I used to be a youth pastor. I worked with youth and I was good at it. I went to a seminary school in Atlanta and with my story and natural personality, it made sense for me to be in ministry. It was what people expected me to do.
One of the biggest reasons I stepped down was that I was doing it because that is what people expected me to do.
I don’t do well with expectation. I march to the beat of my own drum. I will never be able to please everyone all the time and no matter what decision I make, there will always be those who agree with me and those who don’t. It’s the nature of things. But what about my personal expectations?
That is the question, isn’t it? I am sure it has to do with the fact that I am 29 old and 30 is not as far off as it once was. Maybe I am starting to understand that years have passed in my life, taking with them opportunities that I should’ve pursued and didn’t. Maybe I am going through a life crisis where I am questioning what I am doing with my life, second guessing the choices I have made, not understanding why I don’t have it all together yet.
I live a great life. My community brings me so much life and I have made so many memories with them. I have more things than I need. I have a vehicle that I love. But there are those days that I lie awake wondering why am I not married yet?
Why am I not further along in my career, what even is my career? How did I end up back in my hometown for the last seven years? I expected to know more than I do now.
I expected to be in a metropolis. I expected to be years into a career. I expected to be settled down with a car, a house, and 3.2 kids. Maybe a puppy.
When I made the choice to leave ministry, a friend of mine gave me a book called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller. The whole book is about the story we are living and how we live it. Is it a good story? Is it compelling and intriguing? Is the main character evolving?
So how do I combat my own expectations? If it was someone else’s, that would be easy, but this is me. I am my own worst critic, my perpetual audience, and the constant companion. How do I look myself in the mirror?
I remind myself that I am a character in my story. I remember that my present difficulty, my present doubt is pushing me towards something: towards the man at the end of the story.
Think of your favorite movie. Why that movie? What about it makes it great to you? Great movies have great characters; characters that are fundamentally different between beginning and end.
They are filled with characters that not only face difficulty, but they let it change them. They let the difficulty push them in directions they couldn’t go on their own, do things they couldn’t on their own.
One of my favorites is a movie called The Guardian. One of the most moving scenes is when a senior Coast Guard rescue swimmer is speaking to a young swimmer in training who is dealing with the weight of his own expectations for himself and the guilt of being the sole survivor of a car accident.
“No, it doesn’t make it all right, it just makes it an accident. At least that’s how it reads. You were 16 years old Jake. I’m not your priest, but if I was I think maybe you deserve a pass.”
I am not your priest, I am not your counselor, your mentor, or your teacher, but I do think maybe you deserve a pass on your own expectations, your failures, and your unfulfilled goals.
Admittedly, I do not always do the best with this. I get tired of the difficulty. I play the victim card. I get agitated. But all of that is part of the process. So for those of you who feel this way, you are a character.
You are not defined by expectations, especially your own. You deserve a break and the chance to walk your own journey at your own pace. And there is nothing wrong with that.