|Posted on October 29, 2016 at 7:40 AM|
No, this isn't a book report on Dicken's famous novel, but there will probably be a few references to it in this post . . . This morning I did something I haven't done for a very long time. I sat on our front porch, which faces due East, and watched the sunrise. Our property has several trees that partially obstruct the view of our neighbor's pasture and pond across the road, but their dark silouette against the light and colors of the sky behind them provide a stark contrast that, for me anyway, is breathtaking. I would have preferred colder temperatures, but they'll be here soon enough I suppose.
While I was sipping my coffee and watching the colors change from deep blue to lavendar to pink and then finally the orange and golds that announce the sun's arrival is imminent, it occurred to me that each day I have certain expectations that guide my daily decisions and how I prioritize my time. For example, I "expect" that I will wake up tomorrow with relatively good health that will allow me to perform daily tasks for my family and my job. I have no reasonable expectation that this will NOT happen. I "expect" that I will have several such days strung together in such a way that I can reasonably plan how to fullfil my responsibilities. Each day I make choices based on how I view my various responsibilities and other's expectations of me. I decide what is the most urgent, where my time and energies are in the highest demand, and use this to guide my actions for the rest of the day.
Now, I am a planner. Give me a "To-Do" list and I will work the snot out of that puppy. I lived by the motto, "plan your work and work your plan." You'll notice the verb in that last sentence is past tense . . . because what happens when something comes up that isn't on the To-Do list? Well, when I was single and not the primary caregiver for my mother and didn't have a farm, the "To-Do list" reigned. If something came up that wasn't on the list, well, it just wasn't in my plan so it didn't get addressed until it could find its' way on to the "To-Do list". Once it did, then it had to vie for position with all the other items that were already there for its' priority and eventual path to resolution . . . I was pretty rigid when it came to the "To-Do" list, many times to the expense of people around me.
In 2007 my mother had a massive stroke. It was a staggering ischemic stroke that lasted over 14 hours. I was completely ignorant of strokes at the time - I thought there were only two outcomes: 1) it affected you for awhile but you eventually completely recovered; or 2) you died. My great grandmother died of a massive stroke that she had while sitting in the Emergency Room of a hospital. She had taken her granddaughter there and while she was in the waiting room, she had the stroke. There was nothing they could do for her and she died that night. My mom's stroke changed everything. She has severe apraxia and aphasia. When she first had the stroke, she had Global Aphasia which is very rare. One of her neurologists explained aphasia to me like this, "picture suddenly waking up in China where no one speaks English and you do not speak Mandarin Chinese. You speak and your words make sense to you, but not to anyone else. They speak to you and their words make sense to them, but not to you. You can't make them understand you and they can't make you understand them. THAT's aphasia." There are two components to aphasia: Expressive - which means you can't get others to understand you; and Receptive - which means you don't understand them. Currently, my mom's receptive aphasia is about 60% and her expressive aphasia is about 75%. This means that 75% of the time, she cannot make herself understood. She can only speak about 20 words clearly, the rest of the time she has her own little language she speaks which are nonsense words to an outsider. We play 20 questions a lot and I rely heavily on her intonation, facial expressions and gestures. Of course the biggest component of understanding her needs is Time. What do I mean by Time? It's the Time I spend with her and have spent with her over the course of my life. I know my mom. I know what she likes and dislikes, I know her thoughts and feelings, I know what motivates her. In general, they are the exact opposite of my motivations, thoughts and feelings. Two people have never really been more different. But again, I had to spend the Time with her to know that. When we were going through the process of getting her approved for Social Security Disability (my mom was only 62 when she had the stroke), they told me I couldn't go in with her while the psychiatrist was questioning her. I settled down in the lobby to read a book I'd brought with me. I don't think I even read one sentence before they were calling me - "the doctor says you can come in with her." So, the doctor asked his questions, my mom responded with, "yes-you as you, yes-you as you yes-you as you." Then the doctor would look at me and I would answer his question - whatever it may have been. He would just stare at me and he finally said, "can you understand her?" I said, "of course not, I just know my mom."
Now, I will say that without the "To-Do list", I would NEVER have made it through everything that needed to be done for my mom. Suddenly, I had the full responsibility of everything for her from financial to medical and I still had to work a full-time job in the process. But even though the "To-Do list" was instrumental in getting me through the most traumatic time in my life, it was also the gradual demise of the "To-Do list"'s reign. Why? Because I never knew when the phone was going to ring and what the next problem would be. My priorities didn't just shift daily, they shifted HOURLY! My whole neat little world was crumbling around me and I spent my time going from one fire to the next. And in the midst of it all, I had to actually begin dealing with people, which was never my strong suit. My mom was an emotional mess, understandably so. I was forced into the role of comforter, I had to begin seeing things through her eyes. This was the beginning of the transition from task oriented living to actually loving those around me.
When we begin to love others as Jesus has instructed us, the first part of it is being able to see things through their eyes. To understand their needs, concerns, and expectations because, unlike the Valentine's Day card "love", true love - the love Jesus speaks of and has for us - involves caring for others. Until we begin to understand the challenges others face and what is important to them, we can't begin to love them. In order to understand them, we have to spend the Time.
In Dicken's "Great Expectations", Miss Haversham wastes her life due to an expectation unfulfilled. She lives like a ghost in a haunted house, motivated only by vengeance. She twists young lives to exact her retribution on someone who cannot be affected by it and ruins others in the process. The truly diabolical aspect of Miss Haversham is that she understands only too well what she is doing. She knows what motivates people and she uses it against them. Her money and power give her the means to manipulate others. Before we pass judgment on her though, how many of us are guilty of the same thing? Perhaps not to the extreme of Miss Haversham, but we all have our ways of getting what we want.
In our daily interactions with people, over Time, they develop Expectations of us. As they get to know us, they Expect us to behave in a certain way, to handle matters, make decisions and interact with them based on their experiences with us. They form opinions on how we will react in a given situation, what guides our decision making process, and what our personal priorities are. But what happens when their Expectations of us are too high, when the bar is set too high to be sustainable and we eventually let them down? This is the fear that drives me - I hate disappointing people which is why I avoided them for so long.
What are your expections of others? Of yourself? How did you form these expectations? Do you believe they are reasonable? Do you hold yourself to higher expectations than what others expect from you? How can we prioritize our Time to fulfill our own expectations as well as those of others?
I'm a "works" kinda gal. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, though faith - and this is NOT from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast" It is hard for me to accept gifts, especially one as great as the gift that Jesus has given me. I can never repay it. All of my "works" are as a filthy rags. Not one thing I ever did earned my way to heaven. Simply accepting Jesus' gift to me was the only action required on my part for my salvation. But when Someone gives me such a gift, my gratitude drives me to express my appreciation. But how do I show Him my gratitude? I need to spend the Time with Him to know His Expectations of me. If I don't know what is important to Him, I don't know how to prioritize my Time effectively to spend it in such a way that will show Him, and others around me, my gratitude. As Christians, we are responsible for representing Jesus here, wherever He has placed us. We are His ambassadors, showing others His love and our Joy reflected by the gift He has given us. Our motivations change, or they should, from being "me" centered to being "He" centered. Knowing what His priorities are shows us how to prioritize our Time. When we follow His priorities, our actions and behavior naturally change. These changes, sustained over time, are visible to others which guides their opinions and Expectations of us. So, in the end, living each day driven by Jesus's Expectations and priorities should be our goal. Consistency, stability and predictability enables others to determine whether we are reliable and trustworthy. Their Expectations of us become the basis of whether they trust and rely on us and our guidance. By spending the Time with them, they learn who we are. Hopefully, they see something in us that motivates them to want to know the source of our strength, joy, and happiness. Preaching the gospel is one thing, DEMONSTRATING the Gospel is something else. A famous missionary said, "Preach the gospel every where you go. Use words if necessary." Our actions truly do speak louder than words. If we begin to feel the pressure that others' Expectations of us are too high, we need to re-focus ourselves on the One we are truly trying to please. Perform for an audience of One, The One, Jesus. If you prioritize your actions based on His guidance, the rest will fall into place.