionals to be on the top of their game. We need churches that will step up to a big plate. We need schools that are exceedingly creative and committed to partnership. We need our families and friends to be generous with time, courage and grace. Yes, so much grace.
We don’t want to be so needy. But we have found ourselves in an unexpected dilemma. Like it or not, caregiving radically alters our realities and mindsets about what we need and expect from ourselves, others, life, and God. We must work out our expectations of that system on a daily basis.
As we learn to live in attentiveness to the Holy Spirit, we can simultaneously feel confidently equipped for our responsibilities while utterly reliant on God.
When we feel things like weakness, grief, stress, anger, or pressure, we are tempted to look toward things of the world to strengthen us — or at least make us feel strong. But the world disappoints. People fall short of what we need from them. And we disappoint ourselves too. Our flesh may cry out in shame, bitterness, confusion, and frustration (Psalm 121).
It can be exhausting.
Unless we learn to do two critical things:
- Accept that this world will always fall short of our needs and expectations. People will let us down.
- Recognize the Sovereign goodness of God and the role He plays on our team.
Several years ago, I heard this sentiment in a sermon: “We must expect everything from God and very little from the world.” While I already appreciated that my ultimate hope and rest were in Jesus (Galatians 6:7-8), hearing that shifted my perspective and gave me a new mindset, particularly as it related to being part of a family with such signIficant needs.
In 8 Habits of Caregivers with a Robust Support System, I shared that one of those habits that effective, healthy caregivers manage to develop is this:
Adopt low expectations of the world — and out-of-this-world expectations of God.
If we had to boil all of this caregiving life down to one essential, game-changing habit, this one would be it!
Our culture values self-reliance. But if you believe that you are ultimately the one responsible for yourself and a loved one who experiences challenges and limitations, you are likely to carry burdens of inadequacy, shame, or low self-esteem. You may even burn out completely. If you are too demanding of others, they are likely to pull away and leave you feeling more alone than ever.
Caregiving radically alters our realities and mindsets about what we need and expect from ourselves, others, life, and God. We must work out our expectations of that system on a daily basis.
Receive this encouragement from Stephanie Hubach in her book Same Lake Different Boat:
“The life affected by disability is a marathon, not a sprint, and it requires the engagement of others who are willing to run the race alongside—mile marker after mile marker after mile marker. But in the relentlessness of disability is also found a hidden gift, a potential measure of God-reliance that empowers the ability to “go the distance.” Let us learn faithfulness borne of utter dependency on God.”
Only God is entirely trustworthy and perfectly capable of meeting your needs. This includes your needs for encouragement and acceptance. You can anticipate that He’ll surprise you with His generosity and creativity (Ephesians 3:14-21). God will absolutely bring justice and Kingdom purpose out of your adversity (Psalm 37:6). Psalm 104 and Psalm 136). And He will keep providing reminders about where your true help and hope comes from (Psalm 62).
While we are developing well-paced and well-purposed connections, we need to guard our hearts and minds about the balance of our expectations. It is a constant tension. As we learn to live in attentiveness to the Holy Spirit, we can simultaneously feel confidently equipped for our responsibilities while utterly reliant on God (2 Corinthians 1:8-11).
Sometimes people will surprise us and go beyond what we hoped (2 Cor 8:5). But, more often than not, our faith muscles will get stretched because someone is disappointing us. With God, we can always expect Him to do something wildly unexpected — and I mean always and way beyond our imaginings. (Eph 3:20).
That’s just the nature of a holy and omnipotent God.
When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. 20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.
With God, we can always expect Him to do something wildly unexpected — and I mean always and way beyond our imaginings.
Lisa Jamieson is a caregiver consultant, pastoral counsellor and author of popular books and Bible studies including Finding Glory in the Thorns and Jesus, Let’s Talk. Lisa and her husband, Larry, live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome. Together, the Jamiesons founded Walk Right In Ministries in 2008, a non-profit organization building faith and community with special needs families.
If you’re needing extra confidence, encouragement, or tools to assist you in finding your caregiving groove, please reach out for professional help. Consider caregiver consulting or professional counseling for personalized care. Walk Right In Ministries is available to help you with education, consulting services, counseling, and referrals to meaningful resources. Our team collaborates with a broad network of local and national organizations dedicated to strengthening churches, communities, and families when disabilities are involved. Fill out the Interest Form or visit us at WalkRightIn.org to learn more.