Tag Archives: expectations

spirituality-prayer-lent

Change my heart

Recently, I have spoken about my work at a cancer support center to several Optimist Clubs, and every time I hear the Optimist Creed, this line stands out:

To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.

One of my Lenten plans was to see the people in front of me. Sometimes I don’t actually see the person standing in front of me, but rather I see a version of that person which is based on my past experiences with him or her, and I know that is not always accurate.

Instead, I want to try to see as God sees—to see the potential in each person, to see the best in each one. I want to be less critical and more hopeful about the people in my life.spirituality-prayer-lentUsually, though, I form an impression of someone when we meet. If someone is prickly, I tend to think, “This is a prickly person.” I can then find it difficult to change that initial impression, to let go of my expectations that someone will act in a particular way. I can easily devote attention and energy to the faults of others while conveniently overlooking my own. spirituality-prayer-lentI know, though, that when I get a glimpse of myself as God sees me, it is a better version of me. From God’s perspective, I am capable of being my best self—loving, forgiving, accepting and merciful. When others see the best in me, and let me know that, I am more likely to be that person (or at least be more aware when I am not). The ability of others to see the best in me helps me to grow into the person God created me to be.

God invites me to focus on improving myself, on fixing my own faults before I start looking at others.spirituality-prayer-lentWhen I am aware of my own flaws, I am less likely to be critical of others. When I remember that I grow and change, it is easier to believe that others also grow and change—and also easier to see their potential.

Practicing seeing as God sees also makes me more compassionate. Seeing the potential in others and allowing them the space to grow into their potential reminds me we are all on the path to discovering who God created us to be. Hoping that I and others can live up to the vision God has for us shifts my vision from pessimism to optimism; God’s vision is always hopeful and expansive.spirituality-prayer-lentEvery person who stands before me has the potential to become all that God intended. My desire is to accept the people who come into my life without criticism or judgment and to imagine them as their best selves, the selves God created them to be.

 

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Say “yes” to something new

Late have I loved you, beauty so ancient and so new….And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there….You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you….You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness…you put to flight my blindness….You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.” ~St. Augustine

I am a late bloomer, and I take great comfort in St. Augustine’s finding God late in his life.

He reminds me that God’s time is not the same as our time, and God’s expectations are not the same as ours. With God, there is always time to discover God within, to gain insight and wisdom, to start something new. God continually calls us to move beyond our limited expectations.

Advent is a time of preparation for something new. It is a good time to check my eyesight—to notice where I am looking—and to review my expectations to see how they align with what God asks of me. Like St. Augustine, I can be looking outside, when God is calling me to look within.

This Advent, Elizabeth and Zachariah have caught my attention in a new way. Perhaps it is because they were advanced in years (as am I) when God did something completely unexpected and entirely new for them.

Most often, we think of the later years as a time of slowing down, doing less, taking it easy. But God brought a baby into their lives—new life with new demands and responsibilities. I imagine they were thrilled and celebrated their good fortune.

But, it could not have been easy; there must have been a period of adjustment. I imagine Elizabeth and Zachariah had to steel themselves against gossip and judgment and can picture the scene when their neighbors gathered at the well: Did you hear that Elizabeth is pregnant? At her age? What were they thinking?

Being old and doing something new can cause a few raised eyebrows and questioning looks. Really? You’re going to do what?

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As if there is some old-age line that we cross and then it is time for retirement homes and rocking chairs with nothing new on the horizon.

One of my favorite books is The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein. It is the story of his young life as a Jewish immigrant in England. He wrote the book when he was in his nineties—his first book—but the story had been with him a lifetime. I love that he took a chance and dared to write and share his story.Advent-hope-expectationsI feel like I am just growing into my own skin and coming to a deeper sense of God’s desires for my life. Like St. Augustine, Elizabeth and Zachariah—and Harry Bernstein, I want to stay open to God’s invitation to create. I want to say yes when God surprises me with something new..Advent-hope-expectations

Five simple rules to be happy

My friend Jim kept a small slip of paper taped to the shelf above his desk, with six typed lines:

Remember the five simple rules to be happy.

  1. Free your heart from hatred.
  2. Free your mind from worries.
  3. Live simply.
  4. Give more.
  5. Expect less.

I don’t know if he consciously read these rules every day, but that would probably be a good way to start the day.

I, though, would add a sixth rule: be grateful.

Gratitude is the path to contentment for me, and contentment is the foundation for happiness. When I focus on what I have and am grateful for it—no matter how meager it might be—my expectations are automatically lowered and I can see that I actually have quite a lot. When I pay more attention to what is rather than what isn’t, I see how abundantly God has blessed me.

Living in gratitude has been my prayer for as long as I can remember.

Before receiving communion at Mass, I pray, Lord, help me to be grateful. Being able to freely practice my faith and to receive nourishment from my church and the sacraments is a starting point for a litany of gratitude for all I have—and prayers for those who have less.

Many different factors have helped move me along the path to living in gratitude, especially the opportunities I have had to travel to communities where people have fewer material goods than I have.

One memory that stands out for me is from a trip to Swaziland, Southern Africa, when I was the director of a lay mission program. St. Phillip’s Mission has a medical clinic and on one of my visits, I was standing near the clinic when a man came walking out of the surrounding bush.

Swaziland bush

On his back, he was carrying his brother, a grown man so weak he could not walk. I had only once before seen someone so emaciated, and seeing these two men emerge from the bush brought back memories of my Uncle Steve just before he died from stomach cancer many years earlier.

I don’t know how far this man had walked through the bush with his brother on his back, but the nearest homestead was probably a mile away. His search for medicine for his dying brother painted a compelling picture. His love and dedication were obvious and poignant. In what seemed a hopeless situation, this man still held hope that someone could help his brother. Tears filled my eyes, and I prayed for these two men, even as I could see that the brother was near death.

Fortunately, the clinic was able to help the brother, and on my return visit a year later, I saw this man who had been emaciated almost to the point of death, now standing strong and healthy—and joyously grateful for the help he had received at the clinic.

How can I not thank God for this miracle and all my blessings!

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Keeping things in perspective

Brain cancer became my reference point after my friend Jim was diagnosed with a non-curable and very, very aggressive form of it. While Jim was sick, any drama at work led me to ask, “Does anyone here have brain cancer?” It may seem harsh, but I did not have the energy to deal with what often constituted a crisis at work, and I would tell my staff to “work it out among yourselves.”

That brain cancer standard has served me well these past five years and has helped me to let go of things that might once have upset me. If nobody is seriously ill or in imminent danger, I can have a more realistic perspective on what really matters. I can step back and reassess most situations quite quickly.

calm

Last night at church, for example, a man came in terribly upset that one of the side doors was locked. He had parked near that door and had to walk to the next door (approximately fifty feet). “Someone has to do something,” he demanded. Another man standing nearby shook his head and said to me, “Some people.” He then told me that he had had a bout with cancer last winter and now he knew that a locked door was not really that big of a deal. I agreed, and I felt sorry for the man who was investing so much energy in such a small matter.

Recently, though, I have had two events in my own life that required me to step back and evaluate my reactions.

One was in my personal life and the other at work. Both involved unmet expectations.

One thing that can help me let go is to reframe the experience, to step outside of it and look at it from another angle. I am an extrovert and it helps me to talk through what happened in order to begin looking at the event from a different perspective. For both of these events, I called a friend who is an introvert; I find an introvert’s viewpoint opens up different options, often options I had not considered.

The personal event had made me angry because I had wasted some time and money. But no one had brain cancer, no one was going to die, and in the bigger scheme of things, wasted time and money are not that big of a deal. I asked myself, “Will this matter next month? Or in a year? Or at the end of my life?” Probably not. Let it go. I refocused my attention away from what was lost (time and money) to what was gained (the positive aspects of the experience).

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The work event, though, has a broader impact and I needed to consider not just my unmet expectations and disappointment but that of others, too. I am still working on it.

Wise people throughout the ages have advised keeping things in perspective and maintaining balance—not holding on too tightly and not making more of something than it is. That is how I want to live.

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Living in the present

“Stop holding onto me,” Jesus tells Mary Magdalene….” (John 20:17).

Holding onto Jesus sounds like a good thing to do, so why does Jesus tell Mary Magdalene to stop? This instruction puzzled me as I prayed with this passage recently.

One method of prayer is to imaginatively put myself into the scene, to see myself as one of the people in the story or as a bystander watching the events unfold.  When I put myself into this scene, I can easily imagine myself in Mary Magdalene’s situation. I can identify with what she must have been going through in the days leading up to this passage.

This person she loved had been brutally murdered and she is bereft in her grief. She keeps vigil by his tomb, weeping. Then, the next day, the stone has been rolled away and his body is gone. I can imagine her confusion and anxiety, the feeling of utter emptiness. How could this happen? Who would have taken his body? Why?

To have lost Jesus the first time was horrible, and now, this second loss must have been almost unbearable.

And then, miraculously, Jesus appears, but somehow different and unrecognizable. Is he the gardener? And might he know where Jesus’ body has been taken? I imagine Mary’s desperation as she pleads with this person. Her angst is palpable. When he speaks, though, she recognizes his voice. It is Jesus.

The shifting emotions in so short a time are almost too much to bear—deep sorrow, confusion, fear, anxiety and then joy at seeing Jesus alive again.

I think of the relief a parent feels after finding a child who had wandered off in a store or of hearing that a loved one is safe after news of an accident. At first, fear grows unchecked. Then joy overflows. We embrace and hold our loved one near, so happy to be reconnected.

So why is this situation different? Why does Jesus tell Mary to stop holding onto him?

When I imagine myself in this scene, at the moment of recognition, I can see myself embracing Jesus, and perhaps that is what happened, but the details were omitted from this passage. Perhaps Jesus allowed Mary a few moments of nearness, of holding onto him—and then Jesus gently separated from her. “Stop holding onto me,” he says, because he needs her to go tell the apostles what she has seen.

As I prayed, I remembered great losses that have left gaping holes in my life and plunged me into grief. What had once been was no longer, and I was bereft and uncertain of the future.

Was Jesus telling Mary—and me—that even though what once had been is no longer, I need to stop holding onto the past? That when I can let go of what was, I can be open to what is to come? I only need to listen for Jesus’ voice and be open to seeing something other than what I might expect.

 

 

Sight

On my recent retreat, we prayed with Luke 24:13-35, the story of the two disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus after Jesus was crucified. Jesus joins them on the walk, but they do not recognize him.

Early on in the retreat, one of the facilitators commented, “expectations can bind.” His words reminded me of my postings from last month about being bound and unbound. Was it expectations that bound me? Would I be unbound if I let go of my expectations?

As I pondered the Emmaus reading, it occurred to me that the disciples’ expectations may have bound them, but they also blinded them; they literally did not see that it was Jesus. Expectations can blind, I concluded.

The disciples knew Jesus had died and even though they had heard that he was risen, they had not yet reconciled with that reality. They had no expectations of meeting Jesus on the road and so they did not recognize him. Had they been expecting him, they might have recognized him.

How often is that true for me? How often do I set up expectations that limit my ability to see Jesus in others? How often do I miss the gifts being offered because I am not expecting them or because I am expecting something else?

Quite often, I fear.

When I met with my spiritual director a few weeks ago, I shared my ponderings about being bound and unbound. I talked about how I not only wanted to be unbound, but I want to leap into freedom. She suggested I focus my daily Examen on when I leap and when I fail to leap.

I began to note in my journal when I took risks and when I hesitated. Each time I hesitated, I tried to discern what held me back.

On retreat, leaping and not leaping were still on my mind, so the phrase expectations can bind resonated with me. I reviewed my journal, looking more closely at entries about not leaping, and I could see that my reluctance to leap was connected to a fear of being judged.

If I had been the person Jesus appeared to, I wonder if I would have recognized him and run to tell the other disciples that Jesus was alive. Even if I had recognized Jesus, I don’t think I would have shared it because I would have feared others’ disbelief. “Why would Jesus appear to you?” I can imagine them asking, their question dripping with disdain and disbelief.

My expectations of being judged do bind and blind me.

“Were not our hearts burning within us…?” (Luke 24:32) ask the disciples once they realize it had been Jesus walking with them. I pray for the grace to act when my heart is burning within me, to push against my fears and let go of expectations so that my eyes can be open to see Jesus walking beside me and all the gifts God is offering.

Five steps toward greater freedom

One of my New Year’s traditions is to read my journals (and now blog posts) of the past year, looking for themes I want to carry into the New Year. This year, I have also been reading journals from years past and gleaning insights into where God has called and led me. Some thoughts for going forward:

1) Lower my expectations of others. I usually realize I have expectations when they are unmet. When I feel disappointed or hurt or angry, I know I had expected someone to do or say something other than what happened. When I hear myself asking, “Who does that?” or “Who says that?” I know my expectations were not met. In those instances, I try to step back and remind myself I cannot control what other people say or do; I can only control my side of any transaction. Having more realistic expectations helps me to see and accept people for who they are. Having realistic expectations—or being able to adjust my expectations when necessary—is a step toward freedom from hurts and disappointments.

2) Have higher expectations of myself. A basic premise of Christianity is to think of others ahead of myself, and I want to be that kind of person. I want to have high expectations of myself that I will be kind and thoughtful; that I will listen to others’ stories and hear their joys and struggles; and that I will be understanding, compassionate and forgiving.

3) Let go. I often ponder this line from one of the Eucharistic prayers: “On the night he was betrayed, Jesus….” The image of being able to let go of betrayal so quickly that on the very night it happens I could turn around and give thanks and blessing is what I desire. This can only happen if I am continually practicing letting go of betrayals, hurts and disappointments and readjusting my expectations of myself and others.

4) Live in gratitude. Living in gratitude helps me to be aware of all the blessings in my life and reminds me that good triumphs over evil. I believe that every curse has a blessing, that something good can come out of any bad situation and that good needs to be lifted up and celebrated. Living in gratitude helps keep me focused on the inherent goodness of others and God’s abundant generosity.

5) Live in Holy Indifference. St. Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians (4:12-13), “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” My goal is to have nothing to prove, nothing to fear and nothing to hide; I can only live that freely and transparently by trusting in the loving care of our generous God.

I try to live the life God created me to live, to be the person God created me to be. I practice every day.