Friday, March 4, 2011

Great Expectations

I've been thinking lately about excellence in the overall picture of my life. I have high expectations of myself, for my life’s trending upward in regard to my career in writing and publishing, in making musical contributions through teaching or worship, and in growing and nurturing relationships with people from my past and those I’m becoming better acquainted with.
I’m a pleaser. I have a need to be praiseworthy and inspirational. But you know, those are God's traits, not mine. Does aspiring to them make me a godly woman? I'm not so sure.
What does excellence mean to me? Too often, I have to admit that it means other people notice and appreciate my efforts or consider me clever. They say they’re inspired by my writing, or that my homemade fruit jam is the best they’ve ever eaten, or that I entertain them with my humor. On the good side, I think making a difference for other people is very satisfying. Persuading them by writing, teaching them, turning on a light switch—that must be a positive thing. 
One friend who’s a pastor says he has NO expectations of anyone, especially himself, so he's never let down by peoples' attitudes and actions, nor by their failures in moral matters. He has an open, friendly nature that gives him thousands of admirers, and considers no one on earth an enemy. His attitude is one that Jesus preached: “Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” Luke 6:35
But I can't not have expectations of others, and honestly, don’t want to think that way. My mom had high expectations for me, for education and excellence, and personal integrity. It's in the fiber of my being. I come from New England Puritan stock, and they were a people who believed one was saved by good works, adherence to the Ten Commandments, and ultimately, the fickle choice of God. “Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect” Matt. 5:48 was the mantra I heard for years, although the word "perfect" didn't mean "without sin:"  it meant "complete and mature [in loving others]."

Author Max Lucado wrote: "Religious rule-keeping can sap your strength. It’s endless. There is always another class to attend, Sabbath to obey, Ramadan to observe. No prison is as endless as the prison of perfection. Her inmates find work but they never find peace. How could they? They never know when they are finished."
I don't expect perfection of others or myself—not in rules keeping, and not in loving. But I do expect the good old TRY.
My brother and I understood, from earliest memory, that integrity and honor were paramount. And that may be one of the sources of high expectations. We, in middle age, are still surprised and saddened when someone lies or cheats to get ahead—and they prosper when we don’t.
Another source of high expectations is the books I read as a kid. I loved the (completely fictional) children's book series about the early lives of famous Americans. I enjoyed biographies and histories, works of literature—and their subjects and protagonists were heroes. It's like a parent telling their kid, “You can grow up to be President someday.”
I was raised to study the Bible, and who hasn’t read the exploits of the “good” and “bad” people that populate its pages? The expectation is that God’s people are on an upward path, running a long-distance race and throwing off anything that hinders, that we’re kind and loving to one another, that we persevere in all things, and live a life worthy of God’s high calling.
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”  Philippians 1:6  Does that not show that God has plans for me to excel?
If God expects great things (the best I can do with the circumstances) of me, why should I not have great expectations, also? When I and others don’t meet those expectations, I’ll be disappointed again and again. But I don’t like the alternative—settling for mediocre.

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