17 July 2007

Higher expectations

I have been thinking a lot lately about the expectations we have or don't have for ourselves, our children, our family, our churches, and our society in general. Does it ever occur to anyone else out there that we are shortchanging ourselves in all of those areas?
I began thinking about this a couple of months ago when we took Annalivia and Daniel to their doctor for Annalivia's 2 year checkup and Daniel's 2 month check. It was about an hour past Annalivia's regular naptime and her behavior was, I thought, attrocious. She kept playing with the examining table, going through the diaper bag, running back and forth between me and the door... I was really very embarrassed.
At the end of the visit, our doctor told me that Annalivia was a very well-behaved child. I laughed out loud thinking that she was being sarcastic. She wasn't. It turns out that compared to most 2 year olds she sees, Annalivia's behavior was good. She was complimenting me on having an only partial-hellion on my hands.
In the past few months, well-meaning friends have attempted to comfort me regarding my parenting failures. One dear one asked, "Did you children eat today? Are they sitting in their own filth? Have any of them been beaten lately? No? You're doing fine."
In one way this beloved was correct. On most days, I am doing fine. The problem is, I don't want to settle for "fine". I want to do "well". I want do "faithful".
And frankly, I think that this is what my faith in Jesus is asking me to do. I personally think that, as Christians, we have settled for a lot of compromises in what we expect from ourselves and others in the name of Grace. It is not good enough to raise kids who don't rob the liquor store. It's not good enough to create a family that doesn't fall apart at some point. It's not good enough to pastor a church who doesn't spend over the budget or doesn't fight or doesn't do whatever it is that means a church is a failure. I think the life of a Christ-follower is to a higher calling than that.
And further, I think that we settle for lots because we don't want to feel a little icky about ourselves and our accomplishments or lack thereof. And we don't want others to feel uncomfortable about themselves and their accomplishments, or, ahem... the lack thereof. And I wonder if that's really the tactic we should take? I mean, please, please, please -- let's communicate that God always, always offers love and forgiveness to his children -- but let's also communicate that honoring God's work in our lives, claiming Christ as our Savior, means that we have to strive a little higher, work a little harder, be a little better than whatever it was we accepted from ourselves previously. (Yes, I said, "be a little better." I meant it.) I don't think that striving to attain high standards means we need to stand around spirtually, emotionally or physically flogging ourselves when we don't attain the prayed-for goal. In fact, we probably need to recognize that most of the time, we won't actually get where we are trying to head and at the same time continue to head in that direction as hard as we can.
I think it's time that we ask ourselves and others around us, in relationship and fellowship with us, for more. Yes, we cling to grace. Grace is the only thing that will allow us to do that which is beyond ourselves. And I really believe new life in Christ calls us beyond ourselves, and certainly beyond most standards expressed in the commons these days. We must press on, not in arrogance but in dependence on the love of Jesus to focus and sustain us. Probably all of this can be said much better here...
"So let's keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision - you'll see it yet! Now that we're on the right track, let's stay on it. Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I've warned you of them many times; sadly, I'm having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ's Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make
their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites. But there's far more to life for us. We're citizens of high heaven! We're waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He'll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him."
Philippians 3: 15-21 from The Message


Mrs. M said...

This is such a tricky thing to me. I worry about apathy, about not really committing, about uninvolvement... but then on the other hand, I worry about perfectionism, about really entering into how loved we are as ourselves, about bullying people into ministry.

Tricky, indeed. I really liked what you said:"In fact, we probably need to recognize that most of the time, we won't actually get where we are trying to head and at the same time continue to head in that direction as hard as we can."

Amy said...

I've been looking lately at grace being this: The ability to screw up lots, but the courage to keep trying.

Without grace, I'd just give up because the "higher calling" just can't be done.

So, GRACE to you. You are a super mommy just for being concerned about this issue.

-M said...

YES! I do think there is an ever higher standard to strive towards, and while I often feel like I am not achieving what I am capable of as a parent AND as an individual, I am so thankful that I am able to identify that I SHOULD be that person. Over the course of time I am infinitely well-served by that awareness. I guess the difficulty is not worrying about the shortcomings, but finding a way to be thankful for that Holy Spirit instruction and the constant improvements it offers. Think about what we COULD have been like Ape! We have overcome so much and still strive for this thing...this life we believe is possible for ourselves and our families. I think it is a wonderful thing. Yes, difficult, yes sometimes even devastating when we know we fail...but the alternative is really strange to even consider. How awful to do the least, the minimum for those you love... including Christ and the church. I am full on with you on this one Ape - lets not live for the lowest common denominator. Lets try to do the best we are capable of in all things and expect that from others. Isn't that really love - to believe in the best someone is capable of being? Yes on grace and mercy, of course. But also yes to seeing people for who God created us/them to be!

Mrs Wibbs said...

April. My experience is that parents who worry that they are not meeting their own expectations/ standars, or who indeed are striving for more godliness, more of Jesus in their parenting, are usually exceedingly good parents already!!! Please be encouraged by this fact. I very much agree with the desire to seek to be better, to be more like Christ in every area of our lives, it is a very holy desire; yet at the same time there is always a painful tension with the knowledge that we will never be quite good enough this side of heaven, and that we have to learn to see, love and accept ourselves as God sees, loves and accepts us. The alternative is too damaging for words. I have spent much of my life up till very recently, feeling incredibly inadequate, like a real loser, in fact! And now I realise that these were lies of the enemy, destined to beat me down, and to ultimately make me doubt that God loved me as I was, and that I was fearfully and wonderfully made.
But you are right, there is always more that God wants to give us: more grace, more strength, more holiness, more patience, more ability to forgive, more love... And this gives me such hope, because "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
Ephesians 2:9-11. Isn't that cause for celebration??!!
Many blessings to you, and enjoy your lovely, beautiful kiddos

Cara said...

Good stuff, April. I'm glad to read it. I seem to dart from one extreme to the other, and I need to figure out how to settle in the middle. I'd better figure it out quick, Hannah's growin!

Geoffrey said...


Well done as always. You write so well about the faith in a way that is honest and accountable. Have you thought about becoming a minister?

I hate the circular nature of what I am about to say, but it is where I am. To be aware of our low expectations, that have missed the mark, is to be aware of the blessing that comes from reaching high expectations. But that high standard only comes from the awareness of our shortcomings- that we have missed the mark. Sin is what makes me want to do better, for there is an upside and downside to sin. The downside is the pain it can cause us it the moment and into the future. The upside is it can be a teaching moment that God can use to lead us to greener pastures. But here comes the catch where most Christians drop the ball. We take the "football coach" approach to faith (I am a guy and a former football coach so jsut hear me out). In the face of our low standards and failed maturity, we say we will do more and try harder next time. We allow the coach inside of us to get onto us; beating ourselves up for not doing what we have so little ability to do on our own to begin with: follow Jesus. This is where grace can truly be grace. Not a safety net or a cover up for our shallowness. Grace is that gift that empowers us to make up that difference of maturity of what is and what can be. Grace is more than cleaning the slate of our past, but the animator of our future. We can only love our children, cherish our spouse and love that a-hole church member with the grace of Jesus Christ. It enables us to do that which we cannot do on our own. Do we want to reach the higher standards? It begins be saying that we cannot. But by God's grace, and surrender of our agenda and football coach mentality, God can do amazingly more than we could ever imagine.

Just a thought before 9 AM from church. Could be all wrong.

April said...

Thanks, all, for your input. I agree with everything you've all said. I think I should maybe clarify a little more though.

I guess what I'm reacting to is a general "settling" for less of ourselves in many parenting messages, marriage advice, and, certainly, most church work. The "do for me" messages in culture are just amazingly prevalent and I think they have infected the mainline church (as a glaring generalization) to the extent that we now not only accept mediocrity, but expect it.

I think sometimes we use feelings of inadequacy as an excuse. To some extent, being paralyzed by our worries of failure is arrogance, too, you know?

Does that just muddy the waters?

Jimmy said...

darn good sermon, pastor.

Anonymous said...

April, Thanks! You've inspired me to write my first blog comment, and given me the scripture for my Friday Reminder devotion for tomorrow. You are a gift. Standards are important, especially when they're for God's sake. Hope to see you sometime soon! -becky