I’m a little hesitant to write this post, mostly because I’m concerned it will sound a bit narcissistic. But please understand that I’m just writing it to process some thoughts, and to let others in on it just in case others feel the same way, and perhaps can relate it to their own story.
I grew up under a mantle of what I call “great expectations.” In going through a lot of soul searching and inner healing over the years, I’ve come to understand that this was a burden I took on from my very early days, possibly even infancy. Being born an only child into a troubled marriage in the hope that having a child would fix the marriage, and then growing up feeling responsible for my mother as the “man of the house” when the marriage failed…don’t fool yourself. Kids feel that stuff. Looking back, I don’t believe for a minute that my parents intended to burden me with that–it’s something I took on my own shoulders. But it set me up to be an overachiever for most of my life.
Then add to that…the church. When my musical talents became evident, there were some natural expectations associated with that. When the church folk found out I had those talents, I got a lot of positive attention for that–or at least, it felt positive at the time, simply because I was young and vulnerable, and well–it was attention. 🙂 Again, looking back, I can see that the glowing look in people’s eyes wasn’t always just toward me–it was covetousness of my gifts. It was immediately expected that my talents would benefit the church. People began to prophesy greatness over me, how I would one day play before kings, how I would bring great glory to God with my talents, how I needed to keep myself pure, etc., etc. Good intentions, mostly–but great expectations.
As I entered adulthood, it became a pattern that when a pastor heard me play, there would be this look in his/her eyes, almost lustful, if that makes any sense. It would be immediately followed by an invitation to play in their church, or to become the church’s worship leader, or some other invitation to come under the “umbrella” of that fellowship. Looking back, I can really see that much of this was not forthright. A lot of times the pastor didn’t really have my best interests at heart, but simply saw my talents as an asset to his/her organization, something to make their ministry look good. I know that sounds jaded to say, and I’m not saying there weren’t some noble motives in there somewhere. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that pastors have clay feet, too, and even the best of motives usually are mixed.
Early on, though, I relished all this attention, because it represented the one thing I wanted probably more than anything else: acceptance. If my gifts would open these doors for me, then by gosh, by golly, I was going through them. So I jumped through the hoops, and I played the game, for a long time. And I believed all the good things people were predicting and prophesying about me, about my destiny for greatness.
The only problem was, all of this simply added more weight to the emotional burdens I was already carrying, the expectations not only to achieve greatness, but to be good, to be perfect. I now know that this was simply too much to carry. After all, my feet were made of clay, too. This set up some obsessive/compulsive behaviors in me which sort of became my pressure release valve, and it took going into counseling to recover from them–and I still consider myself to be in recovery.
As I went through my deconstruction from institutional Christianity, and as I saw how many of the great things prophesied over me did not come to pass, I went through a period when I felt very much like a failure, like it was my fault I wasn’t world-famous or something, like somewhere along the way I must have missed opportunities, or let my own emotional junk prevent me from my destiny. I grieved the loss. But I also felt in many ways a sense of relief. The more I accept my own humanness, the more I permit myself not to meet everyone’s “great expectations,” the more relaxed I become as a human being, and the less pressure I feel to perform.
Okay, so there’s that part. But that’s not all there is to the story. You see, there is something else that is still complicating this whole thing…
I still desire greatness.
In all this deconstruction I’ve gone through, one of the things that hasn’t gone away is a deep desire for significance. Yes, I know we can live a life of significance without ever being “known”, but I feel this deep desire to do something on a public level, to make a positive difference, to leave a mark. In fact, I think my whole family feels this desire at some level, like it’s a sense of calling not just on me, but on my family, as well.
A huge part of my journey has been in identifying those deep desires that just won’t go away as possible indicators of the calling of God–that God places these desires within us to give us a clue as to which way we should go with our lives. In many ways, great expectations have been the bane of my existence; if there’s anyone who should not want this kind of thing, I’m a prime candidate. But this is one of those desires that hasn’t gone away. And so I have to face the possibility that despite all the mixture that went on within the church regarding their expectations of me–there is still something to my thirst for significance that smacks of actual destiny.
Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not talking about a lust for fame or celebrity here. Early on, that may have been part of my own mixed motives, but I’ve experienced just enough notoriety within the church that I know fame is not all it’s cracked up to be. No, it’s not that. But there is a desire, or a sense, that I should do something public, that at some point there is supposed to be a public platform from which to do good. After all that has happened, I still feel this sense that this is supposed to happen.
And so, this hasn’t been a journey of just getting free of unfair “great expectations”, although that’s been a huge part of it. It’s also been a journey trying to find the balance between the unfair expectations of the church and the true destiny of God–to differentiate between the “greatness” the church expected of me and the future God is leading me toward.
One thing I can say that has helped in figuring all this out is to recognize that when we have a large vision we believe is from God, that doesn’t mean God is expecting us to make that happen, to accomplish the impossible. Rather, He is giving us a glimpse of what He will do in our lives. Some response is required on our part, but ultimately it is up to Him to bring us into our destiny. And this, I think is the greatest balance I have found so far. I still have a desire for greatness, but I no longer feel the sense of expectation to become “great.” Instead, I just feel the urge to keep moving forward on the journey, and see what God does with my efforts.
It’s no longer an expectation. It’s an adventure.