This weekend our School of Biblical Studies staff took a retreat to the charming vacation town of Pagosa Springs. Our training goes for 6 weeks before the students arrive and so far it is a lot more fun than I usually picture myself having at “work.”
We ate together, prayed together, hung out, made plans, held the baby… There’s one thing we did in particular that I would like to share. Each of us took a turn giving a “devotion.” The general instruction for the devotional time was to share something that God has been teaching you recently. Something I love about God is his willingness and his patience to teach us on an ongoing basis. I loved that each of us had something different to share.
What I shared with them I want to share with you now. This is something I began learning at the beginning of the last school I staffed and I feel like it’s a good thing to revisit.
It all started with some “life coaching” that my friend Jenny was taking me through. What I really wanted to work on with Jenny was Time Management.
Okay. I’ll be honest.
I never really want to work on time management but because I knew I was about to step into a very busy time of life, I wanted helpful tools that would keep me from burn-out.
What I discovered about logistical goals is that they are not detached from emotional and spiritual goals. It was to my great frustration that many of my conversations with Jenny involved my own digression into tears. And maybe even some blubbering once or twice. The cause of the tears, I realized came down to both my own expectations of myself and my seeming failure to meet those expectations. This connected directly to time management in that I had been putting some harsh pressure upon myself which nearly always led me to procrastinate.
As a way of working through this, then, I sat down every morning for a week and had a conversation with God about my expectations and asked him what he thought of those expectations.
The first time I sat down I wrote something pretty similar to what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:48. He said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.“
Pretty holy, right? When I asked God what he thought of my expectations, I felt like he said, “It’s too much and it’s too vague.”
This is exactly why I love looking at context when reading the Bible. What is Jesus talking about? The most immediate context for Jesus’ command about perfection has to do with loving our enemies. But if you take it in the broader context of the whole sermon (which takes up most of Chapters 5-7) Jesus is talking about a lot of things and all of them are very specific.
Have you ever worked for someone who was not specific about what they expected of you? If so, you know the stress of my expectations for my own vague perfection.
When I started getting specific about what I wanted from myself, I realized that all of it was really good stuff. Also? I was already doing a lot of the stuff I listed. But because I had not taken the time to look my expectations in the face, I had been carrying around an unmanageable burden. A burden which had the opposite effect from the one desired. I was doing less and doing it with less joy because I so often felt like a failure.
And so my encouragement to the other staff, and to you is this: sit down, ask yourself and ask God what are your own expectations of yourself and what does he think of those expectations? I am pretty sure that when you ask him, he will not forget to tell you that he loves you.