Sacred Dance #4: Setting Ourselves Up for Failure

Sometimes it is possible for our expectations to put so much pressure on an event that we actually lose some of the benefits and joys of it.

I’ve said this before about the way our culture treats Christmas. We have this ideal of a Norma Rockwell picture that can be repeated again and again, year after year – its supposed to be this time of warmth, family, peace, and joy. But we put so much pressure on this event that it can never deliver. Schedules get overcrowded to make sure we “have” Christmas with every single conceivable set of relationships. Budgets get overstretched. Everyone gets cranky. A lot of people get depressed. And – because we put so much “pressure” on it to deliver so much – the event becomes the antithesis of what we expect from it. The truly pleasant holidays become the ones where an abundance of expectations – both self-imposed and imposed by others – are minimal.

The same thing can happen with people. Put too heavy an investment in a relationship with someone, and you actually end up hurting it. Its the classic case of smothering the thing you love.

Think, for example, of parents and children. When parents tie up too much of their purpose in life in their children, it can have negative consequences when the children begin to grow up. Instead of allowing for increasing independence when they become teens, the parents “clamp down” at every sign that the teen’s path varies from what the parent desires, inspiring even more rebellion. Worse yet, when the nest is empty, they know of nothing else to do but continue to “parent” their adult children – and their relationships with their kids can, ironically, deteriorate very quickly.

On the other hand, when the parent learns to let their child have independence and finds self identity in other things as they leave the nest, the door is open for a new relationship between parent and child, which can offer new, unexpected rewards. The parent’s willingness to “divest” themselves in their kids can also make a difference in their relationships with their in-laws. That’s why some in-law relationships, contrary to modern stereotypes, seem to actually flourish.

For the next few posts, I want to suggest that there is a group of people with whom we regularly interact about God and his nature who have way too many expectations – too much “pressure” – on them. And I want to suggest that, because of that pressure, the things they can tell us about God’s nature and his work in the world are actually diminished.

The names of some of these people – at least as we know them – are Paul, John, Isaiah, Luke, and others – such as the anonymous writers and editors of the early books of the Old Testament.

They are people who had authentic, often very powerful encounters with God, and their writings reflect those encounters. Their writings are “inspired” by God in that sense. But…when we begin to impose expectations on them by using words like “inerrant” and “authoritative” we will inevitably be disappointed.

That is not to say that, in the process of coming to know God, they aren’t important conversation partners . To the contrary, I think they are the most important ones we have. Still, I believe it is possible to elevate their role in the conversation to a place that is too high and that – in so doing – we can actually lose some important insights.


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