Advent 3 (Wednesday) :: The Expectations Dance
Most of us are experts at this. After all, we live in a world that runs on expectations. Those who consistently meet or exceed expectations succeed; those who fail to do so don’t.
The holiday season seems to elevate the expectation game even more. At every turn, more is asked of us. Here are just a few of the expectations I find myself managing right now:
Attend every holiday event, party, and dinner invitation I receive.
Be highly social and the perfect conversationalist (even though I’m a strong introvert) at those events I do attend.
Be up and cheerful during the holidays. Don’t be a downer for others. Never get mad, upset, or sad. Celebrate the spirit of the season.
Research, find, purchase, and deliver the perfect gift — in the right color, model, and version — for each of my loved ones.
Ensure my gifts are of at least equal value to those I receive in every exchange.
Like, use, and appreciate every gift I receive — especially because I’m blessed enough to receive gifts.
Donate to every charity and cause that finds its way to me — even those I’ve never heard of but upon whose email or mailing list my name miraculously appeared.
Send a Christmas card to everyone I know who observes Christmas and a holiday card to everyone I know who doesn’t, and don’t dare confuse the two.
Just one of these expectations can create enough performance anxiety to last the season, let alone the other myriad expectations placed upon us this time of year.
One area I fear I’ll fail to meet expectations is with a family we’ll see this year with whom things didn’t go so well last year. We love and care for this family — the parents and their children. The holidays are one of the rare opportunities we see them.
Last year, we consulted with the mother about what their young children wanted for Christmas. She advised us that gift cards were best, as those would allow the children to purchase exactly what they wanted. We followed suit and gave them each a $25 gift card.
The son opened the card first, smiled, thanked us, and went back to playing with his Christmas toys. The daughter opened hers and frowned. Before her mother could intervene, she yelped, “$25! Is that all?” She’s eight years old. It was an awkward moment for parents and guests alike.
I confess I’m feeling anxious about our return visit with them this year. For the last 24 hours, I’ve obsessed about this, even looking to see if we can stretch our budget to please the kids better and avoid another awkward moment.
Then it became clear how much I’m attempting to manage the expectations of a family and their small children — one that I only see a couple of times per year.
Why am I doing this to myself? What do I fear, really? That those two small kids won’t like me anymore? That their parents will disapprove of my “cheap” gift cards? What’s the worst that can happen?
I’ve given the better part of the last 24 hours to this — hours that could have been better spent on things that really matter.
What’s helping me change this?
For me, it’s about leaning into the same truth I’ve been leaning into now for several weeks: God’s big enough to handle this on my behalf.
When I take this to God, it’s as if God says, “Kirk, I’ve got this — and I’ve got them. Give a gift if you want to. Don’t give one if you don’t. They’ll be fine. Their response is not the verdict on you.”
How many holiday seasons have I unwittingly allowed others to be the verdict on me, given their perceived expectations? How many of us wonder if we’re measuring up to all the expectations this season places on us?
I ask myself, Is this how I want to live in and through the rest of Advent? What’s the real invitation here?
This year, for me, the invitation is to trust that God can handle the potential disappointment of others. If I’m sad, I’m sad. If I can only give a $25 gift card, that’s all I will do. If I attend one event to the exclusion of another, so be it. If I receive a gift that’s twice the value of the one I gave, I’ll be grateful for what I received.
I’ll leave the rest to God.
What expectations are you managing in this season? What might it look like for you to find greater freedom from those expectations?
Come share your response in the Advent Meditations group.
Until next week, every good wish.
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