This has been a year of confrontation for me. Let me clarify that… I had to confront ME, and that’s never pretty. Actually, I’ve spent the past two years going down this path, I just didn’t recognize it happening until I was in the midst of The Camino de Santiago in June.
During the Camino, I started to come to grips with a big issue in my life: My expectations are out of whack. To be more exact, my expectations of myself and how I live my life are unreasonable and it’s killing me. It’s funny, because my focus words (I don’t do new year’s resolutions, I do focus words for study and reflection) my focus words for last year were Peace and Joy – both are pretty much impossible to attain if all you ever do is beat yourself up because you can’t meet expectations! Ha! And my focus for this year was Lean In… lean in to the discomfort, lean in to relationships, lean in to listen, lean in to the struggle, lean in and learn. Well, perhaps I leaned in a little too hard. It hurt. It was tough. It was, and still is, a major struggle. But what I learned in the process of trying to attain Peace and Joy, and in the process of Leaning In, I learned that I worry a lot about meeting expectations.
I worry. I worry A LOT! I worry if I’m doing enough. I worry that I’m not doing what others expect of me. I worry that I’ll let someone down. I worry that I’ll fail at something hugely important. I worry about what people will think. I worry about what I write (yes, I’m worrying as I write this!). I worry that I might offend someone. There is a certain amount of fear that is embedded in worry. I recently heard that fear is an acronym for False Expectations Appearing Real.
And in thinking through all of this worry and fear, I realized that the root of it is the fact that I want to meet everyone’s expectations of me.
Okay… there are deeper roots than that… I’m a counselor, so I hear it and I see it as I process through this each day. It’s complex. It’s about father issues, it’s about abandonment, it’s about insecurity, it’s about wanting to be good enough, it’s about needing to achieve and earn my place… there is certainly a spiritual aspect to it too…it’s complex and messy. But I’m coming to grips with it. Just wish it hadn’t taken 49 years to get there!
So here we are, in the States at Christmas time. And my expectations issue is creeping up on me. I have to work hard to quiet the voices that are whispering, “What do you mean you aren’t going to buy 900 gifts for your kids? That’s just un-American!” I have to squelch my own self-judgment when I realize that everyone seems to have a whole wardrobe of Christmas attire for the litany of Christmas parties and events they are attending. I’m watching TV and seeing all the ‘perfect families’, and I’m watching my Facebook feed and seeing all the gatherings and photos and I easily slip in to worry – Will my Christmas look like the traditional Norman Rockwell pictures? Obviously not, since both my boys have voiced deep hatred for turkey or ham or any traditional foods – they have requested Dad’s chili for dinner and enchiladas for lunch. Norman Rockwell did not paint a Christmas portrait of enchiladas, but that’s what it will look like here. Will we make it through this season with smiles and laughs, or dissolve in to grumbling and old arguments? Are my days of family photos over forever since no one can ever be in the same place at the same time? What photo do I put on the Christmas card when we don’t have a photo with all of us in it? What will people think when they see that the missionaries don’t do Christmas ‘correctly’? I have one kid who doesn’t want any gifts because they make him feel guilty during this difficult life season. I have another one who wants to receive some things he needs, but I still don’t have a list from him or know how to accomplish that. And the 12 year old just wants money to put in to savings for her buy-a-horse fund.
When we were going through our initial missionary training before going overseas for service, we spent a lot of time talking about the stress and frustrations and disappointments that would eventually come. One of the biggest predictors for stress and frustration and disappoint is the gap that exists between expectation and reality. It is predictable that the bigger the gap between the reality that unfolds and expectations that we hold, the more intense the level of frustration will be.
So I’m trying to examine my expectations during this season. I’m trying to examine my feelings when the worry and fear creep in. I’m trying to keep my expectations in check. I’m trying to focus on what is true and what is real and what will bring true Peace and Joy.
Two-thousand years ago, some shepherds expected a normal night. They expected the sheep to lie down and sleep. They expected it to be chilly out. I can pretty much guarantee that they never expected an angel to show up! They never expected to receive the good news of a baby’s birth – how bizarre! We miss some of the Christmas story’s power if we neglect to see that the shepherds were unsuspecting, unqualified, and undeserving to be included. And God picked them anyway. (Acevedo, 2015)
Two-thousand years ago, a baby was born. He wasn’t exactly what folks were expecting. They had expectations of a Savior, a Messiah, a King. They expected someone who would swoop in and save the day. They got a wiggly little baby in a stable. The gap between their expectations and their reality was WAY big! There were more than a few upset, stressed, frustrated religious folks in Jesus’ time!
I’m trying to focus and remember that a lot of the things that are the root of my internal issues – my father issues and my abandonment, my insecurity and my need to be good enough – all of those things have already been redeemed! I have a Father – a father who will never abandon me. I have no need to worry about my security in Him. I am loved, no matter what.
That’s my reality! It doesn’t get any better than that.
12/10/2015 09:55:09 pm
Laurie, I've always taken the stance of "lowered expectations" and it works for me! This way everything that works out well is like a bonus! (I hope you're at least smiling - that was my attempt at a joke.) But all jokes aside, my dear friend, yes - you have isome ssues to deal with. You also have the added blessing of having these issues compounded by geography, culture, language, and the list goes on and my heart goes out to you. (no tears please!) When we taught together I saw you so many times go the extra, extra, extra yard to make sure that each and every childs' needs were met - and often exceeded. "And you give yourself away...and you give...and you give...and you give.." (awward U2 reference) Christmas is the season for giving, and please do that, but don't be afraid to take some, too. Take time to be yourself and to breathe.
12/11/2015 07:25:06 pm
Laurie, thank you for being so real with us and sharing your truth with us. I am praying that you and your family will be blessed with our Father's Christmas plans he has set up for you. I pray that there will be some moments of "traditional memories" that there will be moments of crazy new, and that you will truly enjoy the wonderful moments of surprise that he has planned for you. Merry merry Christmas
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In my USA life, I was a teacher in Texas for 15 years. I was also a professional photographer, a soccer mom, a horsewoman, and the neighborhood hospitality queen. I did "Joanna Gaines farmhouse style" before Chip and JoJo were even a thing - we restored an 1884 Victorian farmhouse in small town Texas and did shiplap walls until I thought I'd go crazy. I taught at NASA, scuba dived with astronauts in training, and studied animals at Sea World for educational purposes. I've tried just about everything, because I have an insatiable need to know if I can do it! Never underestimate a Texas girl in cowboy boots!
In 2006, my husband Billy and I became cross-cultural workers (CCWs) with TMS Global. For five years, we served in three rural Quechua Wanca villages in the Andes of Peru. And when I say rural, I mean RURAL - like no potty! I spent my days in Peru learning to live a Quechua lifestyle in a rustic adobe house - cooking Peruvian foods, sewing with Quechua women, raising my chickens and goats and pigs, and planting my gardens. Now I live my life in small town Spain, serving other cross-cultural workers via teaching and training and care, and helping displaced people to navigate their new reality in Europe.
I'm passionate about fostering personal growth, growth in community, and growth in The Kingdom. Walking alongside others and helping them to use their unique design, their gifts and strengths and maximize their abilities to fulfill their God-given purpose - that's what makes my heart sing!