The Misery Factor

It happened around 8:20 this morning. I had just dropped Shepherd off at preschool. My husband was leaving as I was walking into the house.

I gave him a half-hearted kiss goodbye, stepped inside, and then I slammed the door. That’s right, folks. Slammed it . . .really hard. Like, the windows rattled a little. Not my finest moment.

Husband comes back in: “Did I do something wrong? Are you mad?”

Me: “No, I’ll be fine.”

And I am. Well, almost. Give me about five more minutes and another cup of coffee . . .

What could make the sweet, emotionally stable, fun-loving, Holy Spirit indwelt “me” slam a door on a relatively uneventful Wednesday morning?

One word: EXPECTATIONS.

I once heard that the gap between our expectations and our reality is our “MISERY FACTOR.” We have a picture in our minds of what our lives – and the people in them – ought to look like and act like. When that doesn’t happen, well, doors get slammed (and other “too-shameful-to-mention-on-this-blog” kinds of things).

This morning was supposed to be nice and simple. The plan was to wake Shepherd up, get him dressed, feed him breakfast, watch a few minutes of Barney, strap him into his car seat, and head to school. We would get there right on time and he would be all smiles entering the room. And since I got up early today and had an incredible quiet time, I would have the perfect Christ-like attitude. Most days, that’s how it is (with the exception of the “perfect Christ-like attitude part” – that’s always a work in progress!).

Not today.

Today was “refuse to get into the car” day. Coupled with “I’m going to run away and laugh when mommy says to stop” day.  So there I was, ready to go, ready to get him to school so I could get back home and enjoy the few, short hours of quiet. But instead, I had to take him into his room and discipline him. Ten minutes later, I had to wrangle my child (who was still sobbing) into his car seat and drive him (still sobbing) to school.

Did I mention that once we got to school it was “I’m not going in there” day? Yep. Fun times. By the time I walked out the door of the school, hot tears were reaching the surface. I was angry, frazzled, and most of all, sad. I get absolutely no pleasure out of disciplining my child. The results are wonderful, but the process is heart-breaking. Always.  Every time. Never. Gets. Easier.

The question is, how did I go from the refreshed, joyful, full-of-Jesus woman who just had an amazing time in the Word; to a frustrated, moody, door-slamming grump who could barely kiss her husband goodbye?

The answer: Expectations, reality, and the simple fact that this morning, the two did not match. I experienced the “misery factor” and chose to wallow in it. Has that ever happened to you? I’m sure it has. There about a thousand different things that can do it. . .

Expectation: The hubby will help get the kids fed, bathed, to ready for bed.

Reality: He’s glued to the TV watching a “very important”  ball game.

Expectation: Since you read all the parenting books, that bundle of joy you’ve been carrying for 9 months is going to be a piece of cake to care for and make your life 1,000 times better.

Reality: Your baby did not come into the world having read “the books” and, therefore, could care less that he or she is SUPPOSED to “feed-wake-sleep” in in a perfectly scheduled pattern. Oh, and the combination of sleep deprivation and hormones makes you a crazy woman. Life is actually a lot harder.

Expectation: Your child is going to be the model Christian, because you love Jesus and  “trained your child in the way he should go.”

Reality: Your child wants nothing to do with the Lord right now. He’s “in the world” and loves it.

Expectation: Family devotions are going to be a sweet time of connecting with each other and growing closer to Jesus.

Reality: Chaos.

Expectation: All the healthy eating and working out guarantees that your favorite jeans are finally going to fit.

Reality: They must have shrunk in the dryer. Right? Please tell me they shrunk in the dryer!

Expectation: Romantic date night Saturday night!

Reality: The babysitter cancelled. The night is spent watching House Hunters re-runs. Bow-chicka-wow-wow . . .NOT!

Whether it’s a little thing (like a morning that doesn’t go as you planned) or a big thing (like a marriage that is so NOT what you dreamed it would be), the expectation-reality gap can infect our hearts with discontentment, anger, resentment, and all sorts of other sinful attitudes (that may cause door-slamming). So what do we do? How do we fight the misery factor? Here are some things we have to know . . .

1) Most of our expectations are tainted with selfishness. For example, at the heart of my expectation for a “perfect morning” was a selfish desire for an easy day and as many minutes to myself as possible. At the heart of my expectation for my husband to be and do “this” or “that” is almost always a selfish desire for him to do things how I want, when I want, and the way I want. And my expectations for Shepherd to always listen and obey are in-part rooted in my desire to be perceived as an amazing, godly parent who has it all together. It’s so embarrassing when he acts out!

My expectations are manufactured in the factory of my own selfish heart. They are naturally byproducts of how Aprile wants Aprile’s life to be – often with little regard for others. So, the only way to “refine” them is to intentionally peel my eyes off of myself and fix them on those around me. Philippians 2:3, 4 holds the key: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” I have found that the more I am focused on the needs and feelings of the people in my life, the more selfless (and realistic!) my expectations become.

2) Our expectations are often flat-out unbiblical. Here’s the thing – I’m a sinner, who married a sinner, and then gave birth to a sinner. That’s three sinners living under one roof. I don’t have to go any further than the Scriptures for a crystal-clear explanation as to why THAT is not pure, uninterrupted bliss! I am convinced that most conflict both in marriages and parent-child relationships is due to the fact that one or both parties is demanding from the other something they just can’t deliver. Because of Jesus, the penalty and power of sin have been dealt with for good (Romans 6!). But the presence of sin in our lives is something that is dealt with over time, as we grow and walk with Jesus.  Almost every conflict in my marriage stems from me expecting Greg to act fully sanctified, when in reality, he’s a work-in-progress just like the rest of us. Same thing with my son. Scripture says that foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child (Prov. 22:15). Why, then, do I get so bent out of shape and take is so personally when Shep acts foolishly? Duh, Aprile!

Have you ever stopped to think about why the Bible talks so much about forgiveness and reconciliation? Could it be because God knows that we are sinners who, though saved by grace, are still wired to disappoint and sometimes even wound each other? Why does it take us so long to get this through our heads? One of the biggest ways we fight the “misery factor” is by lining up our expectations alongside the Scriptures and adjusting those areas that don’t match up. This doesn’t mean we go through life expecting everyone around us to sin all the time, but it does mean that we lighten up a bit, choose grace,  and allow love to cover a multitude of sins. (Ps. 103:8-14; 1 Peter 4:8).

3) Our reality is under the sovereign rule of God. Truth is, sometimes our expectations aren’t selfish or unbiblical, yet life still doesn’t measure up. I’m thinking of a friend who expected to grow old with her husband, but ended up attending his funeral barely a year after their wedding. I have another friend who expected to be a stay-at-home mom, but has had to get a job and put her kids in day care to make ends meet. Then there’s the beautiful, godly 30-something woman who longs to be married and have children for all the right reasons, but is STILL waiting for God to supply the man. I am part of a church body that expected to grow and impact the community under the leadership of a much-loved pastor and music minister, but experienced the one-two punch of losing them both within months of each other in tragic, unexpected deaths.

How do you deal with the “misery factor” then? How do you handle the gap between what you want and what actually is, when what you want is good and God-honoring? You have to surrender your desires on the altar of His perfect will. You have to replace the “why this, why now, why me” questions with the truth that our God – though unpredictable and often impossible to understand – is good, and that ALL His ways are good. He is ALWAYS faithful, and you – sweet sister – are not going to be the one exception. One of my favorite verses is Deuteronomy 32:4: “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”  When there is a gap between good expectations and a hard reality, the way out of our misery is always trust in the perfect, loving, all-wise, sovereign hand of God.

Maybe slamming doors it’s your thing. You may like to express your misery in more civilized ways. But I know you feel it sometimes, because I know you’re human. I know that there are things about your life that are so different than you expected – not in a good way.

Emotions are what they are, but you get to choose whether to stay miserable or not. Focus, truth, and trust – that’s how you get your smile back. That’s how you stop slamming doors, call your husband and apologize for being so rude, and go on with your day. That’s how you enjoy your reality – however different it may be from your expectations.

Comments

  1. Oh Aprile, what a wonderful, timely post. Thanks for sharing your morning with us — no doubt many of us reading this also had similar starts to our day. Or, perhaps the day has been just dreamy and our bout with “the misery factor” is just around the corner at dinnertime. 🙂
    Either way, I know I will have this post in mind as I close that door ever sooooo slightly toooo hard next time. 😉

    Love ya, girl.

    Ruth

    • I love you too Ruth! I have experienced many “dreamy” days that took a turn at dinnertime. Sort of glad I worked through today’s “misery factor” early on. Haha!

  2. God didn’t just speak to me through your words, HE WAS SHOUTING! Thank you for your honesty, transparency, and biblical guidance.

  3. Just found your blog! Wow, I need to read this on a daily basis! Thank you for the truth Nd encouragement!

  4. Sherre Ungar says:

    Oh Aprile I so needed this right now. Just “stumbled” upon it. As I sit here in tears thinking about ministry and how I never asked to be in it, watching my husband get beat up verbally by church members, dealing with children with learning disabilities and ADHD, I often think “I didn’t ask for any of this and frankly I don’t want to deal with it on some days!” Then the guilt creaps in when I think what a failure I am as a wife and mother that if I was only better at it this stuff wouldn’t bother me and I could deal with it all perfectly. Also how I have no room to complain because God has blessed me with exactly what I wanted so very much which was a husband and children that I adore and I should never have these feelings to begin with. So thank you for being so transparent and letting me know I am not alone. Also for being a Godly woman who can redirect back to what the Lord says and how He wants us to live. I guess its attitude adjustment time! 🙂

    • What you said about the guilt, feeling like a failure sometimes, those “If only I were better at this” feelings – you are reading form my journal, girlfriend! I love how the Lord gives us just what we need at just the right time to help make those “attitude adjustments” a reality.

  5. Debbie Hill says:

    Aprile, your transparency and ministry continue to bless my life beyond words. Thank you for the gift of such a beautiful message today. It so spoke to my spirit and heart. While crying through most of my reading, I knew God was continuing to speak to me regarding how I have lived in a world of “expectation” and have often handled the “reality” in an ungodly manner. I’m so thankful for a God that hasn’t given up on me. He continues to draw me to Him, to teach me and chip away at the selfishness I can so easily fall trap to. It’s so hard to accept the reality of your life sometimes, especially during those “I can’t believe He would let this happen in my life” moments. I’m so thankful for the truth of His word and how He always carries us and shows us His way is always perfect, no matter what the sacrifice, pain or hard days. I love you and treasure in my heart the gift of your ministry. It is such a bright light and blessing in my life! To God be the Glory for shining so brightly through these words… :))

    • “Living in a world of expectation . . .” I love how you worded that. Actually, I LOVED everything you said. Thanks for taking the take to comment. I am both challenged and encouraged by your words and I know others will be as well. I love you Debbie!

  6. Kara Farr says:

    Thank-you for this post! Drew has been out of town because of his dad, and I attempted to take both girls to the mall today! The first part started okay, but I attempted to go into the Loft because I had a gift card, and boy was that a mistake! Katie was sooo fussy, and completely embarrassed me! She decided she was ready to go after I had been frantically trying on jeans in hopes that I might fit into one of them! She started yelling and having a complete meltdown in the dressing room, and even was very rude to the lady helping me! What in the world!?! I had her apologize, but it was half-hearted, and I was embarrassed. What have I done wrong? We just keep on keeping on don’t we? Just thought I would pass one of my days! Thanks again!

    • Oh no!!! As if jeans shopping WITHOUT kids isn’t miserable enough! 🙂 Any time I have ever taked shep with me to actually get some shopping done, I end up thiking, “Why do I do this to myself?!” Over the Christmas season, when I HAD to take him sometimes, I carried those “dum-dum” lolly-pops in my purse. They got me about 15 minutes of peaceful shopping. I’ll take what I can get! Haha!

  7. Patty Odom says:

    Aprile, you continue to amaze me with your wisdom and openness. Someone said that pain is inevitable but misery is optionable. Thank you for your wonderful words that help lead us back to the Lord and His grace when our expectations place such a huge barrier between us. My prayer today is that He would help me see my expectations for what they really are—selfish desires. I am so thankful for our wonderful God who loves us and doesn’t give up on us. I love you and am so thankful for you!

  8. You know I needed every word of this…thank you for being obedient to write it. Blessed by your writing, but even more by being your bestest friend 🙂 Love you dearly!

Trackbacks

  1. […] of the first posts I ever wrote was on the “misery factor” which I defined as the gap between our expectations and our reality. Never is that gap so wide than […]

  2. […] already explored this one in another post, but it’s a big obstacle for me, so it bears mentioning again. I once heard that the gap between […]

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