The ball and chain of craving results

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How do you measure your day, your work, your life?  If you’re American, chances are you think only about measurable results.

What’s wrong with that?  Why would you do something if you didn’t desire a specific outcome?

This is the month when New Year’s resolutions are grasped with intensity and then discarded with quiet disappointment. Yet hope seems to re-sprout with each new beginning, whether that of a school year, a budget cycle, calendar year or sports season.

Recently I have discarded my lifelong focus on outcomes.  I had become a slave to working for a specific result.

As a professional French teacher, I long to see students achieve skill AND enjoyment in the language.  Nothing inherently wrong with that.  Except my approach has been to hand over far too much power to my students to grant me the ‘success’ or even the ‘peace’ that I crave.

Yes, ‘crave’.  In fact, I now see a pattern that has emerged in my life. As I approach the end of my 6th decade, I find it easier to see themes and responses to life that I, by my actions, have crafted, either consciously or subconsciously.  Finally, I’m gaining the courage to give myself permission to STOP.

Is anyone else like me, in measuring their day by how well people react?  You might be a kindred sister or brother if you are a doer/performer like a musician, stand-up comedian, speech-giver, writer, film maker or even a skill coach.  Or maybe you’re one of the moms at home who teach their own children and are anxious to see growth.  Or among evangelists sharing the Gospel and discipling new Christian believers.

Despair and insecurity probably haunt more people than I realize.  Will it ever end, this never feeling like we measure up?  And I’m not talking about meeting OTHER people’s standards or expectations;I’m talking about the SELF-imposed high bars?  Let’s be real and call them what they are – prison sentences!

Recently, a ray of real hope broke through this burden I pick up every day illuminating a path of escape to a more fragrant and lighter world.

My daughter-in-law, who battles the home-school version of  ‘you’re not enough’, shared a verbal picture of what another mom explained as her daily task with her children. It was SO simple and SO doable.  Boiled down, the advice is this:

  • Each day, your job is to spread an age-appropriate feast before your children of that, which is true, beautiful and good.  In such a way that they can TASTE and SEE that the Lord is GOOD. (from Psalm 34:8)

Period.  That’s it.  She is not responsible for the OUTPUT, just for the INPUT.

Light-bulb explosion.  Isn’t that also my job as a language teacher?  to provide compelling and interesting and appropriate comprehensible input to my French students?

I am NOT responsible for their output.  That is an impossible assignment.  I can’t control them.  But I CAN control what I feed them.

And is this not also applicable to missionaries, both foreign and domestic, wherever God has assigned them (and us)?  We’ve all heard stories of years of labor before even one convert results.  The heart-warming account below is just one of many such examples. Missionary who thought he had failed.

What really convinced me of the sin of prideful expectations for Maria was a quote from CRU’s last print magazine, dated Sep/Oct 2016.  To wit: “We focus excessively on our output, because we want to be judged according to our effort, not our ability to remain dependent on someone else’s finished work.”

I am seeing this new insight transform my responsibilities.  I neither DO nor CAN control results. But I AM accountable in all my relationships for what I do and say and perform per the strength that God gives.

This lessened burden seems almost too good to be true, but I am proceeding as though it is and trusting our God to keep guiding me in all truth.  To Him be the glory for to Him belongs the power.

What are you looking forward to?

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“Well what d’ya expect from him!” my cynical friend spit out after waiting yet again for a habitually late friend to show up.

Humans let others down.  Partly due to our sinful and selfish nature and partly due to how God designed us.  Creatures have limits.  Only God is limitless, perfect and consistent.

Expectations about others tend always to leave us disappointed.  As David Zahl, pastor of an Episcopal Church in Charlottesville says, “expectations are planned resentments.”

What if we were to change the WHAT or WHOM we place our expectations?  What if we were to place our hope in what is 100% guaranteed?  That’s a no brainer; if we did so, we would avoid disappointment.

I read just this morning about Joseph of Arimathea, one of Jesus’ rich disciples who according to Mark 15:43 was “a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God”;

What does that tidbit about his focus communicate?  Nothing short of the direction of his life!

After Jesus announced, “It is finished!” and died on that Friday outside of Jerusalem, this courageous man Joseph, along with the well-known Pharisee Nicodemus, took the bold step of requesting THAT AFTERNOON an audience before Pontius Pilate.  What they did was risky.

Their lives and their reputations at stake, the two sought permission to take Jesus down off the cross and bury Him.

That account is the last written about them, but not the end of their story.  I have no doubt that they are present with the Jesus they hoped in and staked all on.  No disappointments there.

So as this first month of the new year approaches the end, you might feel disappointed already:

  • with yourself and your lack of ability to keep up a resolution
  • with a friend or family member who has let you down, again!
  • with a job or activity you hoped would satisfy
  • with the way an organization acts

I’m learning that every created being or thing in this world on this side of the Cross will let me down, most especially me!  The path to peace and joy is to place our expectations in the only Person who doesn’t disappoint – Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.

I ask again: What are YOU expecting and looking for?

 

If God is for me, what about all those other expectations?

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I get the message of grace, I think.  

I don’t have to earn God’s love, His approval, salvation from His anger at my sin, future life with him…all those almost unimaginable good gifts.  When God woke me up to my true condition and offered me the way of salvation and created in me the mind and desire to WANT to repent and accept His offer, all that and more were mine….forever.

I know I have HIS stamp of ‘it’s finished’ on me…why do I crave the approval and satisfaction of other humans?

Seeking that approval translates into meeting the expectations of others.

Expectations

Most of these I invent myself – I project.  For instance:

  • a colleague showcases a very clever class project finale on You Tube.  It’s applauded by the administration and I translate that as an expectation that I will be as creative in my classes.
  • I read about other foreign language teachers whose students are so enthralled with what goes on in class, that they don’t even know they are acquiring language.
  • a Christian wife mentions her and her husband’s ministry in their neighborhood and how they invite people over for dinner regularly, to share the gospel and serve.
  • close friends host ‘grandparent camp’ each summer at their house and gather the cousins for a week of fun and life lessons.

All these expectations weigh me down.  There are  a host of others too.  They belong to that category of even more personal than I care to mention.  Things like…… what I imagine a ‘good wife, daughter-in-law, mother-in-law, teacher, neighbor, colleague, did I say teacher?, Christian, friend’ should do.

So how do I orient my thinking, renew my mind PRACTICALLY so that I can truly say: It’s enough that God is for me, that I have HIS love and provision, that nothing will block His good and perfect future for me?

That for me is the struggle of applying God’s grace to my life.  How can I accept as enough and all-satisfying that HIS grace is sufficient when I seem to crave and think I should have the expressed approval of others?  Is it even reasonable to expect, to feel it’s worth striving for, that it is even POSSIBLE to win/earn the approval of those very important, somewhat important and tangentially important because I see them every day?

His grace is sufficient

How have you sorted this out?

Freedom that comes with honest self-appraisal

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I heard the concept of hope described as the golden feeling

of having something to look forward to.

If you’re like me, you enjoy having something new in which to hope, to anticipate, to savor, or to find relief from pain or the mundane.  Something like an event, a trip, stuff or a transition.

We can also place our hope in people – – to meet our needs.  The kicker is when they don’t live up to our expectations, when they disappoint.

Among many intermittent friendships with other Christian women, I’ve enjoyed one long and sustained relationship. For over ten years, this gal and I met weekly for coffee and fellowship at Starbucks, until I moved away this past June.

Our weekly hour of spiritual and life catch-up covered both years when we read & discussed books together, to seasons of just plain keeping up with each other’s interests and needs.  Twice I betrayed her trust by divulging a confidence.  And our friendship endured and strengthened.

This was a new experience for me, to have a strong but elastic friendship that neither of us dismissed or dropped at the first encounter with unmet expectations.  It would have been easier to drift, to claim a season of ‘busyness’.  But we would have missed the blessings.

I am, by my fallen genetic make-up a prideful person.  I tend to think I’m pretty good.  Of course, once I became a Christian at age 23, God slowly but steadily took my blinders off so I could see more and more of the sin that had been there all along.

By the time I sinned against my friend the second time, I was ‘mature’ enough to confess to her something that went like this:

  • I could promise that I will never again break a confidence, but I know me.
  • And I don’t trust myself.  
  • I will probably, no..not probably, I will MOST assuredly sin against you again.
  • I don’t want to, but I also don’t want to delude either you or me. 

I hadn’t planned on announcing that fact; I think the Holy Spirit just opened my eyes to that truth at the moment.

You know, it is FREEING to acknowledge that my bent is STILL to sin.  What makes me different from the non-Christian, is that Jesus already paid for all my future sins.  And I am well loved by God.  His grace doesn’t give me license to sin, but it does remove my need to cover up my sins.

I revisited this lesson yesterday on the Appalachian Trail.  Mike and I had planned another Saturday hike. Normally these are physically and emotionally restorative.  This one turned out to be painfully and spiritually revelatory.

Three times over the course of the 5 hours (should have been only 4 – our normal limit at our age 56), we got side-tracked (aka – lost). Twice it was my fault –  due to my strong will, selfish desire to reach a spot on  the trail and my distrust of Mike’s Ranger training.

He sinned too and during the drive home, we processed.  After reconciling, I remarked:

Mike, as much as I am truly sorry for hurting you today by not trusting you and not thinking about how your ankle must have been hurting, I want you to know how thankful I am that we have a covenant marriage that is both strong and elastic enough to survive our deliberate sins against each other.  Most assuredly I will hurt you again and you will wound me.  We’re sinners. May we continue to offer one another grace and ready forgiveness.

Now that is liberating. Mike’s hope is NOT in a perfect partner and neither is mine.  That releases us  to overlook much and chalk it up to God’s sanctification process.

Mike’s face clearly illustrates God’s gritty, sandpapery sanctification process in the midst of our hike yesterday.

But what I see in it …..is the face of my beloved husband, a fellow sinner, committed to me and to God.  May God give us BOTH the strength and the desire to love well with plenty of grace when we don’t feel like it.

Pers - Mike at AT sign

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