- I’ve been thinking about expectations and all the roles we play. It’s exhausting. When I was born I was simply a baby. As an infant, my responsibilities were nil. But over time I came to awareness that I was a daughter. I belonged to a family and there were self-induced and taught expectations that went along with being a daughter, niece, granddaughter, and cousin. My parents were adamant about not saying, “Michelle be a good….” Sadly, I know this isn’t the norm. Even in young children we sometimes create an environment of expectation. I caught myself doing it recently as I went to visit a family in the hospital after the birth of their second child. Without thinking, I said to the older sibling, “You’re going to be such a good big sister!” My words weren’t said maliciously or to cause the child to feel a weight of responsibility. But over time, messages—even those spoken lovingly by parents, teachers, supervisors, friends—build up and burden us with expectations. Year after year more expectations are placed on us, and seldom do we lay them down. The heaviest ones are often the ones we place on ourselves. The roles we take on and the “hats” we wear increase with each new relationship and responsibility. Is it any wonder we are people plagued by fatigue? We desire to play the game well, earn good grades, have successful and fulfilling relationships, excel in our jobs, and parent proficiently. Over the course of our lives we might be forced into roles we never even wanted to take on: healthcare advocate, widow, single parent, gym member.
So what are we to do with all these roles—all these hats? Sometimes I want to throw them out the window. My head simply isn’t big enough to wear them all. When I choose family over fitness, my body suffers. When I become engrossed in a work project, I’m not available for my husband and my girls. When I focus on spending free time with friends, I neglect the meaningful time I want with my parents. I pray I’m not the only one who often feels caught in the web of expectations. The simple answer is balance. But balance is actually a façade. We simply can’t do everything well in moderation. Trust me, I’ve tried. Balance makes us feel like we are multi-tasking ourselves to death. Pretty soon we are so tired of “balancing” we get tipsy and eventually land on our face. Perhaps the answer is to zero in on just one thing. Nope, that doesn’t work either. Compartmentalizing our lives isn’t holistic or holy. In fact when we become too absorbed in just one or two of our responsibilities, the rest of our relationships fall apart. I’m depressing myself!
We need a living, breathing hope. We seek a Savior who understands and accepts our human limitations. We want grace. We have to let go of guilt and let Christ release us from the prison of expectations that have been built (sometimes with our own hands) around us. Here’s a practical, meaningful way I’ve found helpful. Every morning when I come into consciousness I ask God a simple question, “What do you want me to do today?” I admit it; sometimes I don’t want to hear the answer. Some mornings I wake up tired and forget to ask the question! But most days, I’ve come to accept and appreciate that living submitted to God, finding myself in the center of his will, is the best place to be. I follow up the question with a proclamation, “However you want to use me today, God, I’m yours.” It’s as simple and as difficult as those two sentences—one question and one affirmation. Both speak submission. Both free me from constantly plaguing myself with relational prioritization problems. Both give everything I am to the one who created me. Both allow me to see my days in light of eternity, not just at the mercy of a self-imposed schedule.
I wish I could tell you that simply speaking the words, “What do you want me to do today?” and “However you want to use me today, God, I’m yours” solved everything. Truthfully, I often get busy and forget to listen for answers. Sometimes I don’t think God answers me, even when I am trying to be attentive. There are days I’m really into being used by God, and then there are circumstances and situations when I just want to do it my own way. And as my family can attest, there are days, I’m plain grumpy. Oh, I’m so thankful for grace!
Maybe you’ve developed a prayer practice or a spiritual discipline that helps you release the tension of expectation. I encourage you to share those with one another. In closing, let me offer you this exercise: Find a space to be comfy. Curl up, snuggle down, or lie with arms and legs stretched. Wiggle your toes. Picture yourself safe in the presence of our nurturing, loving God. Close your eyes and let a smile creep across your face. Be still, visualizing God’s delight in you right now, in this moment. You aren’t doing anything. Notice the lack of expectation. Breathe deeply and slowly. Remember how good it is to be God’s child. A baby.