We all have wounds. It is a feeling of loneliness that lurks behind our successes, a feeling of uselessness that hides under the praise we receive ……that makes us grab onto people and expect from them an affection and love they cannot give. If we want people to give us what only God can give, we become a heavy burden. Quote from Henri Nouwen’s “A Spirituality of Living.”
This has hit me where I live today. I have two daughter-in-laws and a daughter that have always seemed to be Super Women to me. When one daughter-in-law, who has spent most of the last 18 years being an awesome advocate and mother for her children with disabilities and a House Beautiful wife, recently reached the end of her endurance with her marriage, I found myself filled with raging anger at her. An anger that felt like hate. I didn’t understand where it was coming from. I have admired her and had complete faith that if anyone could find a way to make her children’s lives happy and productive, she could. Since divorce means she must work full time, it seemed like betrayal of her children and even of those that love them like we do. And when I found myself unable to help in any significant way because of health issues of aging, I hated myself also.
I know from study and many life experiences that unrealistic expectations of other people embitter those having them and destroy relationships.
None of us is God. We are not miracle workers. And we are not able to love unconditionally as long as we expect ourselves or others to walk on water. It’s an imperfect world filled with imperfect people.
To expect otherwise is to become both embittered and a burden to people already carrying as much as they can.
My most destructive trait is a blind idealism unfettered by reality that leads to disillusionment and hate. God knows our limits. Some are built in and others beaten into us. I must learn to live within human limits, my own and others’. And trust that God can and will accomplish His plans, not mine.
I did not manage to pray or meditate on peace exactly last Sunday. But I was praying and working my way through articulating a request for forgiveness from the Elders (Session) in my church. I have been alienated from my church for over two years.
I have prayed and struggled with this the whole time, but only recently saw that I have made choices that increased the mutual estrangement, instead of moving us toward reconciliation.
Several times over my seventy-six years, I have taken offense at what friends said and cut off the relationships. Two particular women, a decade or more older than I was, had done many kind and generous things for me and my family, but unfortunately they said things that hit me where I felt most vulnerable. And I let them literally die without ever saying I was sorry or even telling them why I became alienated.
I realized when beginning to be a part of B4Peace and the Sunday night prayers/chants for peace, that since I have had several small strokes and three clogged arteries in my head recently, I might not get a chance to reconcile, if I postpone saying that I am sorry very long.
Asking to be on the agenda for a Session meeting, sitting waiting for it to begin, feeling like the elephant in the room that nobody was mentioning, trying not to say anything accusatory, just to take responsibility for my part, was just about the hardest thing I ever remember doing.
With some encouragement from our minister, most, maybe all, said that they accepted my apology. But the response was less than warm and no one volunteered any apology for their part in the conflict. By the time I got to my car, I was in danger of getting angry once again. What I realized is, that forgiveness takes one side, reconciliation takes both sides. And that forgiving them was my problem, because forgiving them reconciled me to God. Their being sorry was their problem.
In working through aspects of this estrangement, I have realized that an area of oversensitivity caused by my own inability to admit a weakness, blew everything out of proportion. Admitting to the reality of that particular limit has set me free of a source of fear and defensiveness.
Another outcome of this spiritual struggle has been recognizing how my idealism often gives me a critical spirit. The truth is that God is much more realistic about our human limits than we are. Yes, we aim for the ideal. Yes, we encourage and share insights with others in our spiritual journey. But, at any given time our vision may not be the same as God’s. He/She may have an entirely different agenda. Letting go of our preconceived ideas, at least holding our vision lightly with fingers open, is the only way we will ever hear God and the only way we will ever have peace.
I have already forgotten the source, but a quote helped me at a crucial point in coming to grips with how destructive my unrealistic expectations have been: “Do not let the perfect become the enemy of the good.”
I do not tend to see the glass as either half empty or half full. I see it as a challenge. I start imagining possible ways to fill it to overflowing. There have been times that this trait was perfect for my situation/job/project. I was in the right place at the right time with enough resources and talented support people who shared my vision.
But recently , I’ve recognized that the situation I am in now does not have the resources or people with the shared vision. And I cannot accomplish my goals alone, nor should I, even if I could. If God wants it and I’m willing to do whatever, God will supply what else is needed. Otherwise, instead of either trying to force my oughts and shoulds on others or silently judging them as falling short, I need to wait on God. He may know that here and now, a half empty glass is all that is needed to accomplish His purposes, which are more important than my need to feel important or successful or smart or superior.
My wanting to always make everything bigger and better is like having only a hammer, when what may be needed is only a dust cloth.
How peaceful it is to be still and know that He is God, and I am not.
What a gift!
Thank you, God, for setting me free.
I’ve always struggled with unrealistic expectations and the depression that follows when I’m forced to face the realities of our human imperfections (including mine) and a seemingly hopelessly imperfect world.
One of my many disillusionments has been how imperceptible are the differences even the greatest of us makes. For every plague we cure, another one is born. From every war we win, the seeds of the next are sown. For every race or nation emancipated, we project our inner evil on another one. For every answer we discover, a new question arises.
I cling to the hope, that in the overall picture of eons of evolution, that there is progress imperceptible to us in humanity’s short history, but recognizable to God.
Sometimes in the crucible of my own struggle to become the person God created me to be, no matter how humiliatingly limited that potential may be, I get a glimpse of a tiny, almost imperceptible new strength, understanding, and freedom in my willingness to love. If I can resist being overwhelmed by the multitude of areas where I still fall short, I can focus on the next breadcrumb in the spiritual trail God has scattered for me in my daily life.
The key word for me is ‘tiny.’ My illusions are large with fairy tale size expectations.
My husband was a realist, who lived in the moment, and was able to focus on just the next task. I once had a dream in which we were at dinner on a river cruise. The waiters kept bringing small appetizer like courses, one after the other. My husband happily ate each one as it came, while I refrained, waiting for the main course. At some point I realized that there was no main course.
I cannot lie, it’s still frustrating. Sometimes, I have overwhelming dark days of discouragement. But they aren’t frequent, they don’t last long, and usually I can follow God’s bread crumbs out into the light again, feeling a tiny bit stronger and wiser and a tiny bit more able to love. Grace can turn dark times into what stretches us and increases our capacity not only for persevering, but for joy and love.
Some of those bread crumbs are found in blogs I follow. Two particularly (but not limited to these) are: Unshakable Hope and Make Believe Boutique
The many sources of bread crumbs vary greatly from Scripture, nature, friends, books, movies, TV, dreams, memories, and even the comic strips. When we look for God’s breadcrumbs, they are everywhere.