At some point in our lives, we will be asked to do something that, depending on our response, will either disappoint the one doing the asking, or disappoint ourselves. Every one of us lives with expectations – those which we have of ourselves, and those which others have of us. What complicates it all is that, for those of us who seek to ground our lives in God, we live everyday with a sense that God also has expectations of us – to live justly, to give ourselves to purposes higher than our own needs and desires, to love God and our neighbor.
The paradox of meeting expectations – either God’s, or others’, or our own – is that they tend to increase over time. The higher we climb, the steeper the slope. Eventually, we will either slip and disappoint, or stop climbing out of fear of doing so. Either way, this is when we encounter that universal temptation to stay put – to go no further, to settle in, to simply try to meet the expectations at hand, to accept the status quo. And this is the greatest disappointment of all because, in the end, it not only pleases no one, but it tends to make us really miserable.
After some early success with his ministry, Jesus took a break, retreating to a deserted place for prayer and self-reflection (Mark 1:29-39). He had just pulled off a handful of miracles, meeting everyone’s expectations. His disciples eventually hunted him down because now, it seemed, everyone wanted a piece of Jesus. They had more expectations of him. But instead of staying put and meeting them, Jesus decided it was time to move on. “Let’s go on to the neighboring towns,” he told his disciples, “so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”
When we’re finally on that path where we’re doing what we are created to do, we inevitably come to that crossroads where we must make a choice: please others, or press on. To choose the first is, in the end, to please no one. To choose the second is to change the world, and truly live.
Why, more often than not, do we make it such a difficult choice?