By Heidi S. De Jonge
Last summer, I let one of my parishioners take me golfing for the first time (and probably, the last). The night before the outing, my husband, Tim, said, “You are going to be horrible. You may not get the ball off the ground. You are going to wish that you could throw the ball instead. It is going to take you a very long time.”
Far from being a downer of a pep talk, this was exactly what I needed. Tim knows that I have an inordinate desire to exceed expectations (others, and my own), and so he knew that if he set the expectation-bar really, really low, then I would be happy with anything above that bar. My golf game didn’t end up much above that bar, but just enough to exceed my expectations. Nicely done, Tim.
This inordinate desire to exceed expectations finds its way into every nook and cranny of my relationships and my work. I took a summer unit of Clinical Pastoral Education many years ago. When I learned that the expectation, in fact, the goal of the program was to fail and to learn from my failures, I determined to be the best failure I could be.
I’m not a perfectionist, so much as a wowzerist. (And for you Enneagram folks – yes, I am a 3.) I want to go ‘above and beyond’ expectations. I want not just to please, but to impress. I want to blow people out of the water.
I can do that sometimes, but more often than not, I find myself disappointing people. On my best days, I am able to let that go and to remind myself that I can’t please all the people all the time, and there are some people I won’t please any of the time, and that’s okay. On my regular days, the fear or knowledge that I have disappointed someone I love zaps my energy.
And you know what, I am also disappointed by people. I spend ridiculous amounts of time emotionally swirling on others not meeting clear and agreed-upon expectations or not meeting my unspoken expectations.
Nadia Bolz Weber’s words pulled me – at least partway – out of the swirl-pool the other day. I was listening to her as a guest on Kate Bowler’s podcast, Everything Happens, and Nadia said that people avoid being in community because people are disappointing. She said that this reality shouldn’t stop up from being in community. When we are in community, we simply “take turns being the ones who are disappointing. And then, forgive each other and move on. You know, maybe it’s that guy’s turn to be disappointing, but next week it’ll be me.” What we need, she said, is a “culture of turn-taking when it comes to being the ones who need grace, or who are giving grace, or who remind each other that grace is a thing.”
“Grace is a thing.” Yes.
“Forgive each other and move on.” Yes.
Some days, that’s all we need to say. Grace. Forgiveness. Let’s move on.
But anyone who knows me knows that I believe there is more.
When we have habits and patterns of disappointing behaviour – like always being late for meetings or yelling at our children or gossiping about others or overcommitting our time and having inordinately high expectations of self and others – forgiveness is only part of what pulls us out of the swirl-pool.
In the wake of the unconditional love and forgiveness a good community provides, there are paths to growth and learning and transformation of behaviour.
Maybe your thing is being late for appointments. That’s the way you disappoint people. That’s the turn you take in your community, when it comes to being disappointing. In good communities, you will be forgiven. Over and over again.
But in the best communities, you will be invited, relying on the grace of God, to change your patterns. That hope – the hope of transformation – takes me further out of the swirl-pool.
The word ‘disappoint’ can mean to fail to fulfill the hopes or expectations of a person, to fail to live up to an appointment. But this is a later meaning of the word (late 15th C). The earliest meaning of dis-appoint (14th C) is to undo an appointment, to remove someone from an office.
Though we will disappoint one another over and over again in all sorts of ways, we are never dis-appointed from our role, our appointment, our calling to extend grace. And we are never dis-appointed from our calling to deepen our sanctification.
And most importantly, we will never be dis-appointed from our identity as brothers and sisters in Christ and our identity as children of God.
Someday, when I see Jesus face to face, I will look in his eyes. I don’t believe I will see disappointment there. Nor do I plan to see an expression that suggests that he is impressed with what I have done with the life he has given me. I don’t want to see that. (And at that end of the day, that’s not what I want from my friends and family either.)
When I look in Jesus’ eyes, I believe I will see love—love that knows me and all my disappointments and appointments… Love that forgives me and delights in me and is looking forward to spending eternity with me and all the rest of God’s children… outside of the swirl-pool forever.
Image: Cain, Henri Vidal, 1896