I made an interesting observation today about expectations.
I was part of a conversation this afternoon with one of the seminarians where I work. He’s in the process of doing his “student pastoring” at a church outside of town, and he was reporting that it had been a rather intense few weeks. Someone had recently outed him (as gay) at the church, and there was a lot of uncertainty about how people would react to knowing this about him at that particular church. It turns out things have (so far anyway) gone very well, and he even took his boyfriend with him to a church function last weekend.
While I was very encouraged to hear his story, the thing that surprised me is that I did not in any way let on to him that I am also gay. I stayed quite firmly in the closet throughout the conversation despite the fact that he was openly out of his as he shared his story.
I’m a reasonably smart woman, and I tend to be rather more self-aware than average. But I am still very good at using that intelligence to fool myself and can get myself so focused on one thing that I remain completely oblivious to other things going on in my life of which I really should be aware.
But no matter how good I can be at fooling myself or at ignoring important input, my body always knows what my conscious mind is ignoring. And my body will continue communicating more and more loudly until it gets my attention.
I’ve learned the hard way that when it comes to people and relations appearances can be deceiving, words can be used to trick and to hide as much to expose, feelings can’t always be trusted, and that the “truth” in any given situation usually depends on who you ask. In short, there is seldom an absolute truth to any interaction between human beings, and even the truth that can be reliably nailed down in some way is likely to be interpreted differently by each participant and each viewer.
For many years, this made me hesitant to trust my own perceptions of situations I found myself in. I distrusted my feelings, questioned my motives, doubted my observations. Most of all, I ignored my intuition. At the slightest hint of contradiction to my own opinions, I accepted the “truth” of those around me above my own knowing.
When I was younger, I used to believe that God had a perfect plan for our lives. Our job was figure out what this plan was and get with the program.
I believed that there was one perfect spouse for each of us, one perfect career path, one place we were to live, one church we were to attend, one choice in every situation that was right. All other choices were wrong and disobedient. This put an awful lot of pressure on every decision to make sure it was the one perfect one.
It used to really frustrate me to think that God had laid out this perfect plan that I was supposed to follow, but that I wasn’t given a copy of the checklist for ever decision I faced so I’d know which one was right. It seemed so unfair. To top it off, I often heard it said that God would call you to whatever you were least suited (in skills and personality) to do, so if you were actually good at what you were doing or you enjoyed it, it was a sure sign that you were on the wrong path.
I’ve been studying for my final exam in my Introduction to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament class this weekend. One of the topics that I have been reviewing in preparation for the exam is the category of wisdom literature found in the Bible.
All wisdom literature is made up of human reflections on the meaning of life and how it works, but we find two kinds of wisdom literature in the Bible. One is proverbial wisdom, which comprises collections of short, pithy statements (and sometimes short stories) that is general good advice about how to live well. These proverbs often take a concrete example and generalize it to all of life. The problem is that life is rarely that simple, and there are many exceptions to these “rules” for living.
The second kind of wisdom literature is known as philosophical wisdom, and we find this type of wisdom literature in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes. Both of these books are asking and exploring a question about life. Ecclesiastes is asking about profit we get from life. What is the point of life beyond working to get our basic needs met? Job is asking whether there is ever such a thing as disinterested righteousness. Do we ever do good when there is no reward (or no perceived reward) for doing so?
On the one hand … on the other hand…. Most of my pondering (on just about any topic) makes ample use of that phrase. On the one hand, this can make it very difficult to make a decision because I am able to see both sides of an issue. On the other hand, it makes it easier for me to understand others’ points of view because I can hold the tension of seeming opposites in my mind.
Lois Tverberg talks about the fact that Jewish thought tends to rely heavily on this type of thinking in her chapter “Thinking with both hands” in Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life. (On the one hand, I can imagine that my readers may be tired of hearing about my thoughts on this book. On the other hand, it is due back at the library, so I need to explore these thoughts while I still have it with me.)
While I have often viewed this tendency of mine with a great deal of frustration because of the challenges it causes me in making a decision, she points out a number of benefits to this way of thinking that are helping me to embrace this pattern’s usefulness.
I really hate to say no to people when they want me to do things. This means that I either wind up doing things I really don’t want to do (in which case I tend to let my unhappiness show in horribly passive-aggressive ways that I invariably later regret) or I say an honest no only to wind up spending huge amounts of time in self-flagellation (of the psychological sort) for having had the audacity for being so selfish as to refuse to meet someone else’s request.
I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember, and it’s a pattern that really doesn’t serve me very well. It’s not serving those around me very well either even when I do what they want. It’s one of the (many) patterns that I’m working on changing.