Monday, February 18, 2008

Expectations vs. Reality

Sometimes it seems as though nothing goes according to plan. For instance, after three weeks of having to postpone our daughter's homeschooling (vacation, illness, etc.), my wife was supposed to start it up again this morning. But they're both still asleep after what was a long, not very restful night. Once our little girl came into our bed sometime in the middle of the night, she woke up several times upset and crying, either at still having a cold and feeling stuffed up or because of nightmares. Either way, it means that the plan for today was de-railed even before the sun came up.

Even I didn't get up until around 9am. I went to bed around half-past midnight, but didn't actually fall asleep until after 2am. My mind was wound up, I guess. I was thinking about church stuff. And I was worried that my wife was still up and awake even though she had preschool with our daughter in the morning. Now thankfully, since it's just the two of them, schedules are pretty flexible. And though I slept in, Monday is normally my day off anyway.

Last night while lying in bed, I happened to say to my wife something along the lines that I wish things could go completely right and as planned even for just a few days. And she, though still struggling with depression, was able to say that our life was still pretty good. She's largely right about that. It seems quite a lot has to do with our perspective on things. I find that I'm becoming more self-conscious about my own moods and attitudes, and that a lot of the problem when I see things going astray or just plain wrong is me.

It's all about the difference between expectations and reality. How do I expect our life as a family to be? Or more simply, what do I expect to accomplish this morning? Or what do I expect of my wife this afternoon? And which of these expectations are actually realistic? Do I sometimes have unrealistic expectations for us? I'm guessing yes. Sometimes these expectations are pretty conscious--I know I have them and find myself frustrated when they aren't met. But sometimes expectations can be unconscious. I get frustrated but don't know why. I find myself in a sour mood but can't pinpoint the reason. I get irritated at my wife but am unable locate the source of the irritation. Or even if I think I have, it may turn out to be more than what I thought. So there are conscious and unconscious expectations that may or may not match up with reality.

But there's another kind of expectation that can cause even more difficulty: unspoken expectations. This is when I expect my wife to read my mind and understand what I want from her even if I haven't verbally communicated it. There's a certain self-righteousness that rears its ugly head here. "She should know that I would want this," I think. And then I blame her for lacking psychic abilities. We can all deliberately remain non-communicative about these expectations because we truly do believe that our spouse's ability to understand how we feel without our having to spell it out is part of the point. The hiccup in thinking this way, of course, is that we would never reverse the logic. I know I can't psychically intuit what's going on in my wife's head. Heck, even when she spells it out sometimes I still don't get it! Expectations need to be spoken, at least if you want the other person to know what they are.

Such expectations apply to relationships, and they apply to plans and life in general. I expect things to go this way or that way. Then they don't. I expect my wife to do this or that. And she doesn't. I expect to get this or that accomplished. And then I don't. Life doesn't always go as planned. And sometimes that's because we have unspoken expectations and sometimes it's because of unrealistic expectations. I guess that means I have to do a better job either of communicating my expectations or of measuring them and setting them in such a way that they come closer to reality and take what might happen and what might not happen into account. And that's one thing life is teaching me--through marriage, parenting, and ministry: be realistic.


Steve Bedard said...

It is a difficult process to accept that reality is not interested in our expectations. The other night our youngest, Emma woke up at 11, just as I was going to bed. I got her to bed at 11:30 but could not get to sleep until 12. I woke up at 1 when I heard her again but we both fell back asleep without me having to get up. I woke up again at 2 when I heard Abby. By 2:45 I realized she was not going back to sleep. Although we napped on the couch for an hour, it was a brutal day. Unfortunately, that fatigue affects my relationship with the kids, Amanda and God. Although there are times that I resent the way most people take 8 hours sleep for granted, deep down I know God is using this time to make me a better person and that this too shall pass. There are never easy answers, just a determination to hold on and to force ourselves to make the right choices.

Pastor Derek said...

I think you are right, Steve, that there are no easy answers. I would love to get a clean 8 hours a sleep a night. And I would love that even more for Alisha, who has the most trouble sleeping out of all three of us. On Saturday night, Ella was up a few times, and this just exhausts Alisha, who will take the brunt of it when I have to preach the next day. But it means she feels even worse and can't come to Sunday school. Frustratingly, it often seems to happen when we have something going on the next day. Sunday night Ella woke up crying and upset several times from bad dreams and Monday was supposed to be the first day bck to home schooling in three weeks.

The truth is, sometimes I find myself resenting the situation. I know that it affects my relationships: with Ella, Alisha, the church, and God. And when I think that all I want is a life more ordinary and normal, I wonder if anyone truly has a normal life like the one I envision.

Heck, sometimes it's just me. Last night it took me nearly an hour and a half to fall asleep after going to bed. I wonder if that's partly because Alisha and Ella were away. I can trouble sleeping sometimes when alone in the house. I also began to exhibit signs of a cold. That didn't help.

And so the week begins. I have to prepare a sermon before the weekend, because Alisha is going to a retreat. I don't even have a topic or a passage yet. I have youth group. I have to be at worship practice tonight. And in the next couple of weeks I have to find a dozen or so people to take a survey as well as schedule a meeting for making some changes to our worship time on Sunday.

Anyway, reality, I find, rarely meets our expectations. In some cases, this is annoying. Thankfully, though, sometimes reality exceeds our expectations.

Amanda said...

Hey Derek,

I see Steve has already chimed in on this post. But I do want to add some 'female' insight. Hope you don't mind.

From our life, with 4 kids and also being in ministry, I've learned (and am learning) the lessons of expectation vs. reality. I thought your insights were very thorough and actually much of what I experience on a day to day basis. I do think ministry life adds to this pressure, whether it is realized or not. We (or at least I) seem to hold ourselves to higher standards, forgetting that we are incredibly human and are prone if not more susceptible, to these traps. Pastors work endless hours, are always on call, often bringing home work even if just the torment within the mind. There is so much to do, so little time.

I'd like to encourage you to have grace; both with yourself and with your family. Those sleepless nights, the unexpected happenings, the sickness, the weather; they are annoying, troublesome and draining. It's so tough with little ones. But I've come to realize within our circumstances, I need to give both myself and my family the grace needed to get through a difficult day/time. God has really been speaking over my heart to have more grace, to allow myself the freedom to rest in Him, to be quiet and allow His spirit to draw me again to His side. Often in those times of feeling overwhelmed, when I step back and look at where I am at, I've walked so far in the opposite direction to where God is. I mean, WOW...but it's so great to know that when I turn around, He's there, waiting for me.

My prayers are with you and Alisha and Ella.