As much as it lives up to its celebrated reputation as The Happiest Place on Earth, Disneyland also successfully fulfills its potential as Destination Meltdown.
This makes sense. Combine parents, who are eager to wring every last drop of magic out of an overhyped theme park for which they paid a fortunate so their family could make memories, dammit – with young children, who are volatile by nature and notorious for their oppositional behavior – with surly teens who kinda enjoy the rides but must appear unimpressed to stay true to their kind – with grown adults who are Peter Pan-ing it through life and don’t even really like kids but will put up with being around them for a day to satisfy their own childhood fixations – along with long lines, godforsaken heat, and irritability brought on by hanger pains – and whaddya expect? A Shutterfly book full of perfectly composed pics showing you and your family members riding unicorns blowing sunshine out of their Mickey ears?
Setting realistic expectations about major life events can be a good thing. Knowing this, I factored in a healthy dose of skepticism when planning our family’s trip to Disneyland this past June. It was our boys’ first visit there, and while we figured they’d enjoy it, we also recognized how overstimulating and thus tantrum-inspiring the Disney experience can be for little bodies.
This assumption played out along the streets of Tomorrowland and beyond. During our journey through the parks, at any given time of day, children could be spotted crying, whining, whimpering, shrieking, stomping, flailing, pouting, protesting, staging a stroller sit-in, pulling a last-minute bailout on a ride, wailing in despair over melted Frozen popsicles, freaking out because they didn’t get to meet Goofy or freaking out because they DID get to meet Goofy and he scared the crumbling goldfish out of them.
What astonished me and my husband about all this was that, for the most part, these were not OUR kids exhibiting the highly annoying yet very normal behavior one would expect from children who are pushed to the brink of exhaustion. Sure, we heard our fair share of grumbling, and we all got on one another’s nerves, as is custom on family vacations. But by and large, our boys handled the stress, excitement, and physical demands of touring the Disney parks – not to mention a couple of mishaps (flat tire, pink eye, ride-induced head injury, vomiting attack on the car ride home) – with greater patience and poise than we anticipated. This pleasant surprise made for an enjoyable, far-from-relaxing-but-nonetheless-entertaining family trip that was well worth it, despite the hellish triple-digit temps.
My point in sharing about our exceeded vacation expectations isn’t to brag about my kids being perfect (hardly) or to incite vacay envy (that’s what Queen Bey’s Instagram feed is for). For some reason, this is the recent life event God brought to mind as I was studying a passage in Philippians, which seems unrelated to the specific subject of preparing for a trip to Disneyland, but speaks to the general topic of how we can hope fiercely and pray boldly in the face of uncertainty.
Paul, the author of Philippians, begins winding down his message in chapter 4 by explaining how he has learned to be content in the most incongruous of circumstances – BOTH when living the high life AND when living in times of desperate need. He thanks the Philippians for their generosity, which helped lift him from impoverishment on more than one occasion, and then in verse 19 throws out this provocative declaration:
“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.”
Whoa. Can you feel the weight of that statement? Gotta love ballsy Paul.
I could spend plenty of time analyzing the Greek etymology for “will meet” (plēroō, meaning to fill to the full, cause to abound, furnish or supply liberally), and dive headlong into the foggy semantics of distinguishing between a want vs. a need in this specific usage. But while studying this verse using the IF:Gathering app, my attention was drawn to the latter part: “the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really thought of God as rich. It’s just not where my head goes. Maybe that’s because viewing the Lord Almighty as Rich Uncle Pennybags seems a little – I don’t know – irreverent.
Yet there it is, capping off a massively audacious claim. The Greek word for these “riches” is ploutos, meaning (literally) wealth and abundance of external possessions, or (figuratively) a good with which one is enriched. Interestingly, about half of its 22 occurrences in the NASB Greek concordance are used to define characteristics of God and/or Christ – riches of: His kindness, forbearance, and patience (Romans 2:4), His wisdom and knowledge (Romans 11:33), His glorious inheritance (Ephesians 1:18), His grace (Ephesians 2:7).
Having a wealthy Father pledge to overfill us from the overflow of His bountiful goodness is incredible, unfathomable. And it gets better. In his book, “God Promises You,” Charles Spurgeon describes how God quite effortlessly surpasses our expectations, doing “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or even think” (Ephesians 3:20).
“None ever promised as God has done. Kings have promised even to the half of their kingdoms. But what of that? God promised to give His own Son, and even His own Self, to His people, and He did it. Princes draw a line somewhere, but the Lord sets no bounds to the gifts which He ordains for his chosen.”
You’d think this plentitude of promises would bolster our confidence in approaching our Creator. And yet, all too often, we lowball it with the Lord. Like I did prepping for our Disney vacation, we intentionally lower our expectations to curtail our disappointment. We deem personal concerns insignificant, recurring sins insurmountable, societal injustices unsolvable. We feel unworthy and keep ourselves wary. As a result, our prayers wind up weak, meager, distrustful.
Why do we so severely underestimate our Savior? Well, for one thing, we’re human. We have a hard time wrapping our heads around His limitlessness. Beyond that, I think we set the bar low when bringing our requests before Him because we’re afraid He’ll say no. No, you will not get that job. No, you will not get pregnant. No, your loved one will not be healed. No, you will not discover the reason(s) for your present sufferings.
Our Lord reserves the right to say “no,” and even when we believe that He works all things for our good, the potential refusal terrifies us. As C.S. Lewis points out:
“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”
But here’s your good news for the day: God is not like a coupla young boys embarking on their first trip to Disneyland. He is good. He is trustworthy. He is rich – rich in mercy, rich in love, rich in faithfulness – even when we come stumbling before His throne muttering pathetic prayers presented with a glass-near-empty attitude.
To help build our faith and expand our expectations, we can do some practical things as Paul suggests earlier in Philippians 4: be thankful, meditate on what is true and wholesome, rejoice…in the Lord…always. Present your requests boldly to God with the assurance that He is so loaded with kindness, mercy, and power that He will grant you the peace and strength needed to handle whatever answer He gives – “yes,” “not now,” even the “no.”
I’m preaching to myself hardcore on this one. As a cynical person married to even cynical-er husband, I hesitate to pray big prayers – in theory, because I’m being realistic, but in reality, because I’m scared to risk getting hurt. I don’t doubt that He cares; I doubt that He cares as much as I do – as if my heart is larger than His.
Knowing the truth of God’s abundant grace, I urge my fellow doubters to ditch the pessimism and get your hopes up because of Whom your hope is in. He might not give you exactly what you want, when you want it, how you want it delivered, but He will give you all you need, and much more besides. He will give you His love – already poured out to you through His Son on the cross – today, tomorrow, and continually, with power through His Spirit in your inner being (Ephesians 3:16).
Prepare for the best, expect to be amazed, and enjoy the ride.