Yesterday I woke up at 4:30 am. After around 30 minutes of frustrated groaning and asking God “why me?” more times than I would like to admit, I accepted defeat. Damn you anxiety, why must you do this to me? I even bought an essential oil diffuser to gently send me to sleep with the scent of lavender hanging in the air! (I fully acknowledge how millennial that is). So what is wrong with me?
Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence. Since being hit by the Wizard of Oz-sized tornado of this past year, my sleeping has been a major casualty. I never appreciated my ability to sleep 10+ hours a night until it was taken away. Now I’m lucky if I get 6. Sleeping through the night without at least one interruption is rare, and extremely precious. Writing that makes me sound like a 6-month-old infant. Yikes.
Yet, I find myself thinking that it’s really not that bad, other people have it much worse than I do. I’m sure that’s what you’re thinking right now anyways. At least I’m sleeping at all! At least I have a bed to sleep in! There are people sleeping on the streets. Suck it up Maggie. No pain, no gain right?
Once I finally got tired (lol get it) of this cycle of anger, self-pity, and shame, I decided to get up and go for a walk around 5:15. The sun was beginning to rise, the birds who reside outside my window were chirping (very loudly I might add), and my street was quiet. I grabbed my headphones, queued up my worship playlist and ventured outside.
While 5:15 am is a ridiculously early time that I hope does not become routine, it seems to be the only part of the day that doesn’t feel like stepping into a sauna. Nashville summers man, they’re brutal. (And this is coming from a native Texan).
There I was strolling along, waiting in expectation for God to show up. Obviously He woke me up this early for a reason, right? There was clearly something big He wanted me to learn. Soft sunlight was blinking through the trees, a multitude of bunnies were bopping around, a cool breeze was blowing, Reckless Love playing quietly in the background… I had set this up perfectly.
And so I walked and waited,
and kept waiting,
but nothing happened.
I wasn’t struck by an epiphany or overwhelmed with an unexplainable feeling of peace. My eyes were not opened to the eternal perspective I have long prayed for. My ears did not hear the voice of God whispering His love for me (not for my lack of trying). My grand expectations for how God would speak to me on this sunrise stroll were quickly dashed. Instead I was left with confusion, frustration, frizzy hair, and more questions than answers.
That’s the thing with expectations, they seem to almost always set us up for failure, and then leave us wondering what it is we did wrong in the first place. And because we live in a society that reinforces the importance of achievements and external success, no one has caught on to this fallacy. We have turned phrases like:
“I hope…”, “It would be great if…”, “I will try to…”
into demanding and burdensome beliefs of:
“I must…”, “I need/have to…”, “I will be happy when…”
I must… get this job/internship/position or I’m a failure.
I will be happy when… I’m finally married/have children.
I have to… have my life together or people will look down on me.
I need to… look a certain way in order to be loved.
I could sit here for hours filling in the blanks with all of the suffocating expectations I have for myself. But I’m tired so we’ll stick with these. I’m sure a few examples from your own life have the same format. We all have the internal narrative of “I must” in one way or another.
Growing up in an image-conscious and perfectionistic community, this message was continually reinforced from a very young age. Before I could ride in the front seat of a car, I knew exactly what people expected of me. You better believe I was going to try my very hardest to perform and please. Easier said than done, however. One of the most frustrating things I’ve learned about expectations is that they always seem to come with boundaries or restrictions. Another reason for our imminent failure. For example:
You must be intelligent, but don’t look like you’re trying too hard academically.
You should have a lot of friends and fit in, but don’t be fake.
You should be in a relationship, but don’t throw yourself at someone or act desperate.
You must look a certain way and put effort into your appearance, but make it seem natural and effortless.
You need to excel in sports, but make sure you have enough time to hang out with friends.
And don’t even get me started on the expectations I place on other people. If I expect and strive for perfection myself, then of course I should expect it from other people! After all, that’s the only system I know.
Does anyone else see a problem here? There is no way that people can actually live up to these ridiculously high standards. So why do we keep trying? Even as I write about how insane my expectations are, I continue to critique every word. That sentence doesn’t sound good. You need to clean up that paragraph. You’re rambling too much. It seriously never ends.
It’s crazy how good we are at assessing our surroundings and changing our behavior accordingly. Expectations differ depending on what environment we find ourselves in, but they’re always present in one way or another. As humans, we have an innate need to belong. We crave connection and community, and do almost anything to achieve it, even if it means sacrificing our true selves in the process. However, that is not kind of relationship that God wants for us. It is not true belonging.
The most intimate, authentic, fulfilling relationships I have are with those who have a front row seat to the full extent of my sin and shame. The ones who have seen me in the pit of despair and crawled into it with me. The ones who continue to forgive me for my mistakes and the unreasonable standards I demand from them. The ones who share their own brokenness and say “me too”. It is awkward and uncomfortable and terrifying. But it is also exhilarating and liberating and a beautiful picture of God’s grace. Saying thank you will never be enough, but thank you.