So, let me get this out right at the top. Happy Holidays. I sincerely mean this. I wish you the very best of holidays, but I hope to prepare you for what’s most likely to come.
The expectation of most of us for the holiday season is that our experience will mimic Jimmy Stewart’s or Tiny Tim’s “miracle,” without going through the Griswold’s chaotic “family extravaganza” or the Kranks’ hope to avoid holiday tradition gone terribly, terribly wrong. It’s time for some tough love folks, it ain’t gonna happen.
Our holiday recipe will most certainly include a dash of miracle, a pinch of disappointment, a teaspoon of joy, and sadly a smidgen of “bah-humbug.” This is a realistic expectation to have in your pocket.
Some of us are already frustrated with the goings-on of 2020. Battles continue to brew in politics, our health, society, and the economy. Fear, uncertainty, intermittent-to-total social isolation, and a general lack of familiarity with this 2020-way of life, is disconcerting. Add to the 2020-mix, a hefty potential for escalating depression over a normal holiday season, and we need some preventive medicine, pronto.
Most of us are coping, imposing our considerable willpower into the 2020 scene. Coping and will, are both verbs, implying action – doing, trying, striving, toiling, battling, struggling, managing, and controlling.
Sometimes our efforts are remarkably valiant – but ultimately fruitless. We occasionally walk away in defeat because we rely on the wrong weapons.
The weapons helpful in countering frustrated expectations are not the tools you first think are needed for battle; but neither was a handful of small, smooth stones and a slingshot, for David in his battle with Goliath – but they proved effective in the end. This whole battle thing is a metaphor, as are the weapons we must use in our metaphorical war against unrealistic expectations.
Simply put, we may be well-advised to get our heads together rather than polish our swords and knives and clean our guns. You’ve heard the saying – usually intended to be dismissive, “It’s all in your head?” As it turns out, our fight with frustrated expectations is all in our heads.
There is a battle in our minds ensuing between will and grace (not the vintage television show). Thankfully, we’re all possessed with a combination of these traits, and frustrated expectations are resolved with first one coming to the fore then stepping aside for the other one to take over.
Willfulness is useful in accomplishing a concrete goal such as work or any other actionable endeavor. Can you say baking cookies, wrapping gifts, decorating the house, etc.? After all, the word, will, implies a correlation between two things: act and outcome, work and product.
Will implies an expectation of outcome. Having done all of this work, I expect to feel warm, fulfilled, appreciated, relaxed, and finished. If I eat reasonably and exercise, I expect to lose weight or at least not gain weight.
The caveat is, some of our expectations are simply not within our willpower, to produce the outcome we want. After all of my holiday preparation and hard work, I may just as likely feel, lukewarm, unfulfilled, unappreciated, uptight, and tired. Work doesn’t end on a certain calendar square or season of the year. It’s ongoing and it’s sometimes hard.
Effort expects a reward. Literally, without will we would all sit around doing nothing – not producing anything, nor serving others.
There is a place for willfulness. But, trying to exert our will in circumstances over which will has no power to produce an outcome is like the fruitless action of “banging your head against a wall.”
We may come away, having worked hard, expending monumental effort – but may remain unfulfilled. Our emotions and soul stay soaked in a gnawing and overarching feeling of disappointment.
Unrealistic expectations are like trying to understand a mystery. Let’s say your unresolved mystery is why a particular individual died at a specific time, a spouse, a child, a baby. Your expectation to have figured it out, comprehended it, understood it, found a key, or learned the secret of it, may very well go unmet, because it’s a mystery, which is inherently inexplicable and open-ended.
The only way I know of escaping the whirling dervish of willful seeking, in our battle with expectation, is grace. But, the problem with grace is, like kissing vapor or holding a cloud, it can’t be obtained, procured, learned or bought. Grace is a gift that is received.
Grammatically, grace is a noun, a concrete thing. It’s real, but inactive – like a dormant plant that looks dead but is just resting. Grace, the noun, is the object of action rather than causing action (like the verb – will).
Receiving grace, is to accept ourselves as nouns, the objects of universal action. Grace could be perceived as a person from whom the thoughts, acts, and efforts of a Power greater than herself are directed; not a verb, the actor of her own destiny. Grace is all about reception – not participating, not reacting, not producing, not manifesting.
Grace possesses a supernatural internet connection at supersonic speed. She chooses what to pay attention to, what to notice, what to focus on. In fact, she notices, senses, recognizes, sorts, and appreciates the zillions of impressions from external sources that enter her awareness daily.
Grace greets stimuli with wide awake gentleness, psychological flexibility, relaxed alertness, and thankful awareness. She accepts mystery and unknowing to be part of life. Acceptance is key to receiving the gift of grace. “Thy will be done;” “it is what it is;” and “que sera sera” are her by-words.
Baby steps in the reception of grace include moderation in all things, lightening up, adopting an “it’s no big deal” attitude, offering gentle compassion to yourself by accepting your weaknesses and imperfections, and easing your grasp on the contents of life.
I would like to leave you with this modified holiday greeting with which we often left church services when I was growing up. “Grace be with you.” And your reply is, “and also with you.”