It’s been said that the morning comes with expectations and the evening ends with experiences. Have you ever been asked to go on a hike, and wanted to go, but expected the view in the desert to be brown and very hot, and not terribly exciting? But the hike sounded wonderful?
As you keep walking the hot, dry desert there are various twists and turns, and you learn new lessons about the desert and what it is like, what you are capable of hiking. And then there is turn, perhaps around the small mountain to the right, where you will see a whole new view that opens, like this:
The difference reminds me of how my expectations often are short-sighted and only about now. It can lead to an experience that seems “unfair” or somehow wrong. As an example, when I got Finley, my one-year-old Australian shepherd, a year ago, I very much enjoyed much of the love the companionship and fun I wanted. There also were many days of housebreaking and teaching him to walk on a leash and playing with him when I was exhausted. On one particularly difficult day, he chose to go and dig up a sprinkler line and come in full of mud (and joy) in the middle of an appointment I had with a client. Not a happy dog-mama at that moment! But today, all I need to do is call him when I see him out in the yard and suspect he is digging and he runs right in and comes to me. And it is rare for him to do it. So I ended up with a well-behaved dog (most of the time) and I’ve learned more patience, but the middle was not always fun and I wasn’t necessarily anticipating some of how I grew in this first year. 😊
Henri Nouwen spoke about this as the paradox of expectation in his writings. He wrote of many paradoxes, but in this one we may be expecting something wonderful, and yet receive pain, growth, or challenges in the middle, and the gift comes through that experience. In being open to this potential growth or gifting we can make it through some very painful days more easily. As Nouwen aid, “those who believe in tomorrow can better live today…those who expect joy to come out of sadness can discover the beginnings of a new life” (Henri Nouwen Society, March 12, 2019 Daily Meditation). Finley did grow up – and is much better behaved as a one-year-old than he was 9 months ago. And when I could remember he would mature and grow out of things I had much happier days.
I have a couple of friends going through very difficult cancer treatments right now. And you know I see clients who are often going through hard, hard times. We are all stressed this year by Covid-19 and the changes it has brought to our lives. When I turn to the expectation paradox, I get through these experiences so much more easily as I truly do believe good will eventually triumph in health, recovery will follow the sickness of chemotherapy, and when a loved one is near the end I truly do believe my loved one will again have a new life. I also believe that somehow a new normal in living with Covid-19 will come that allows better treatment or vaccine that will allow more contact and connection with others physically as well as through the virtual sources we often use now.
Am I being a Pollyanna? Well, I don’t think so. What I’ve learned over years is that if I expect that eventually things will work out, whatever happens in the middle is just the middle. It doesn’t mean I don’t grieve if I lose someone in death. It doesn’t mean I enjoy it when a doctor has a concern. And it doesn’t mean that I want to offer shallow compassion. But I do want to help you, and others, to remember this is but one day in our lives, not all of it. A Jewish proverb I have read is “He that can’t endure will not live to see the good”. And aren’t we really talking about the essence of hope as expressed on a save to my Pinterest board, “H.O.P.E.: Hold On Pain Eases”. So, what to do in the middle? One part is dealing with what is in the middle. If there are treatments we must undergo, we do it. A little over a year ago I needed to have a biopsy in out-patient surgery. To not address that would have been very unhelpful. It would have been closing my eyes and ignoring the situation. That’s not what I’m talking about. Instead, it was scheduled, and most fortunately, I was able to find out everything was fine quickly. For others, it’s going through very difficult treatments. Either way – we come out the other end – pain does, indeed, ease.
Another thing I recommend includes self-care methods I’ve written about frequently. But what about just looking for positive things happening in our world right now? We tend to over-focus on the election, Covid-19, and other concerns that are valid, but when overly focused upon lead to depression and anxiety and constant unrest within. We cannot ignore those concerns, but we also need to take time to notice what we are grateful for and what is positive around us. Angie found several things, and I’ll mention three here:
Take a look at “Cook Like a Firefighter”, an event ongoing through October 17 at https://egivesmart.com/events/ibl/. Quite a few Arizona fire departments are participating in a fundraiser for burn victims. You’ll find recipes you can make at home and each department has a separate link to a video to watch them prepare the dish!
A baby gets to hear his mother’s voice for the first time and let me tell you, it is adorable and reminds me of the miracles in medical science! https://abcnews.go.com/WNT/year-hears-mothers-voice-time-reaction-precious/story?id=73083089
Finally, a story for both dog and cat lovers alike, a local rescue group brings together an unlikely family: https://www.abc15.com/news/state/rescued-dog-who-lost-her-puppies-adopts-trio-of-orphaned-kittens
Where to find such stories and information when you just need a breath of fresh air? Check out https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org . This allows us to also alter some of our expectations by reminding us that, as my grandma used to tell me, “It’s always darkest before the dawn” – and dawn will eventually arrive no matter how bad it feels or is today.
May you each remember the paradox of expectation and focus on the joy that will come, the healing, the peace. As Nouwen says, your heart will be full of joy again. We are wishing each of you some time of lightness, peace, and rest so you may take on the next challenges to come your way with a renewed spirit.
Dr. Beth & Angie
Beth Sikora, PhD and Angie Read, B.S.