Expectations in the Park
Charles Spurgeon had this to say about expectations: “Blessed is he who expects nothing of poor flesh and blood, for he shall never be disappointed.”
Painters are applying their trade in our condo today. Mahria and the girls went to visit her folks. As I begin to write this, Roxy and I are relaxing in a local park.
A short distance away a professional-looking, portable backstop is erected. Fifty feet in front of the backstop is a pitching machine. A father has brought his young son and slightly older daughter to the park to practice.
The boy, maybe six-years-old, steps up to the plate. He’s wearing the right kind of shoes. He’s wearing not one, but two of the right kind of batting gloves. He lifts the bat to his shoulder. I haven’t played organized baseball in 37 years, yet it was obvious to me the bat was too big for him. It’s difficult for him to generate the requisite bat speed to catch up to the pitched ball.
One by one, dad feeds the balls into the pitching machine. And one by one, the boy either swings and misses or fouls the ball off the topside of the bat.
I watch as dad marches over to his son. Instead of stooping down and looking into his son’s eyes, the man towers over his boy. He puts his hands on his hips making his gym-bought triceps bulge out of the sleeves of his one-size-too-small t-shirt.
“What are you doing?” The dad snaps. “Hit the ball!”
The boy steps back into the batter’s box. He shakes off his dad’s anger while trying to remember the instructions he was given. He goes through a series of professional-looking motions as he readies himself for the next pitch. The boy is either mimicking his favorite big league players, or he has already received paid (probably expensive) private hitting instruction.
The machine flings the ball toward the boy at what looks like Little League speed. The boy swings and misses. The dad chastises the boy again, this time telling him how bad a hitter he is.
After a short time, dad had had enough and told his son to go sit down. The boy made his way to one of those strollers designed to be pushed by a running parent. And there he pouted. Yes; the boy still fit in a stroller.
Meanwhile, his older sister made solid contact after solid contact on each pitched ball. The little boy sat in his stroller discouraged as he listened to his dad praise his older sister.
I wonder what the dad’s ultimate expectations are for his little boy. One thing is certain: they are already too high.
I couldn’t take it any more. Roxy and I left the park to take a long walk. As we walked along the partially shaded paseos in the mid-morning summer heat, I couldn’t help but think of the expectations my dad once had of me. My dad died in 1999. I think of him often. Growing up, he was my hero and my very best friend.
Expectations in My Youth
From ages 6-16, athletic competition was my life. My favorite sport was (and still is) baseball. But I also participated in football, basketball (don’t laugh at the vertically challenged) wrestling, and track & field. One of my earliest memories was my dad sharing with me his dreams and expectations. They didn’t concern what he would do in life. They concerned what I would do in life. My dad was convinced (and he convinced me, too) that I would one-day be a starting pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. To that lofty goal, my dad added the expectation that I would buy him and my mom a big house, with my first big contract.
I was a willing participant. I wanted to accomplish all of it. I wanted to meet my dad’s expectations. And for the better part of a decade it looked like I might succeed.
With the heartache of moving away from the only home I had known in Pennsylvania to California (a different world), the eventual devastating effects of my parents’ ugly divorce, and living my formative years on welfare came a doubling of my efforts to be the very best athlete. It was an escape. It was the means for dissipating my rage. It was better than crying. It was a lost boy’s god.
I worked hard. I worked all the time. I progressed from mediocrity to being one of the best at everything I did, in every sport I played. Ribbons, medals, trophies, people telling my dad I might just make it to the big leagues–all of it made my dad smile. All of it fit right into my dad’s dreams. Meeting my dad’s expectations was the best way to win my dad’s praise and affection.
By the time I reached age 15, it quickly became obvious that I wasn’t going to get any bigger; I wasn’t going to get much stronger or faster. The other kids were catching up to me in skill and performance. No college baseball or football programs were looking for a 5’8″/175-pound starting pitcher or nose tackle. My high school coaches who once sang my praises were now focusing their attention on kids who were still growing, still improving, not plateauing.
My dad didn’t want to let go of the dream, but I was ready. The writing on the wall regarding the possibility of me having a career as a professional athlete spelled the word “no” in a 7,000-point font. My dad had blinded himself to what the writing said.
One day I told my dad that I was done playing sports. He called me several names including “quitter.” I would never again live up to my dad’s expectations. Becoming a deputy sheriff earned back some of my dad’s lost respect, but our relationship was never quite the same.
The Expectations of Friends Recently Lost
Over the last several weeks, I have made several posts on social media in which I talked about the recent loss of friendships. While some of my motivation for the posts was catharsis, I’m sure part of my motivation was also the seeking of sympathy.
I have failed to live up to the expectations of some.
Recently, some people (including an entire church–not Grace Community) have determined I am not the man they thought I was and/or I am not the man they want me to be. While I have not sinned against them, and while I am not entangled in unrepentant sin, a few men have decided to disassociate with me over secondary theological issues, with at least one of those men encouraging others to do the same.
Most of the people who have decided to disassociate with me would have insisted just a few weeks ago that they loved me and that they were my friends. Yet most of the same people have not spoken to me about the issues these other men have raised. They have simply believed what they’ve been told and cut me loose. They’ve dropped off email lists, disassociated with me on social media, and in some cases, stopped financially supporting my family.
Now, you might be thinking: “Oh, oh. Tony’s about to light these people up. He’s going to go off. He’s going to show in the Bible how wrong these people are.” Some of you might be thinking: “This is going to be good!”
If you expect me to do the above, if you want me to or hope I do the above, then this article is all-the-more important.
My Own Sinful Expectations
The Lord has shown me in several ways–through a dad and his boy in the park, through remembrances of my younger days, and through the recent loss of many friends–the sin in my own life. Like the dad in the park, like the dad of my youth, like recent friends lost, in time past I have allowed my expectations of others to determine the extent to which I will love them. I have allowed expectations–my expectations–whether reasonable or not, to determine how I will treat others. What I experienced with my dad, what I saw in the park today, what others have recently done to me, I have done to others. Often.
I have disposed of people as quickly as my finger can hit the “block” button on Facebook and Twitter. Granted, most of those instances have been with people I don’t know beyond Facebook and Twitter, which means I hardly know them at all. But there’s no denying the fact that I’ve disposed of people who were actual friends.
There have been times–too many times–when I have not been a friend who sticks closer than a brother. If you are reading this and I’ve done this to you, I seek your forgiveness. I’m sorry.
The Holy Spirit has used recent events to open my heart and mind to the reality that there have been times when my expectations of others have been a log in my own eye. When people have failed to meet my arbitrary expectations, when I’ve given my opinions about secondary theological issues the authority of Scripture, I have seen the splinters in the eyes of others as justification to cut them loose. May the goodness of God lead me to true repentance in this area of my life and in my character.
The Lord has used the divisiveness of others who at present want nothing to do with me to show me the divisiveness within my own heart. It’s been painful. The spiritual smelting process always is. As much as it hurts, I thank God for the experience. With the Lord’s help, I hope to never sin in this way again.
And again, if you’ve been hurt by me in ways I have described, please forgive me. I’m sorry.
Back at the Park
About an hour after Roxy and I left the park, we returned. As I walked Roxy to my car, I saw the dad still sending pitches to his son. This time the boy was making contact–good contact. He only missed one of the pitches at which I saw him swing. All seemed right in that little corner of the park.
I hope for that little boy’s sake his dad’s expectation would be to experience joy playing ball with his son, not at how well his son hits the ball. I hope dad’s expectation would be that his son would have fun playing ball with his dad.
As for me, I thank God for my time in the park today. And I thank Him for what He has allowed me to experience as of late, through the loss of friendships. I hope it will make me a better friend to others. I hope He will rid me of sinful expectations, especially when it comes to friendships with brothers and sisters in Christ.