Sometimes we get lost in the ordinary and lose sight of what God is trying to teach us in the wilderness. Fellow Redbud writer, Dorothy Greco, shares her heart struggles revealed on while on vacation. She’s real when openly and honestly writing about flexibility and resilience, blame and shaming, control and idolatry. We all struggle with these conflicts of the heart. (Well, at least I do.) Dorothy reminds us that God shapes us when we surrender to him in prayer.
During the plane ride home from our two week trip, I pondered how I might respond to the inevitable question that would be asked upon re-entry: “How was your vacation?”
I could simply, and honestly, answer, “It was great!” And indeed, it was wonderful, playful, fabulous. But if sufficient trust existed between us, I would also add, “And it was, at times, disappointing.” Clashing desires and numerous surprises resulted in a residue of disappointment that I simply could not clean off the windshield.
According to Pediatrician Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, how one deals with disappointment is the mark of maturity. If he is correct, I’ve got some work to do.
I feel disappointed on a daily basis, including vacation. Disappointed that the owner of the rental house did not disclose that the photos on the website were shot more than two decades ago. Disappointed that though the restaurant I chose listed itself as “gluten free”, the menu clarified, “Our servers can prepare any lunch item gluten free. Just ask them to remove the bread.” Disappointed that though we communicated to our sons there would be specific no media days, they simply could not stop texting their friends.
I have two defaults when disappointed: shaming and blaming. I either shame myself: “How could you (inner dialogue here) lose the year-long National Park Pass which we just bought yesterday?” Or, I blame others: “Really? You forgot to ask if the house had air conditioning?” This harsh accusatory voice does little to assuage my feelings or buffer me from future disappointment. In fact, it’s a completely misguided coping strategy.
Dr. Brazelton discusses a child’s need to demonstrate resilience and flexibility in order to handle disappointment. If you asked my five closest friends to describe me, I could guarantee that neither of these attributes would appear on their lists. I have lots of wonderful character traits, but flexibility and resilience are not among them.
There are meaningful etiological overlaps between these two words. Both point to the ability to stretch beyond one’s comfort zone in a posture of faith (the spiritual version of optimism) and joy. My youngest and most opinionated son demonstrated flexibility when we stopped at a BBQ for lunch (despite his repeated requests for Chinese) and he ordered pulled pork without a complaint. Son #2 exhibited resilience when he continued the six mile hike in 100 degree temperatures despite his banging headache. Both of them were able to read the circumstances and adjust their behaviors and attitudes accordingly.
I replayed my strong reactions to the numerous disappointments as the plane continued flying east. Once I develop an expectation, my heart becomes attached regardless of reality.
When I view the online images for vacation homes, I expect the house to strongly resemble said photographs. When a restaurant proclaims to be gluten free, I expect that I might have some actual options rather than a bread-less sandwich. My guess is that most of you would be with me on these types of expectations.
But I also think our sons should somehow leave behind their proclivity to tease one another, that we won’t ever lose things (which frequently happens at home), or disagree on when to start the day. I believe every meal should be exquisite and every hike better than the last. Essentially, I set myself up for the many disappointments that I experience.
Though I’ve been aware of this dilemma for many years, I have not been able to figure out what to do about it. How do I learn to have more reality-based expectations? How can I rebound more quickly when my expectations are dashed? I’ve tried to not care. I’ve berated myself. And then yesterday, the word “idolatry” popped into my mind as I was processing this issue in prayer.
That might seem a non sequitur. If I understand the concept of idolatry, God does not want us to elevate anything or anyone as a priority above Him. I am to live in the reality He is all powerful and I am not. In my experience, this is easier said than done.
Growing up, I stared down a great deal of instability and chaos. As a coping-strategy, I became very skilled in assessing situations and figuring out what needed to be done to bring a semblance of order. Semblance being the key word. I received positive feedback only when I discerned what was expected of me and then exceeded those expectations. My performance was really a camouflaged attempt to avoid another’s disappointment of me and the inevitable feelings of failure which followed. This modus operandi blinded me to obvious realities.
I can no more control other people and situations than I can control my tongue or my sons’ consumption of ice cream. Franciscan priest Richard Rohr writes, “Our lives are a spectacle of helplessness.” (And if this has not yet been part of your life experience, I highly recommend adopting a few teenagers or living in a developing country.) When I function as if this is possible, it only results in those around me feeling manipulated. (Thank you, husband, for gently pointing this out.) Ironically, the notion that I could, by my sheer will and talent, consistently live without making mistakes or experiencing others’ mistakes, is a gross miscalculation that will only result in, guess what? More disappointment.
My practice of thorough (bordering-on-compulsive) vacation preparation, pre-planning our days, and attempting to make every experience smooth and non-problematic was all about sparing me and those I care about from the out of control feelings that disappointment provokes for me! And if that is not ugly enough, because I often succeeded in performing well, I falsely believed that I had more power and influence than is humanly possible. Hence the charge of idolatry.
In retrospect, I believe that God permitted this tempest of disappointment as an invitation to mature. Perhaps I am finally ready to simply feel the letdown and resiliently move on without shaming or blaming anyone, including myself. Perhaps this vacation has initiated an internal shift which will allow me to rely upon Him more fully. Perhaps, I will learn to let go and joyfully accept the unexpected. May it be, God. May it be!
Connect with Dorothy’s writing and photography through her website: www.dorothygrecophotography.com.