Archive for the ‘Expectations’ Tag

Let’s Not Drown Today   5 comments

Today is my eighth day at work without a break and, unfortunately, the first day of our annual paint sale that brings out the hoards.  Old timers tell me there will be long lines of impatient customers as we all work madly to mix the colors.  This is not my idea of fun.  Performance expectations are my kryptonite.  When there are only two customers waiting for me, I begin to grow anxious and tense.  I dash from one station to another–product shelf to paint mixer to shaker to dryer, prying open one can while tabbing on the computer for another.  I tend to make mistakes, which cranks up the volume on my anxiety, and my self-condemnation meter starts to vibrate.

So here I am preparing to go to work, knowing my core issues will be flayed for the next eight hours.  I hate that my only path to greater health is an emotional gauntlet right smack through the middle of my issues.  I’d much prefer to avoid them–get a less demanding job for instance.   I’d rather read about how to overcome them in a book, and even take a test.  I’m a good test-taker.  I’d probably score 100%.  Why is it always on-the-job training I need?  At least if I could get a breather to center myself… but taking a break while long lines wait for my colleagues would only make me more stressed.  And, Lord, don’t over-estimate my capabilities–I’m not ready for someone to call out sick today!

It seems the challenges to my issues keep pace with my growth, always one step harder.  My prayers as I flail in the rising waters of customer frustration devolve from, “help me be peaceful” to “help me just survive” to “Help!”  If maintaining my peace is an “A” for the test, then making it through without growling in self-defensive anger may be a passing grade?  I’ll take what I can get at this point.  The wise teachers try to calm me down by saying, “It’s all a process.”  Yeah?  Well, so is drowning!

May you all have a blessed, trouble-free day… at least may it be better than mine.

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Posted May 18, 2017 by janathangrace in Personal

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The Emotional Complexity of Father’s Day   Leave a comment

Wherever father’s day is celebrated, it is packed with emotions, sometimes simple and straightforward (at either end of the spectrum), and often a complex swirl of thankfulness, regret, delight, anger, pain and comfort.  Relationships are always complex, wonderful in a hundred ways and awful too because our flawed humanity leaks out on everyone around us and distorts even the good that comes to us from others.  There is no “right” way to feel about any relationship, so do not demand of yourself or others some prescribed emotion.  Today is culturally designated as a time to think of the good in our fathers, and if you are able to do so honestly, then by all means join the festivities.  For those whose heart is not in the celebration, that is okay too.  Be gracious to yourself and others as best you can.

Healthy emotions are mixed emotions–it is okay to laugh over some memory of a loved one whose funeral you are planning and it is okay to be somber at a birthday party, even your own.  Feelings ebb and flow, mingle and separate, clash and fuse. Try to foster a context of safety for your feelings to find a voice within your heart, even if not expressed outwardly.  Giving them a space of their own is especially difficult on occasions when certain feelings are assumed, expected, or even demanded because we have a false notion that feelings must compete and the right one must win and and squash its rival.  Those who are happy feel threatened by sadness in others, those at peace feel threatened by the fearful or angry (and vice versa), and so we try to coerce or barter or cajole them into having feelings that agree with our own (or at least pretending to).  We even do it to our own feelings.

Unfortunately, this process feeds an unhealthy loop–assuming emotions are competitive, we feel threatened by the “wrong” feelings and push for conformity, and in so doing we create even more tension between feelings that could otherwise peacefully coexist, not only within a group, but within a single heart.  Life is complex, people are complex, and so we should expect a complex mix of emotions.

I have many, very deep reasons for being grateful for my father and his impact on my life.  I have issues around that relationship as well, but the very fact that I am honest about those with myself and those close to me gives me the full emotional resources to set those aside for a time and simply celebrate my father, who is a good man, flawed (like all of us) but good.  It is the practice of listening to my own feelings compassionately that builds my emotional security and maturity so that my heart is able to embrace other flawed humans with compassion and understanding.

So today I celebrate with you or grieve with you, whatever your heart needs.  We are in this together, this crazy dance called life.  We often get it wrong, even with the best intentions, and that has to be okay.  Let us give grace to ourselves and to our fathers on this day and find ways to celebrate the broken beauty of who we are.

Posted June 21, 2015 by janathangrace in thoughts

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“Just” Is a 4-letter Word   Leave a comment

Assumptions, like fire, are dangerous necessities.  I assume the sun will rise, my wife will speak English, my car will start, my office will still be standing, my digestion will work, my dogs will not tear up our furniture, and I will be paid at the end of the month.  It’s not possible to live on a contingency basis, always second-guessing, third-guessing, infinity-guessing.  I need assumptions, but they can destroy me.

Some false assumptions are self-correcting, whacking me with reality till I admit I’m wrong: if it stinks don’t eat it; get it wet and it will break.  But some wrong assumptions are self-perpetuating because they’re in a groove of constant and unchallenged repetition, winning legitimacy by default, like squatter’s rights.  These free-loading assumptions can blindside a marriage undetected, and I’ve caught one of the traitors on my own lips: the condemning adverb “just“: “Can’t it just wait till tomorrow?” “I wish you’d just finish it.”  “It’s just one phone call!” That 4-letter word assumes that my expectations of Kimberly are simple and easy and so her refusal would be uncaring, irresponsible, or even contemptible.  I’m asking so little that denying me is shameful.

But what an arrogant assumption!  By what scale can I possibly measure the emotional cost to another person.  It seems simple enough–I imagine myself in her position and tally how much it would cost me: a trifling.  The obvious failure in this method is that, after walking a mile in her shoes (or rather imagining it), I still end up measuring myself, not her.  Every person reacts very differently to a given situation based on their history, perception, experience, energy level, knowledge, calculations, vulnerabilities and strengths (to name only a handful of factors).  Guessing how I would respond to a scolding from my boss or my father’s sickness has little to do with how she would respond.  In fact, my own responses change from day to day.  What is easy or hard for me is no prediction of what is easy or hard for her.  I think, “the average person would feel…” but where is this average person, this stereotypical amalgamation of median scores from across the spectrum of society?  In fact the “average” person is strikingly unique.  My imagination will always fail me.  I can only understand her as I hear and accept her self revelations.

Pushing her to ignore her inner voice in order to bend to my will is insensitive, selfish, and destructive, and those hens will come home to roost.  That “just” trigger can target me as well.  I’m equally vulnerable to the heavy sighs or raised eyebrows or the hundred other ways this attitude can leak out.  Kimberly could easily shoot down my failings to meet her expectations… only she doesn’t because she is more understanding and accepting of others’ limitations than I am. She suffers under my judgments without striking back, kind of like Jesus.

“Just do it” is the motto of those who wish to simply override objections rather than understand our hesitations and accommodate our limitations, usually assuming that finishing the job is more important than hearing the heart.  But in Jesus’ mind, the person always comes first, the task can wait.  Sometimes we must choose to act in spite of conflicted, unresolved, or resistant feelings, but we do so while we acknowledge, validate, and support those feelings, not by belittling and ignoring them.  “This is hard, this is really hard, but I am going to do it anyway” is a sentiment that refuses the insinuations of “just.”  Such acts are brave and selfless and should be acknowledged as such, they should be admired and appreciated, not dismissed and forgotten.  If I could just remember that!

Posted February 11, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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The Patience of Grace   10 comments

“I’m sorry for being impatient with you Sunday night,” I told Forest, one of my student workers, as he sat down at the circulation desk.  “You were doing your best, and that is all I can ask of anyone.”  I am not a patient man, with myself or with others.  I “came by it honestly” as my mother would say since Dad was highly committed to efficiency and raised us on the double: if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing quicker.  “What took you so long?” was cliched into the moral soundscape of our lives, a diagnostic metronome to gauge our pace in life.  I never earned my efficiency badge, so it became an obsession of sorts as I chased after the qualifying time that kept eluding me.  Life was a race and I was losing, but instead of quitting, I just ran harder.

My hopped up need for hustle exalts efficiency over more Scriptural values like patience, and even when I demote it, it still  mucks up the works by prodding me to bark at consequences instead of intentions.  That is, if you get in my way, I’ll get hot whether it’s your fault or not.  Forest is diligent, but learns slowly.  Impatience (if ever legitimate) must burn at his negligence, not at his learning curve, over which he has little control.  Scolding a slow person for being slow is abusive, and the first step down that harmful path is expecting too much of others… which usually springs from demanding too much of myself.

So the cure, ironically enough, begins with grace towards myself, even about my abusive impatience towards others.  I cannot in any healthy way scold myself into virtue.  Being patient with myself is not at all the same as excusing myself or minimizing my fault.  Rather, it is fully admitting my faults, but seeking a cure in God’s greater grace rather than my greater effort.  Divine grace is key not only because it forgives me, but because it creates a whole context of grace, a circle big enough for all our failings, mine and Forest’s both.  Excuses, far from being an expression of grace, are a rejection of it.  They are a claim to need no grace since no wrong has been done–I only need your understanding, not your forgiveness.  Excusing myself closes the door to grace just as surely as loathing myself.  Self-justification and self-condemnation are both blockades to grace–in the first I am too good for grace and in the second I am too bad for it, but both express a legalistic worldview. and trying to validate them by calling them “righteousness” and “contrition” respectively will not change their antagonism to grace.

I scolded Forest shortly before we closed Sunday, and I was already feeling guilty by the time I walked out the door.  I wrestled with it on the way home, refusing to play the devil’s song of shame in my head, but embracing my failings and the grace I needed to relieve my shame.  Instead of spending the two days till his next shift beating myself–a common habit of mine that is so personally and relationally destructive–I settled into the relief of God’s all-encompassing grace, and when I apologized to Forest on Tuesday, it was not from a shame-induced defensiveness or groveling, but as a fellow recipient of grace.  We both fail, we both need grace.  May we all learn to grace ourselves and one another more freely.

Posted November 11, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Postcards from My Dark Past   9 comments

Early this summer I dragged out a cardboard box from my closet, blew off years of dust, and opening it, pulled out a stack of notecards. Each card held a quotation, insights that inspired and challenged me, scribbled down from a decade of reading, and I planned to transcribe them to my computer. For two months I couldn’t muster the energy, but last week I finally plunked them down in my lap and started flipping through for some encouragement to share on Facebook.  I read through ten cards… and then ten more, pulling them randomly from the pile, and discovered that what I meticulously recorded and saved was toxic. They were snippets of a mindset that dragged me into darkness and despair, a spirituality that was intense and genuine… and deeply flawed.

One of those treasured nuggets read, “A really humble man would rather let another say that he is contemptible and worth nothing than say so himself….  He believes it himself and is glad that others should share his opinion.”  Another famous divine wrote, “Strive always to choose not that which is easiest, but that which is most difficult; not that which is most delectable, but that which is most unpleasing; not that which gives most pleasure, but that which gives least; not that which is restful, but that which is wearisome; not that which gives consolation, but rather that which makes disconsolate.”

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“HUMILITY CONSISTS IN THE CONTEMPT OF OUR EXCELLENCE”

Even when the quotations were “positive,” they crushed me with their impossible standard, like this prayer: “Grant that every word I speak may be fit for you to hear; that every plan I make be fit for you to bless; that every deed I do may be fit for you to share” –flawless speech and thought and action daily.  I was a very committed young man.  If this was the measure of true spirituality, then I was determined to reach it.  With all my heart I drove myself to meet this standard, redoubling my efforts when I fell short, and finally I despaired.

In my brokenness, the grace of God found me.  In my years of striving I would have looked on such a free gift as “cheap grace,” as taking advantage of God’s goodness, as spiritual lukewarmness like the church of Laodicea.  But once I despaired of myself, grace was the only hope left to me.  We cripples cannot earn our keep.  It must be given to us.

For years after stumbling into the light of grace, I blamed myself for that twilight of wandering, of waste, of wounds to myself and others, but that murky stretch of my journey may have been inevitable, even necessary, since only the destitute embrace grace. Moses spent four decades in the backside of the desert herding sheep. David spent years running from Saul, sleeping in caves, being tagged a traitor.  Demolition sets the groundwork for re-creation, so that the very strength and success of the unbroken stunts their souls.  So let me, like Paul, brag about my weaknesses and magnify the grace of God.

Posted September 6, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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Anniversary Fatigue   6 comments

It’s our anniversary today.  Last year I went “whole hog” as my mother would say: an 8 foot card of all Kimberly’s attributes.  This year things have gone the other direction–pork rinds so to speak.  We’re both tired, worn down, stumbling through our days clinging to linty scraps of hope that we keep misplacing.  My offering in celebration of 7 years of marriage was a handful of dry, leftover brownies I brought home from work and a love note scribbled on a slip of paper from our refrigerator grocery list pad.  I left that for her to discover this morning when she got up.

anniversary note

This is what real marriage is all about.  If a couple’s relationship is threatened by what does or does not happen on their anniversary, they’re making that date carry far too much weight.  You cannot make one day’s extravagance compensate for even a month of short-changing the relationship, and by the same token, a paltry celebration does not diminish a well-maintained heart connection.  A marriage is built on daily choices–to listen, share, cry, laugh, trust, support–not on grand gestures.  I’m very grateful for what Kimberly and I have.

Posted May 11, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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Surprised by Grace   Leave a comment

Matthew 1:6 and Jesse fathered David the King–

roy_rogers_and_trigger01As a schoolboy, I refused to sleep late Saturday mornings because the Roy Rogers Show came on at 7:30.  Dressed in white from his stetson to his boots, my hero galloped in on his white horse Trigger.  He stood for all that was good.  But every villain rode in on a charcoal horse with an outfit as black as his heart.  I was raised on stereotypes, and perhaps little kids need that kind of over-simplification, though I’m not so sure.  All kinds of bad come from boxing people into categories, even favorable categories.  The girl whose identity is built on her reputed good-looks is just as bound and broken as the one whose essence is shaped around her reputed bad-looks.  The jock is as vulnerable as the geek to being squeezed into expectations and assumptions that suffocate his true self.

Weighing down others with our expectations or stooping under theirs deflects the flow of grace in our lives because we can never fully predict where God is taking us and who he is shaping us to be.  Wise counsel is always a support for self-discovery, not a substitute for it.

david_in_the_bible__image_4_sjpg1913But Jesse has clear notions of his sons’ abilities and roles, so he sends his youngest, David, into the fields to shepherd and marches his big brothers off to soldier.  After all, an older, larger, stronger man is clearly more fit to fight.  Just ask Goliath.  When the prophet Samuel came to look among his sons for the next leader of Israel, Jesse did not even deign to bring his youngest in from tending the sheep.  He clearly did not qualify.  Samuel himself, the very mouthpiece of God, looked at the oldest, tallest son and thought he’d found God’s choice.  They expected the storyline: “Jesse fathered Eliab the King,” and that would have been as messed up for Eliab as for David… not to mention Israel.  His own father, who knew him from a babe, and God’s anointed spokesman both missed who David really was.

Expectations and norms can blind us to the best gifts of grace.  God’s valuations are so often different from ours.  When our assumptions determine our direction, we are quite likely to miss the way.  Even wise, godly folks have blind-spots and spiritual myopia, but if we stay open to the surprising and unexpected appearances of grace, God has freedom to bring out our internal wonder and unique capacity.  Grace is always on the loose, hawk-eyed for every chance to draw out our inimitable beauty.

Posted February 17, 2014 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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