Snow days make me a not-so-great mom. Well, okay. A not-so-great person. I notice that on days where everyone is stuck inside, I am so unhappy with everyone. It’s like I get frustrated about the stupidest, littlest things for which I usually have plenty of patience. I have these sort of out-of-body reactions to it – like I see myself being snappy with everyone and I think, “Who IS that monster?” but can’t seem to stop myself. When I think back afterward about why I got so snappish, I think my frustration has one primary cause: I have certain expectations. I expect on a snow day that everyone will want what I want, will do their own thing quietly while I play my "World Flutes" Spotify playlist on the stereo while the house fills with the smells of soup and baked goods (made by kitchen fairies perhaps?). I expect that no one will fight, no one will complain, that no one will ask me to fix anything or make lunch, and that when I ask someone to pick up the mess on the floor, they’ll say, “Of course, Mommy!”
(Sigh.) Alas, this has never happened in 8 years.
Where else does disappointment (and its aftermath) come from other than disappointed expectations? I expect in my heart and mind for something or someone to be a certain way, then it/he/she isn’t that way. I’m disappointed. Then comes anger, frustration, sadness, loss, etc. The more creative I am about what I expect, the more disappointed I am when the expectation isn’t met. Though expectations (maybe we could even call it hope?) are definitely not wrong, they hold a lot of potential for leading down painful roads.
And what are we supposed to do about these expectations/hopes? In my snow day scenario above, for example: you’d think I would have learned to adjust my expectations and hopes after 8 years. After all, isn’t the recipe for psychosis doing the same thing and expecting something different? You can’t just tell yourself to “STOP WANTING THAT! You’re being stupid!” Expectations are like children in this way; they’re driven by our deepest feelings and desires, and they need to be creatively convinced that something else is better if they’re going to shift from the current path they’re on. They need to be shown. So maybe it’s helpful to “go in through the back door,” as I like to call it. Examine first which desires and feelings these expectations are made of. After all, expectations seem to be the conduit for our desires and feelings, so perhaps they can be satisfied without one particular set of expectations occurring. While we don’t have a lot of immediate control over changing our expectations, we do have control over what is influencing them.
From where do our expectations come?
I think expectations mostly come from whatever we are steeping our minds in at the time. Maybe this is partially why they can change. If I’m watching a really emotional, relationship-driven TV series on DVD, taking in 3-4 episodes per day (I, of course, have NEVER done this................), I’m steeping my mind in conflict that often gets resolved in unrealistic ways. My mind and emotions are steeped in all-or-nothing, dramatic reactions because this is what shows like this offer us. If I’m watching this TV series for a few hours a day, I begin to have expectations that this is the way the world works, and the best way to respond to a relational problem is to give a big speech and then storm out the door for effect. People always come running when you do that...right?
Or if I’m reading a book with epic themes, deep meaning-filled relationships, and intense battles, it will probably activate some epic part of my personality that makes doing my kids’ laundry feel like a prison sentence (more acutely than it already does). I may grow bitter and cold as I fold those little socks and t-shirts because THIS IS NOT WHAT LIFE IS SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT! I’m supposed to be part of something bigger! I’m supposed to be saving lives and carrying the Ring to Mordor, for goodness sake! Why do these little hobbit-like creatures keep asking me to make them breakfast?!
In contrast, however, if I steep myself in a less “sexy” scenario, a narrative which tells me that accomplishing justice and loving people is more like standing in line at the DMV for 8 hours to accomplish what feels like very little, I begin having very different expectations. I begin realizing that while I will never get an adrenaline rush from doing laundry, I can almost train my deepest self to find a weirdly deep satisfaction and joy in knowing it just needs to be done and this is an invisible, thankless way of loving my children, and that’s okay. And it’s not just okay, it’s even good.
A long time ago, a very controversial guy handed over this reality to us in word pictures. He told people their normal ways of doing things was accomplishing the opposite of what they thought. He told them to love their enemies, put down their weapons (which was often their own tongues), and do some things that were counter-intuitive. Ever since Jesus introduced a different type of reality to us humans, in a very real way, folding socks, writing clinical progress notes, and cleaning off my neighbor’s snowy car IS carrying the Ring to Mordor. In this reality that He revealed through His life, He proved that appearances are very deceiving. (Thank you to Barb Juliani for telling me that life-altering sentence a few years ago.) The reason this changes us is because it steeps us in the truth that love, hope, patience, and joy really have little or nothing to do with our feelings.
Feelings are INCREDIBLY important (this coming from a 99% “Feeler” on the Myers-Briggs). Without feelings, we wouldn’t be capable of empathy, compassion, and grief, among many other things God calls healthy & important. But when it comes down to the dirty-work of life (love, hope, patience, joy), feelings aren’t to be trusted above the knowledge that something else – something almost invisible – is going on that is way more important.
As always, I need to insert the caveat here that I do NOT under any circumstances support someone staying in an abusive situation because they believe that this is their calling or their “labor of love.” Abuse is not a labor of love. Jesus never said that. Abuse is evil and no one deserves it. You’re made in the image of God and you are loved and made wonderfully.
But just consider this: What do you steep your mind/heart in most often, and how might it be forming your expectations? Do you find yourself more disappointed than you do grateful? Which expectations might those disappointments be rooted in?
Another crucial note: Don’t judge yourself while you’re thinking about this, just observe what's happening. This is a very humbling concept for even those who appear most "together," I assure you. Though we will never “arrive” in this or any other area of life, it’s important that we face and observe these deeper things watchfully so we can live with our eyes wide open – live on purpose, not passively. By doing this we have a shot at battling how much power our expectations control our lives without our permission. I encourage you to talk to a safe friend or loved one about disappointments you face and about how the things in which you steep your mind and heart may be affecting you on a deeper level. I hope you find some freedom in sharing this, and move toward a path of finding joy even in folding socks and shoveling snow.