AfterWords | Bad Things, Good Things, and Misplaced Expectations (January 30, 2022)
AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.
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A 3-Minute Read
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:15–16)
The world is dangling, just beyond our reach, what we’re convinced is our heart’s desire. We press on, chase faster, try harder. We have a dream, a plan, a goal!
Dreams-plans-goals are splendid—until we put all our eggs in one basket.
Oops. I’m afraid, as of late, I’ve been carrying a basket full of misplaced expectations. Fragile things, these. Failure is not an option—not without tasting the dust and ashes of dashed hopes.
I can be dramatic that way.
Case in point: Opening email is perilous. I never know when I’ll find: “While there is much to admire about your work,” “Please keep in mind this business is subjective,” and “I hope your manuscript soon finds the perfect home.” As I pursue book publication, I have come to hate letters signed “best.” They’re the worst.
Still, one must have a sense of humor about these things. Charles Schulz did. Perhaps you recall that Snoopy the beagle was, among many things (World War I flying ace, Joe Cool, tennis star), an aspiring novelist, and a hard working one at that. He banged on the typewriter atop his doghouse (It was a dark and stormy night…), sent out stacks of pages, collected rejection notices. And then one day…
Linus and Lucy’s little brother, Rerun, rings Charlie Brown’s doorbell and says, “Ask your dog to come out and play ‘chase the stick.’” Snoopy comes out and hands him a note: “Thank you for your offer to come out and play… We are busy at this time, however, and cannot accept your offer… We hope you will be successful elsewhere.” ~ from Ann Pachett’s “Snoopy Taught Me How to Be a Writer”
Oh, Snoopy, I feel your pain! But I admire your tenacity. Like you, I’m back atop the doghouse, typing away. There’s no place I’d rather be—at this point, persistence feels right, even God-authored (pun intended).
I do not believe God is indifferent to my endeavors—or the grief that comes as gatekeepers decline. While God most certainly cares and is quite possibly invested in my dream-plan-goal, the do-or-die drama is another matter entirely. God never promised me a contract with a big-five publishing house. So, when did I get so outcome-oriented? And how do I manage to forget that I am beloved, book deal or no?
We elevate our ambitions, our hopes, our desires. Everything is the holy grail. Everything is attainable if we just want it enough.
Disappointment messes with our heads. We get muddled about the good things, too: the love of a spouse, a new baby, a new job. We pile expectations on top of expectations. We think this one or that one will make us whole. We confuse the messenger (the good thing) with the message (God loves).
C.S. Lewis wrote,
Pleasures are shafts of glory as it strikes our sensibility… I have tried to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I don’t mean simply by giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I mean something different… Gratitude exclaims, very properly, “How good of God to give me this.” Adoration says, “What must the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!” One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun… If this is Hedonism, it is also a somewhat arduous discipline. But it is worth some labour.
The gifts we’re granted are a means to beholding the giver. What worthy work, laboring to set our minds to run up the sunbeam to the sun!
As we travel along, we get tastes of heaven. We are not home yet.
Jesus did not need to be washed clean; nonetheless, he was baptized along with the masses. I love the quote Jordan shared on Sunday:
Jesus simply got in line with everyone who had been broken by the wear and tear of the world. When the line of down-trodden and sin-sick people formed in hopes of a new beginning through a return to God, God got in line with them. ~ Robert M. Brearley
God-with-us queued up with us, standing shoulder to shoulder with the frayed, cracked, tarnished. Jesus’s contemporaries had their expectations: Surely the Messiah would be the fellow to put Rome in its place. They eyed John the Baptist: Are you the One? But John the messenger pointed them to the message. Jesus, God’s Son whom he loves, he’s the bloke you’re looking for! See him there in the water, shining.
And then Jesus was sent into the wilderness.
The wilderness is the middle of the story: messy, ambiguous, unresolved. Our wilderness walks look different from Jesus’s: We wander, make demands. The idols of our hearts are laid bare. We don’t see God at work in the no, or we don’t want to.
I don’t want to. I work hard to classify the “no” as a “not yet.” (Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.) When disappointment tips over into discouragement (disappointment’s twister sister), I can remind myself that even if this bad thing (letters signed “best”) transforms into a good thing, Simon and Schuster is not savior.
When I incessantly check my inbox, I do well to ask: What am I really longing for?