“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations
and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.”
― Bruce Lee
Still November. But Christmas decorations and frosted trees have been on display since Halloween, so my mind has already turned towards Advent and that O Holy Night. I can’t help it. I’m trying to fight it but the anticipation is annoyingly starting to seep in under my skin and my heart softens a little when I hear those familiar melodies of winter wonderlands. Good grief, Lord, it’s not even Thanksgiving. At least there’s one holiday that can be preserved from the stress of gift-giving and cookie-making. But now there’s even beginning to be a lot of hype around Thanksgiving these days since Christmas has been swallowed up by commercialization. Is the turkey big enough/juicy enough/fancy enough, and what sides are there with it, and what football games are on, and how will the pumpkin pie come out? Too many expectations. This isn’t just about being disappointed by a sub-par gift, it’s feelings and scenes and table settings and the family gathering saturated with too many expectations. And a hard lesson I learned long ago – and keep learning today – is to keep my expectations low.
“If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.”
― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
I woke up with a start when my alarm went off. It was the quiet peal of bells and in another situation it would be a welcome noise. I jumped up.
I had fallen asleep with Oz in my lap after nursing him. But the college kids were still at the church, and oh shit, I was supposed to be there, too, we were having a lock-in, and at 5 am I went home to nurse him and planned to go right back because we were going to serve breakfast to the homeless community at 7, and what is wrong with me, I was having such a wonderful time with them, so much better than the last lock-in that made me swear off lock-ins forever, and I had kept the bar low, my expectations low, and why am I such a screw up, we were doing so well, I thought I was doing so well, I thought I was being present and engaged, and connecting with them, and then here I am, asleep in the chair, I’m such an idiot, and I get a text from one of the students:
Mihee. What the fuck.
In other words, where are you, why aren’t you here, what happened?
…Later on the student wrote me saying “I guess I need to change my expectations…”
We had moved into the apartments at student housing. The glow from an amazing honeymoon in Maine, and not just from the usual-rolling-around-horizontal-dance-and-expected-what-happens-on-honeymoons, but being on the coast, gorging on lobster rolls and clam chowder and, of course, beer, and then there was the wind, the sea, the whales, the sun, we soaked up all of it, and it felt like we had been scrubbed from the inside out by saltwater and light. It was so good. We were so happy we even adopted a kitten. We were about to embark in this next season and stage of our lives together. Of course we would adopt a kitten, nothing else made more sense. Sure, it was different from what we had initially expected when we talked marriage and tried to sift through actual logistics with him graduating before me and working two hours away and my still needing to work through my last year in school. But, we could deal with it. We would work it out. It would be fine.
It wasn’t fine. And it was the hardest year of my life until the year we tried to get pregnant. And the year the twins were born. It wrecked me in ways that I never thought possible.
People say, “Don’t get a new pet in the first year of marriage.”
I graduated. I moved up there. To his job. To his house. To his community. And I tried to find my calling. There were conversations and interviews and hopes and rejections and more calls and cautious expectations and more rejections and I couldn’t help but pray, God, what the hell do you have me here for right now? This is not at all what marriage and vocation was supposed to look life for us. This isn’t what I signed up for when I went to seminary. This isn’t what I expected at all.
That’s the thing with expectations. No matter how great – they end up being not-so-great for our souls. They set us up for inevitable disappointment. I’m not being cynical. And this isn’t just a game of semantics. It’s a hard reality. Things never really happen the way we plan or expect…and that’s how it’s supposed to be in life. In living. Sure, get those 401ks and endowments and social security and life insurance plans, but know that it won’t cover or protect you from everything, from every loss and disappointment.
As much as this world will disappoint so I know – and my Jesus knows – I will disappoint people. I fall short. I let people down. On a regular basis. My husband. My kids. My college students. My parents. My church. My God. Because there are days it feels like too much and please I just need to close my eyes for a few minutes so stop talking to me, look what’s on TV, get the books/trains/cars, I’ll be right back, hold on a moment. And I wake up with a start realizing that I screwed up once more, and people have to change their expectations….of me, yet, again.
Once in a while there’s grace, the kind that’s a I’m-going-to-stick-with-you grace. And that’s amazing. That’s life-changing. When someone chooses to stay despite my failures that’s the stuff of miracles. But I do the same with people – I have expectations of people and seasons and realities no matter how much I try to squelch that optimism. I’m trying to hold onto anticipation. Because despite what it sounds like, it really is a little different.
Anticipation has the same touch as expectation with hope and belief engrained in the lines of its tender hands…but it is openness. Expectation is too specific, too laden with the narrow and strict, and mostly based on something external – past experiences or other people’s opinions even their stories.
Anticipation is the seed enveloped in darkness and dirt, no light at the end of the tunnel, and the interchanging realities of drought and floods. It is trust in the Hands who planted you deep in that soil, a love of the smell and touch of those Hands, a dream of those Hands and the promise that those Hands will return again to provide new life. It’s the waiting, no matter what the expectations, no matter what the failures and disappointments, it’s the waiting, for God’s touch, the reminder of Emmanuel, God’s nearness in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, a strange and surprisingly happy waiting for the one that will never fail us or disappoint us or sleep and forget us.
“…that sanguine expectation of happiness which is happiness itself…”
― Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility