My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus.[The Science of Second-Guessing (New York Times Magazine Interview, December 12, 2004)] ― Stephen Hawking
We find ourselves with a new puppy, a Goldendoodle we call Wilson. He’s the kind that pees on all the things and upends a home life in the way where everyone silently wonders if it was worth it (and by everyone, I mean the adults). We didn’t need a dog, I already had one, a perfect doodle named Clementine whose worst habit, aside from a stinky snout, is lying in the middle of the bedroom floor, tripping us up during the inconvenient middle-of-the-night bathroom runs. But the Clemmy girl is a mama’s dog, a diligent companion who has eyes just for me. No-one else in the house has a chance.
We hoped a puppy would bring some solace and distraction to the jaunty work of adolescence, forging a special bond with the children. And in perfect Jepsen fashion, one day we wondered about a puppy and the next we owned one. So far so good, but time will tell if Eric and I have inherited ourselves a young four-legged Wilson as our own.
Dreams are funny things. That wild notion that creeps in, and then before you know it you’re researching pups on the internet. It’s not that we forgot how bananas puppy hood can be, we just glossed over the difficulty. This is the same reason why I birthed three kids and ran 9 marathons. Thankfully, we forget. We minimize the severity of the pain, while holding the beautiful and sepia-toned memories. I’ve had enough puppies in my lifetime to know the risks and pitfalls. And Eric and I painted a dismal portrait to our teens of disrupted screen time and losses of freedom, but we said yes anyways, because we know that joy is forged in the fires of discomfort, in the overcoming and in the difficulty. And somehow, as the happy memories harden, the middle of the night potty breaks and carpet stains won’t seem like a huge deal.
I have a problem with expectations. While I believe dreaming is important, the management of expectations is a real thing. Before becoming a parent my expectations were off the charts, perfection the acceptable ideal. We all know that is an unsustainable reality, so with the arrival of the babies my expectations had to pendulum swing in the equal and opposite direction, rendering all things horrible until proven otherwise.
I recognize now the importance of a middle ground – that, amidst the dreaming and romanticizing, there are expectations to be considered and heeded. And oftentimes I am surprised by my newfound reality whether it’s in parenting, puppy raising, or church planting. The reality is either harder or easier than I presumed. A reason to hold expectations with a loosened grip, carrying generosity and grace toward oneself in the process.
As a One on the Enneagram, the expectation of perfection tends to be my default. We all know the problems here.
And so my work is to learn from others, to observe how they navigate the world, to observe their strategies and skills as metrics for setting my own personal expectations in this nebulous learning curve, while also recognizing I cannot measure others with the standards I measure myself.
Also, I must discern and dismiss many of the internal voices of condemnation and criticism, as well as voices of fear and protection. I cannot tell you where these come from, but certainly no one has spoken to me with the level of condescension that I can speak to myself.
As I come to trust my own voice – the quieter, curious, knowing voice – I recognize the essential value and worth in the work I do, believing in my calling as a pastor, as a parent, as a puppy owner, trusting I am the right one, the best one for these tasks. And in this trusting and believing, the passion is reignited which re-illuminates the dream, rendering me capable and ready for the work of being who I am in the world. Just as I am.
And so the sepia-toned dream will take hits and it will become marred and mired in the oftentimes grisly work of ushering new life into the world. But I have good instincts. I have lived life and I have learned through misplaced expectations, feeble attempts, wild success, through ill-informed decisions and wild-haired spontaneity.
Just because it’s uncomfortable,
just because it’s messy,
just because it’s not perfect,
absolutely does not mean it’s wrong.
So puppies or parenting, church planting or everyday living – expect to be surprised and expect to be disappointed – holding all of it together, with a loosened grip.