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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

That Situation Causing You Anxiety? How to Hold onto Hope Instead

If you’ve been playing Christmas music this early in the season, you’ve probably already heard Andy Williams’ rendition of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” The tune is peppy and singable, and the lyrics paint a joyful picture of a Hallmark holiday:

“It's the most wonderful time of the year There'll be much mistltoeing And hearts will be glowing When loved ones are near It's the most wonderful time of the year!”

When it’s time to decorate your tree, that sentimental old standard fits the bill. But when the music stops and quiet descends, so does anxiety. You try to push it away or submerge it in activity but worry bobs up again like an inflatable Santa.

And honestly, how can those troublesome thoughts not command your attention when you care so very much?

Your daughter just called in tears because her husband is choosing alcohol over his family.

Your brother is severely depressed, and you fear the choice he might make that you are helpless to prevent.

Your physician has done all she can, and there’s nothing left to do but wait for an uncertain outcome.

A few months back I was texting with a decades-long friend who has been both a mentor and a spiritual mother to me. Commenting on her desire to attend an upcoming wedding overseas despite looming complications, Gail wrote:

“We need to be expectant without expectations. In the upper years, I remind myself of this a lot. We are not in charge. So we await His bidding and do everything we can to get to our granddaughter’s wedding.”

Expectant without expectations.

I’ve pondered these words and circled back to them many times as I pray for each of you who share personal information with me about situations causing you pain. Nagging worry and legitimate concern are like conjoined twins. How can we sever the connection?

Gail’s words sent me on a hunt. Is it possible to live expectantly without having expectations?

In mid-December of 2020, our oldest son and his wife called to let us know they wouldn’t be able to travel from Massachusetts to North Carolina for Christmas as planned. Our disappointment turned to elation when they explained the reason: Liz was newly pregnant with their third child, our sixth grandchild.

Six weeks later, Adam called – voice shaking – to share the results of the first ultrasound. The baby had serious genetic issues nearly always incompatible with life. Our joy devolved immediately into deep anxiety. At 20 weeks, the diagnosis was confirmed.

Twenty weeks remained in a pregnancy almost certain to end without a live birth. Liz was expecting, but as for our expectations? I held my breath every Friday during the weekly ultrasound, knowing each day could bring the news we dreaded.

Living expectantly without expectations may sound contradictory at best and cockamamy at worst. Doesn’t one cancel out the other?

Two thousand years ago, a physician named Luke penned a biography of Jesus that contained factual accounts of two women miraculously with child. The younger was a virgin, and the older of such generous years that pregnancy was impossible. Yet Mary and Elizabeth were now both expectant mothers, but also mothers whose sons’ lives would certainly not be what they expected.

Author and artist Ruth Chou Simons speaks into the seeming contradiction.

“Expectations leave us weary and discontent, believing we deserve more or better. They always leave us unfulfilled and doubtful about whether God is for our good.
“But expectancy is anticipation mingled with joy. It’s believing God is who he says He is while waiting patiently for His good to be revealed, however He chooses to reveal it.” Emmanuel: An Invitation to Prepare Him Room at Christmas and Always

How did Mary respond to the news that she was to bear a child outside of marriage, which would certainly subject her to scorn and judgment in her cultural setting?

With expectancy. “Let it be with me just as you say.”

And the response of Elizabeth, whose name means “Promise of God”?

Expectancy. “How kind the Lord is!”

As for our own Elizabeth and our son Adam, who were told their child most certainly would not survive?

We pray we will meet our baby, they said simply, but we will love her for however long God allows us to have her.

Expectancy without expectations. Hope placed in a Person, not in personal circumstances. Optimism based not on the odds, but on God’s power to keep His promises.

Mary had her child, and he changed the world, though not in the way anyone anticipated. Elizabeth did too, though John’s life was nothing she might have imagined.

And you already know our story. Baby Jane was born to a great host of witnesses the following August, and her life has changed our world in the best of ways. Her parents and siblings have moved near us, and we all wait expectantly – yet without expectations – to see what Janie will achieve. When she falls, she gets up and she tries again. And again. And again.

As for that situation that’s pressing hard on your heart this season?

“We wait, we walk, and we cultivate hope in the ordinary ways Jesus gives us. We hold ourselves lightly and our plans loosely, anticipating surprise, expecting resurrection.” Ashley Hales

I’m holding onto hope with you, friend. And we won’t let go.

- Maggie Wallem Rowe, 2022

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