This has been the year of learning how much I live by expectations. I expect a lot of myself, most of the time asking for more. More time, more energy, more patience, more joy, more friends, more ideas…and sadly that is just scratching the surface. I set extremely high expectations for myself. Part of that comes from a good place, where I want to give my all to Jesus. However, the other part of my heart sets those expectations with perfection in mind. “My life needs to look like this at this point in my life…my home needs to have these decorations…I need to be well on my way to my dream job…” the high aspirations never end. None of those are bad desires or realities, but for me personally, I strive for them out of the wrong place.
I exhausted myself this year because I fell short of almost every expectation I had for myself. When I fell short, I would get upset and spiral down into a deeper pit and lose my sense of worth. That is where expectations leave me, fighting feelings of worthlessness and bitterness. Constantly striving for more only left me feeling like I missed it altogether.
Then, I came across a passage of a book that changed my perspective, and still has me processing today. In “Scouting the Divine,” the author, Margaret Feinberg, spends time with a Shepherd in order to better grasp the biblical parallels with holy truth, sheep, and the Good Shepherd. She shadows the Shepherd and asks for her response to scripture that references anything about sheep and shepherding. I could dissect multiple passages they discussed, but Deuteronomy 18:4 stuck with me. In this passage, God instructs shepherds to give the first shearing of wool from their sheep to him as a sacrifice. Margaret asked the Shepherd what kind of sacrifice this meant for the shepherds? Is the wool from the first shearing that much different than other shearings to follow? What was special about it? The Shepherd smiles and asks Margaret to follow her upstairs. There, she hands Margaret two bags of wool. One bag holds a clump of wool taken years after the first shearing, the other contains a smaller amount of wool from the same sheep, but it is its first shearing. Margaret feels them, rubbing the wool carefully and realizes immediately there is no comparison. The following excerpt is her realization of the significance of this sacrifice:
“For the first time in a long while, maybe ever, I had felt with my own hands what God desired from sacrifice. It was nothing like what I expected. All too often when I think about giving my best to God, I think about giving big. But in asking for the first fleece, God isn’t asking for the biggest. He wants the smallest and softest. He doesn’t want more- he wants the best.”
Yes, you read that correctly. When God calls us to a sacrificial life, he is not asking for more, my friends. He is simply asking for the best. My eyes have read over these words countless times, soaking up its significance in my life. I no longer have to strive for more. I will admit in some cases, giving our best does mean giving more. But I have been living my life with “more” as the only option for my best, and I am burnt out from it. For me, giving more does not equate to giving my best. I feel like I was giving God my scraps, my leftover broken attempts that were never fulfilled. Ironically, in my life, more began looking like less and less. But then I read these words and it was the ultimate light bulb moment. This truth relieved me, I suddenly felt lighter and free of my expectations.
So what does it mean to give our best? I’m still trying to figure that out. Although I think in my deepest heart, I know what the best is – us. All God wants from us is ourselves. No striving, no perfect record clear of wrongdoings, no awards, just our broken, messy selves as we are. Jesus being the perfect sacrifice gave himself, so that is all God is asking of us. Again, I am still learning what that looks like (feel free to share thoughts in the comments section below!), but I love that I am living for a God who just wants me. My time with him has changed with this mindset. I pour out my heart to him, not just the pretty parts of gratitude, but the darkest corners of lamentation and confusion as well. When he asks for our best, and our best is simply ourselves, he wants all the parts of us. I tell him when I struggle with jealousy, when I fall short, when something makes me excited, and even when I get frustrated. Those may not be the best parts of me, but they make up the messy human I am, and to God, I am the best I can offer him. Best is not always perfection, or more, or beautiful. Most of the time, our best is what we hide from, what we fear. It can be small, but when we give it to God he sure does bless it. I don’t know about you, but I am thankful to follow our God who defies the world and rather than asking us for more, he simply asks us for…us. What does your first shearing of wool look like? I bet it is significantly more extravagant than you think.
words by Lauren Grindstaff and photo by Hailey Pierce