A couple of weeks ago, I took the opportunity of my husband being out of town to go to Ottawa and visit with some friends. I was also looking forward to attending my (beloved) former church... and I was not disappointed. The teaching that weekend was really challenging and relevant to where I have been at recently. The sermon talked about finding lasting satisfaction in God. Our pastor mentioned some surprising statistics, noting that in surveys on happiness, Canadians and Americans rated fairly low levels of happiness and satisfaction. In fact, Americans were even surpassed by countries with much lower standards of living, such as Nigeria and Afghanistan! With everything that we have in this society, we are not happy, and I wonder how much this is related to our expectations about life. We expect a life of comfort, one in which our work and home lives are meaningful, and we obsess over the many options and choices we have. Instead of making us happy, we are miserable because we feel like things could be better than they are. The pastor also noted that Christians who look for happiness in external things, even good ones like work and family, will be especially miserable. Our spirits know that we could be experiencing deep satisfaction in God, yet we are disappointed because our spouses, our families, our jobs, etc., cannot provide as deep a satisfaction.
This gave me some food for thought, and while I was pondering it, I decided to attend the Sunday school class with the youth group that I used to serve with. The awesome youth pastor PJ was in the middle of a series of Sundays on Alex and Brett Harris's book Do Hard Things. I don't know if I expected to be impacted much by the talk, because the book is written for teenagers, but PJ gave me a lot to think about.
I haven't actually read Do Hard Things, but the basic premise of the book is that our society has really low expectations of teenagers, basically assuming they will spend 10+ years being lazy and irresponsible before settling into adulthood. (Obviously, there are families in which this is not the case, but this is the general view presented in the media for sure.) Alex and Brett Harris argue that teenagers need something to strive for, and that they are at a place in their lives where they are able to take chances, to throw themselves into causes, and to do hard things. It's not about doing things just because they are hard, but to seek the tasks God would have for them and then do them; to make a difference. In so doing, they will have to fight against the expectations of their elders, their peers, and even themselves that they should be focusing on their own enjoyment for this period in their lives.*
I'm (obviously) not a teenager any more, but this talk really impacted me. I started thinking about the expectations society has for me at this point in my life. It didn't seem like they were particularly high either: get a decent job, focus on my new home, take some vacations, have kids in a couple of years. These are good things, but it seems like the expectation is to be always wanting more. People expect us to upgrade our home every so often, to get new cars every few years, to focus on comfort and on materialism. Not only that, but it seems that no matter what we have, it is totally normal to whine about it: Complain about how kids don't obey and their extra-curriculars are expensive, about things our spouses say or do, about the costs of living and the upkeep of a house, about how tired we are from working/raising kids/taking vacations. We live in a culture where the overall expectation is to be unsatisfied and self-centred! I don't think very many people outside the church would expect me to throw myself into meaningful service, or to continue to practice a frugal lifestyle, or to try to find real satisfaction in God and in extending grace rather than complaining. Thinking this through really encouraged me to keep asking myself, “What does God expect of me? Am I more concerned about God's expectations for my life, or society's? What expectations have I internalized rather than taking a good look about whether they are in fact distractions?”
PJ also stressed that if we are not spending time with God and trying to live out His commands, we should not expect to know what hard things He has for us. That really hit me hard. As I mentioned in a previous post, I feel a bit like I'm in the desert lately, knowing that there is something ahead for me, but unsure what that is. In truth, I have not been spending nearly enough time in prayer and reflection. How can I expect God to reveal open doors if I don't even have my eyes open?
As a reaction to this, I decided to do a (not so) Hard Thing. I took a good look at how much time I spend online. I'll often start reading sites, blogs, etc., in the morning, and end up spending ages online. Then I'll do it again in the afternoon. Since I'm at home a lot, the internet can eat up so much of my time, and honestly my time with God gets postponed. Sooooo, I'm not ready to quit the internet altogether, but I've started a new rule: I have to do my Bible reading and prayer time first, and for the month of May, I will limit myself to half an hour in the morning, and another 15 minutes in the evening. (This will not include checking my email as I get it on my smart phone, or any things that arise out of necessity, such as checking my bank balance or finding an address on a map.) I'm really hoping this will cause me to focus my time on God, as well as on other tasks that are getting pushed aside. I want to be accountable in this task, so if you do see me or talk to me, please feel free to ask how it's going. I'll try to post a few updates on this blog as the month goes on.
What about you? What expectations do you feel society has for you? Are you challenging them?
*As I noted, I have not actually read the book, so if you have, please let me know if there are some inaccuracies in this description.