Thursday, December 29, 2011
What do you want from me?
The older I get, the more I am beginning to recognize the pain caused by expectations.
I was in a church service, not too long ago. The message was about wise financial practices. At one point in the sermon, the pastor said "Men, it's okay if your wife makes more money than you, but you're ultimately responsible for making sure that your family is being provided for, financially."
This was upsetting to me. It seems to me that it is difficult enough to love and care for one another unconditionally without having to worry about fitting your relationship into some kind of mold.
I can (and will) compare it to raising a child to be a doctor. Sure, it might work out. The child might grow up with the correct set of gifts and interests to be a doctor, but the child might not. And if the child does not, then they are left with a life of failure or unfulfillment. It is frowned upon for parents to predetermine their children's lives, but why is it acceptable to predetermine what a couple's marriage will look like, apart from generally wise and godly principals? Does this not set them up for failure and stop them from developing their relationship organically and uniquely, based on who the people in the relationship are - their gifts and interests, strengths and weaknesses?
I don't like the idea of being told that what I have to offer a relationship has more to do with my gender than who I actually am. I'm not married, so I am lacking perspective, but it seems to me that the added pressure of having to be something other than simply loving, committed, and graceful might make the difference between an exciting adventure and a wild goose chase.
To test my theory, I asked a married couple about this. The wife said that at one point in their marriage, she realized that it made more sense for her to manage the finances. She is more detail-oriented, better with numbers, and, as a stay-at-home mom, had more time to do it. The problem was, because of how the couple had been conditioned, it was difficult for her to take on this role without them both feeling like he had failed her in some way. They've moved past it now, but I thought this was a fascinating example of how the church, though well-intentioned, can really make life more difficult for it's members with unnecessary expectations.
As long as we're talking about things of which I know very little, let's move on to parenting. This is something I'm very much looking forward to, while at the same time, am very much terrified by. I have three nieces, and watching them grow up has been one of the great joys in my life, but the idea of parenting scares me. And one of the biggest reasons for this is the pressure that I see on moms in the culture that surrounds me. This is by no means a church-problem, but a culture-problem. I could write more about this, but someone else has done a better job here. The bottom line is that I hope I can find a way to enjoy my children, even if parenting magazines or some neighbor lady tells me I'm doing it wrong.
So, what about me? I'm not a spouse or a parent. What undue expectations am I struggling with?
I'm an adult; I'm single; I'm a Christian; I'm a woman; I'm unemployed. My culture tells me to pursue my career. My body tells me to date and have fun. Churches tell me that I should get married and have children. My brain tells me that I should make wise choices. My heart tells me that I should love those around me. (I will add that God is in all of these things and that these divisions are not as clean as I make them sound, and some don't exist at all, but for the sake of the conversation, allow me to create them.)
When all is said and done, I feel tension in most places. My heart and my brain influence me in ways that stop me from fully participating in the fun, the dating, the pursuit of a career, and the marriage. And so, I am, in ways, at odds with parts of my culture, church, and even my own body. The silver lining is that this tension keeps me on my toes, it keeps me thinking, like a tightrope-walker. Every step is cautious, but needs to be made in confidence, or I'll never get anywhere. Admittedly, I slip sometimes. I lean too far in one direction, but that's where the safety net of grace comes in. (Have I taken the analogy too far?) I ask for grace from my God, my community, and my toughest critic: myself.
I conclude that expectations can, I suppose, be helpful, but only for the person who knows herself well enough to know which are appropriate and which are toxic, and who is honest enough to live accordingly. May we be that person in this world full of expectations.