“God has always been about the business of shattering expectations” (Adam S. McHugh, Introverts In the Church, page 127). This is an amazing book, by the way…
I carry huge expectations on my life. I want my life to be significant. My husband feels the same way about his life. We have these conversations about what we want our lives to be about. And they are grand and elusive at the same time.
Currently, I teach English to college students. I am also a writer, though I’ve not written much recently. I also play guitar and sing, and I have done some little things with that. But there are expectations on these activities and in many other areas. And a lot of this pressure does come from Christianity.
Having grown up as a Christian, in a Christian home, and attending church for most of my growing years, I was placed in a milieu where the only way to live was to be a “sold out, born again, spirit filled Christian.” I don’t place those terms in quotes to somehow minimize them, but because they are jargon terms that not everyone may relate to. In some ways, as I’ve gotten older, it is harder for me to relate to these terms, especially when I’ve now seen many religious leaders say and do things with which I don’t agree. I feel like “Christian” carries a lot of overtones with it; sometimes I want a new word for who I am. There’s so much baggage with the term. I want to say, “Yes, I’m a Christian, but not the kind of Christian that bombs abortion clinics, swindles old ladies out of their money on television, and demands mandatory missionary service.” That’s not my brand.
I used to watch Pat Robertson almost religiously as I was growing up, in addition to other television personalities (who may or may not swindle old ladies out of their money, depending on what you believe). It was The Great, Giant Circle I belonged to. I did have a secondary circle, which was education/college/graduate school. Both circles would run parallel, as if I existed in two spheres. But they violently came together when I met a classmate whose dad had worked for Robertson and had been treated very poorly by the organization. Whatever happened (she never said what) essentially turned her and her entire family away from that brand of Christianity. And she was (probably still is) lesbian, which was a huge felony in The Great, Giant Circle; due to me residing in this circle, she was one of only three lesbians I knew of (thankfully I never judged her openly, though in my heart I did, unfortunately, because Christians make a big deal out of that when there are other issues to be making a big deal out of… like religious people who swindle old ladies out of their money…). So here’s my female friend who has a girlfriend, and they’re both kind, and she’s a great writer and inspirational, so creative, and I have these two worlds cooped up inside of me like rabid dogs. And I have expectations on what to do with them. Do I kill one so the other can live? Can they live together? What do I feed them?
The Great, Giant Circle expectations looked like this:
-Go into ministry, because serving the church is the best job you could possibly have.
-Marry a Christian man (preferably a pastor or a missionary). Do not have sex with this man before you’re married, let alone live with him. Get married before you’re 25. Have children before you’re 30.
-Use your “gifts and talents for the Lord” as the greater Christian church sees fit. So for me, this included leading worship off and on for 6 or 7 years, both in really small settings and in front of a group of church folk (which carried it’s own grand and glorious expectations, married with the fact that I was leading worship in a Christian denomination that didn’t believe women should be up on stage doing things like that…)
-Pray a certain way.
-Read a certain translation of the Bible.
-Pray a certain way and read a certain translation of the Bible every day, preferably in the mornings.
-Be a Republican. In part because they’re pro-life.
-Never vote for a Democrat. Primarily because they’re all pro-choice.
-Use the lingo. Especially in front of people who aren’t from your brand of Christianity.
-Listen to Contemporary Christian music and avoid “Secular” music.
-Avoid “R” rated movies.
-Don’t show cleavage or too much leg.
-Don’t drink alcohol, let alone use other substances.
-And finally, after keeping all of these rules, sigh in relief that you aren’t like the people you see around you, that you are somehow better because you know how to rule-keep. You bear the fruit of self-control.
As a twist of irony, my husband was channel surfing and came across this special on, you guessed it, Robertson’s TV program: “Radical for Jesus: a New Kind of Legalism.” It reminded me of my state of being when I was in my late teens and 20s.
(I must say, I don’t, and can’t, blame my upbringing entirely either. I chose to continue with the program long after I was of age to make my own choices. I don’t want my parents to feel badly about raising me in the church, because as messed up as this brand was, I did discover something very beautiful by being aware of the spiritual while growing up in the physical and emotional. My parents had enough on their plate trying to raise three girls, so they did the best they could. And I think they still do today: my dad is dying of Alzheimer’s disease and my mom is taking care of him. It is not what the family ever expected.)
The other circle, my college/education/graduate degree expectations, looked a bit like this. I also include my profession, since I am still “in college”; I just stand in the front of the class and get paid to do so.
-The more you read, the better you are.
-The more you write, the better you are.
-You have to be a Democrat. Or better yet, a Marxist Libertarian.
-NPR is the radio of choice.
-The more obscure your entertainment options are, the better.
-You must try to get as much of your work published as quickly as possible.
-Full-time, tenured-track positions are to be coveted at any cost.
-Adjunct teachers suck.
-If you’re a teacher, you have to be excited about teacher stuff all the time or else you’re not a good teacher.
-Ratemyprofessor.com can make or break your day.
-You have to wear glasses. You just do.
-If you are a good teacher, your students will do wonderfully well and always make you happy.
-You have to be AMAZING to get a PhD.
These things may not all be true. In fact, most of them probably aren’t. But with my two rabid dogs fighting inside of me, and because I am an introvert and learn by watching and observing rather than by talking and acting, I’ve picked up clues like this. And, since I struggle with low self-esteem, I can take all these observations and made them out to be really harsh expectations that need to be met at any cost.
So here’s what I did meet/make happen/walk into:
-I married a Christian man. At 32. And we are not having children.
-I like NPR, but I also like a mixture of Rita Springer, Sam Smith, Adele, Moby, Justin Timberlake, and silence.
-I struggle with my outward appearance, but I’m growing in confidence every day. Even with the glasses.
-I registed as an Independent.
-Adjunct work does have its drawbacks, but I do get to teach, and I do get my own classroom, and the ten full-time jobs I’ve applied for were filled by other amazing people. And that’s good for them.
-I am more picky with what I read and what I write, and that’s because I’m still transitioning.
-I look at my guitar, and every once in a while I pick it up.
-I signed up for ministry at my church but have only filled in for a small worship leading session once. And I just turned down a larger opportunity to serve in that way because it didn’t seem right for me.
-I read different Bible translations and pray when I feel like reading and praying.
-I watch movies now. I like margaritas. When I’m really upset, I cuss. I go to the gym in tight spandex.
-I’m a Feminist, and I think Christ was a Feminist too.
-I have an office with my books of choice, my pens of choice, and my students’ papers. And I love it.
-I like teacher stuff a lot of the time. I like teaching. But I’m not as good with administrative stuff, bigger-picture stuff, SLOs and PLOs and LOLs… I made up that last one…
-I have an MA in Poetry and only have about ten published poems over the course of 13 or so years.
-I want to go back to school, but I’m not sure for what.
-I am an introvert, married to an extrovert, in a profession where I stand in front of people for hours at a time and talk to them, with a ministry past of standing in front of people for hours at a time and singing to them.
So what do I do with all of this? What sorts of things will I do and am I doing? Am I making an impact outside of myself?
See, I do have a heart to serve. It’s why I am a teacher. I want to help people and love people to the best of my ability. But sometimes my ability doesn’t meet my expectations.
That’s why I really like the quote at the top of this entry. Shattered expectations. Maybe I feel like I’m in a place of uncertainty because my preconceived expectations from the two circles in which I have lived most of my life are being shattered; maybe they are being shaken so the things that cannot be shaken may remain (Hebrews 12:27… yes, I am still a Christian, with the brand baggage and all…). But it sure is difficult.
Who wants to shake? I’m from Southern California; people from Southern California don’t like to shake. My husband survived the Northridge quake of ‘94, and I attended the California State University Northridge campus several years later, hearing the horror stories of collapsed apartments and dead bodies. That was not a good shake. But I think the shake going on in my life right now, and in the life of my husband, and in our lives as a little family unit (remember: no kids in the mix) is good.
I think that we will end up living in ways that were never a part of our expectation lists.