Expectations and Conflict: Part II

Consider your story by journaling about the following questions:

○ What have I expected of others?

○ What have others expected of me?

○ How have these expectations impacted my life? How might they threaten my recovery and spiritual transformation?

Competing expectations lead to conflict

The young woman sitting before me was striking.  Her makeup was dramatic with eyeliner stretching far beyond the corner of her eyes.  Her jeans were fashionably ripped, as were mine, but her jeans were more hole than fabric.  Mine just had a couple of half-hearted shreds.  A beret sat jauntily on her head and her lips were ruby red.  Her eyeshadow was deep violet.  She practically purred like a cat stalking a mouse.  I knew my role: I was the mouse.  She came in with a list of complaints she wished to lodge against her mother.  She wanted to “clear up any confusion” necessary for me to “get her mother back on track”.  Interesting, I thought. 


Just a few hours before, her mother had sat in the same chair.  She wore pearls and a tailored suit with four inch heels and a no-nonsense attitude.  Her makeup was muted but I suspected botox made her minimalist approach possible. 


Both women came loaded with expectations despite their very different presentations.  They had expectations of each other; they had expectations of me.  These expectations competed with one another for both attention and energy.  Sides needed to be taken, control needed to be exerted if anyone was going to emerge as victor.


This is how each of us experience life.  No wonder we use substances to numb and forget!  This is not how God operates.  He has much to teach us about stating both our needs and our wants clearly without demanding that someone else change to meet them.  God gives us guidance for how we can take responsibility for our own lives within the context of surrendering to his will.  This frees us from the pressure to bend to the expectations of others.  This does not mean that we get our way.  What it means is we get out of the way of all those loaded conversations where people are trying to either please or control one another.  It relieves the stress of having to figure out who in the room wins and what our part is in each skirmish.  Instead, we are given the gift of boundaries.  We begin to learn how to live within the boundaries of God’s care for us.  This is a lot HARDER to figure out than it sounds.


A soundtrack played in my head as I listened to these two women exert tremendous effort to get the other person to make them feel less anxious by asking me to serve as a velvet hammer that each wielded against the other.  The band Cake’s song Short Skirt, Long Jacket rang in my inner ear.  It speaks of expectations, often competing ones.  It sets the bar high for some random girl that is somehow supposed to fix the world of the guy who sings it.  We do not have to live this way.  But tremendous humility and willingness to change will be required if we want to get out from under the weight of living in a world that only loves winners.

"Why are you angry?"

Yesterday I asked (without answering) a question:  why did God accept Abel’s offering but not Cain’s?

In the book of Hebrews, Paul shares his perspective:  

By an act of faith, Abel brought a better sacrifice to God than Cain. It was what he believed, not what he brought, that made the difference. That’s what God noticed and approved as righteous. After all these centuries, that belief continues to catch our notice.

~ Hebrews 11:4 The Message

Again, the acceptance had NOTHING to do with the kind of offering given, but instead with the motivation of the heart of the giver.  Cain was confused about God’s rejection but was unwilling to humbly ask for feedback from God.

What if Cain had gotten curious?  What if he had asked a follow up question?  If he had done that, God surely would have told him that his issue was heart-related, not simply an aversion to carrots and potatoes.

At that moment, Cain could have considered God’s perspective.  At a minimum, he would have had no reason to kill Abel.  It was NOT a competition. 

Now that we’ve cleared up the issue with God’s approval and disapproval, tomorrow we will look at God’s response and advice to Cain in spite of Cain’s reluctance to hear another viewpoint.

Is there any chance that some of your own resentment/s is/are more a misunderstanding of the situation than an actual slight?  Are there new ways of seeing that might keep you from doing harm to yourself or others as a result of your skewed perspective?

Winners and Losers

I appreciate winning as much or more than anyone I know.  I am particularly competitive in the arena of board games.  Who doesn’t love being a winner?  So when I began to study conflict resolution, I frankly was looking for material to teach me how to win at conflict.  Those books are out there and are readily available for our competitive consumption.

However, I found far more compelling literature that ultimately shook my preconceived notion that winning was the best game in town.  I have decades of experience at playing to win.  I was not easily convinced that winning is not everything.  What I learned is that I’m not even sure it is a thing at all.  It depends on our viewpoint.

It is no secret that I both love to win and have never won a set of tennis playing against my husband.  I’ve written reams of material on all the humbling lessons I have learned standing across the court from him for almost 50 years of tennis playing and losing set after set after set.  But that perspective is ONLY one that I can find on the scoreboard.  It doesn’t tell the whole story; it doesn’t even address the most important point of the story!

See, I may lose at tennis, but together Pete and I win at life when we enjoy going out and playing tennis, especially since we figured out how to more accurately measure success.
Tennis is something we have done together since we were kids; how many people are still in relationship with the same person they first learned how to play tennis with using a wooden racket?  

Together, we have literally grown up on the tennis court.  In terms of years, that’s a fact.  But it is also true when we consider our maturity and even our capacity to live in the moment.  If tennis was once a way we competed for points and got in our cardio exercise, it has morphed into sacred space.  We do not take for granted that we will have decades MORE to go out on a warm summer night, turn on the lights and push the ball through the air with a sturdy wallop of our racket.  We know what it is like to be side-lined by a shoulder injury.  We are aware that several of our friends are no longer healthy enough to stand out in 90 degree heat and run from one corner of the baseline to another as if the point really mattered.  No longer bothered with the burden of having something to prove, life has become far more enjoyable on many fronts.  I suggest that for today - consider what competitions you can set aside so that you can experience a bit more sacred space.

Contempt and Comparison: What NOT to do

From yesterday:  Avoiding comparisons to other people’s lives is an important step in avoiding living as contemptuous people.  This is not easy to do, but there are a couple of things we must all keep in mind as it pertains to the comparison game.  



What are those things?



1. You never know the various ways in which others are suffering in secret.  Yes, in a given area, someone may have it better than you, but you don’t know the various ways in which they have it worse.  Life is not easy for anyone. We tend to assume people are living an ideal life simply because we don’t have all the information.  So, don’t assume the best about others’ lives. Assume you don’t have all the information- that’s the truth.



2. You don’t know what people want for their lives.  Someone may get the thing you want- but they may not want it.  The presence of that thing, in that person’s life, may constitute a very real suffering.  In such a case as this, both parties are on the receiving end of life’s unfairness.


Playing the comparison game is ultimately pointless because, at the end of the day, we have no clue what we are comparing ourselves against.

What to do with Contempt: Part II

Our contempt does not serve us well.  Yesterday I suggested that addressing the causes of our contempt is the first step in crafting a life beyond our hurts and resentments.  



It is difficult to avoid comparing our lives to the lives of those around us, particularly as it relates to our hurts.  As Brittany and I dealt with infertility, we couldn’t help but notice how easily it seemed all of our friends got pregnant and birthed children without complication.  We know, we know, lots of people struggle with infertility- that’s not the point. The point is that the comparison factor kicks in when you’re hurting.  It often does not help to be told there are plenty of nameless and faceless others out there like you when all you see around you in your day-to-day life are people who, in this area, have it easier than you do.  This comparison is fertile breeding ground for contemptuous living.



Avoiding comparisons to other people’s lives is an important step in avoiding living as contemptuous people.  That’s really the goal isn’t it? We want to avoid living as contemptuous people in order to give ourselves the best possible chance at a hopeful life moving forward.  



This is not easy to do, but there are a couple of things we must all keep in mind as it pertains to the comparison game.  

What are those things?  Check back tomorrow.

Success, hope, and joy

From yesterday:  What vision of success fosters hope, joy, and meaning, rather than anxiety and competition?  Click here to get caught up.


The primary problem we all have with our culture's definition of success (acquiring wealth and prestige), whether we know it or not, is that it is dehumanizing.  It does not foster meaning, provide us with hope, or fill us with joy.  It does not provide us an identity or sense of self that can withstand our failures in life- which we will inevitably have.  At least, it (wealth and prestige) can not provide us these things in the long run.  We may have individual moments of each but, ultimately, we find ourselves living in despair if our aims are as low as wealth and prestige. 


How do we find an alternative that does stimulate us while also fostering our growth as people in recovery and people of faith who desire to reflect God's image in our lives? 


It starts with the realization that there is no one-size fits-all solution.  People want different things from their lives and people find meaning in different places, even if we share the lenses of faith and recovery in common.  In other words, I'm hoping this string of devotionals will inspire you to formulate your own vision of success based on your priorities.


More on this tomorrow.