Monday, October 21, 2013

If All Else Fails, Change Your Expectations

This is a hard one to write because I am still looking for the answer. Recently I became involved in a discussion of the question of vocation. This question takes different forms, “What is my dream job?” “What is the will of God for my life?” If I do what I love will the money follow?” or more simply “How do I find happiness and fulfillment in my career?”

So many authors have observed that happiness occurs in some aspect of our life when there is a close match between expectations and reality that I am not sure who should get credit for the idea. Disappointment arises when our reality fails to match our expectations.

I suppose this question has never been easy for anyone in every area of their life. However, our current culture and value system almost guarantees our unhappiness. The entire marketing machinery of the world is specifically geared to make you unhappy, dissatisfied with at least some aspect of your life. Think about it. Over $70 Billion a year is spent on television advertising. That does not include the cost of producing the ads. Some of the most intelligent creative people in our society are dedicating their lives to making you dissatisfied, unhappy, disappointed. First they convince you that you have a problem. Then they tell you if you buy their product your problem will be solved.

Unfortunately, their product will not solve your problem.

In our minds, needs and wants become hopelessly confused. I need a roof over my head. I want a nice new 2,500 square foot home on one level in a desirable neighborhood inhabited by people who share my values and tastes. Even if we manage to separate needs and wants, we don’t understand what is really driving our wants. Sometimes our wants are perfectly appropriate and reasonable. Sometimes our wants are unnatural and destructive. Sometimes good and evil are so hopelessly entangled in our wants it is difficult to separate or even understand what is driving us to do what we do.

I know a woman who expected to teach elementary school, marry, and have children. Not only did she meet these expectations, but she excelled in each of these roles. After her children left home she began to work with children in her church. Now she is a full time children’s minister running a successful program at a large church. She is deeply satisfied with the vocational aspect of her life. She should be. She exceeded all of her vocational aspirations. Unfortunately, not every area of her life has been so rewarding.

If the child from a sinkhole of rural poverty grows up and runs a motorcycle repair shop down in the county seat. He may become the most successful and respected member of his family. If the son of a heart surgeon opens a motorcycle repair shop in the same town, his family will likely view him as a failure and perhaps even as an embarrassment. It is all in our desires, our expectations.

Sooner or later all of us will have to deal with the death of our dreams. We will need to change our expectations to conform to the changing, impermanent nature of our lives. The most obvious example is the professional athlete. Even Joe Montana, the most successful quarterback of his generation, a man who wears 4 super bowl rings and a college national championship ring had to give it up and find his source of satisfaction and happiness in other pursuits. Some athletes find a way to channel the fire, drive, determination, and discipline that made them great into a new career. Some find happiness in reliving old victories and enjoying their well deserved retirement. Some blame others for the end of their career. They become compulsive gamblers, drug addicts, or alcoholics. They turn up in the news when they are arrested for dealing, driving under the influence, or beating their wives.

I have been taught that if I conform my life to some Christian ideal that I will find happiness and fulfillment in Jesus regardless of circumstances. I can’t say that I have ever seen this successfully modeled by people I know. Even the very finest Christians seem to wrestle with the suffering and disappointment in at least some area of their lives. I know a woman who is an outstanding Christian. She is a kind, loving person. She is devoted to prayer, the study of scripture, and her church. Still she is profoundly unhappy. So many other aspects of her life are unhealthy and severely disappointing. I am sure she would attribute this unhappiness to sin in her life and her failure to walk in the Master’s footsteps. All I can say is that if this is so we are all in real trouble.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the greatest example of Christianity of my lifetime, was a profoundly unhappy person for most of her life. In spite of the fact she devoted her life to vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, and the fourth vow, to give "Wholehearted and Free service to the poorest of the poor,” she spent years sensing the absence of the Savior she adored.

Look deeply into your own heart. Try and separate your needs and the need of your family from your desires and your wants. Spend time in mindful consideration of what is driving your expectations. Are your motivations realistic? Are they healthy? Do they belong to another? Perhaps, your expectations really belong your parents. Perhaps they are nothing more than the traces left in your mind by the magic of a clever advertising executive.

Then look around. What jobs are available that will provide your family with their needs without destroying your soul? There will always be more than one path. Whichever path you choose your Heavenly Father will still love you and want to be a part of your life. Be an honest, reliable, diligent employee wherever you choose to work, understanding that in the end you are not working for man, you are working for our Lord and the perfection of your own soul.

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