Often times, especially around this time of year, I get an idea in my head to create a meaningful moment or an amazing memory with my kids. When I get those ideas, the “dreamer” in me pictures only the perfection of it all. I always imagine the best case scenario, the ideal, the photo inspired moments, the ones people tweet and Facebook about.
On one particular day not too long ago I thought that building a fort in the living room and playing games together as a family would be an afternoon of pure bliss.
In my mind it plays out something like this….
I happily announce to the loving, delightful children my fantastic plan of play and they respond with joy and excitement and an eagerness to get started. The happy kids help me as we all float effortlessly around the living room working seamlessly together to build a beautiful Pinterist-inspired-teepee-fort-masterpiece, with glowing Christmas lights, lovely snacks and delicious drinks inside. My daughter and I are dressed like pretend princesses and the boys like young gentlemen as we settle in for hours of laughter and glorious play.
Uh…No….(que record screech…)
Would you like to know how this really played out???
Before I could even get out the introductory sentence, “Hey, kids, let’s all make a fort together!” I heard screams of delight coming out of a couple of kids mouths and instant whining, demands and unloving commands from others.
Some were thrilled and began making plans of how to execute their vision, and others were already mad about who they thought would get which blanket, which spot they would get to sit in once it was finished, and who would be the one picking the snacks.
As my children began to bicker and argue about the where and the how, I watched in horror as my entire living room become nothing short of a construction zone. Blankets and pillows were thrown about as they began to move couches, ottomans, tables, and lamps.
Before I knew it, every single piece of large fabric we owned was being taken out of every single storage space we have as the deconstruction of not only our living room, but much of the rest of our home, commenced. My chest began to tighten as I envisioned how many loads of laundry and how many hours it would take to clean up.
After the “fort” was finished it looked more like a homeless campground from a third world country than it did anything I’ve seen those “other moms” post about on their Facebook pages. Pictures of ours were certainly NOT going on Pinterest…in fact, I didn’t even think I wanted a photo at all!!! (Yet, here it is because I KNOW you’re dying to see it!)
I took a deep breath and we (4 in unmatched shorts and t-shirts and my daughter in her swimsuit) crawled inside anyway, trying to make the most with our thrown together snacks, collapsing fort, and saggy Christmas lights. I grabbed the game Chinese Checkers (did you ever play this game when you were little?) and ran through the brief overview, assuming it would be easy enough for them to learn as we went.
The following is my side of the dialog…
Okay its your turn, Corban
No, Corban, you can’t just take your piece and put it anywhere
Corban, you can’t move other’s pieces either
Okay, Corban, put your piece back where you had it
Corban, where’d your piece go?
Ok now, Corban, you can move here, here or here
Alright, so that’s good
Kai, its your turn
Corban, please stop kicking the board with your feet
Yes, Kate, you can have a snack
Okay, Kai, it’s your…
Yes, you may have more apple juice
No, Kai, you can’t move your piece there
You can move it here, here, or here…
Okay, Corban, you don’t want to play anymore?
Yes, Kate, it’ll be your turn in a sec
No, Kai, you can’t move your piece there
Kate, stop touching
Kai, stop yelling
What?! Corban?! You’re finished playing???
Okay…well I can’t play if Corban doesn’t so let’s take mine and Corban’s pieces off the board
Yes, Kai, I like how you did that
Kai, you can’t take those pieces off, those are the ones you and Kate are playing with
Kai, put those back
Kate, hang on…it’ll be your turn in a sec
Corban, stop falling into the tent
Kai, where’d that piece go…in your underwear??? Why is it in your underwear???
Okay, seriously…put that back and stop taking the pieces off the board
Corban, you need to decide if you’re going to stay IN or OUT of the tent
Yes, Kai, I’ll get you some apple juice. Just hang on…
Kate, it’s your turn…no you can’t jump there…you can’t go there either
Corban, you’re going to hurt your arm, please stop falling into the tent
Kai, you’re gonna have to decide where you’re sitting because you’re going to bump the board and the pieces will go everywhere
Kate, its not your turn anymore
Kai, its your turn. Yes, you can move there…
Oh hi, Corban, can you stop slamming the door into Kai’s head?
Yes, Corban, I can hear you! That’s right buddy, you’re SOOOO sneaky!
Yes, Kate, you can have another snack
Yes, Kai, of course I do. I like how you did that
Corban, stop picking the pieces off of the board with your toes
Corban, stop putting the pieces in between your toes
Yes, Kate, you can have a snack
Yes, Corban, you can have a snack
Kai, you turning around like that is going to bump the board, can you sit still?
Kai, where are you going?
Kate, where are you going?
Corban, where are you going?
Why am I in this tent by myself???
Afternoon of bliss, right? Who am I kidding?! Seriously. Can anyone else relate?
My plan, how I wanted it to go, how I envisioned it playing out was not at all how it turned out. Not. one. bit.
I sat alone for a few minutes in that ugly tent with crushed up goldfish, spilled apple juice and rolling marbles at my feet. I knew right then that I could choose to make this event about me. I could easily allow myself to be bothered, sad, or angry that things didn’t go how I wanted. I could choose to treat my children with contempt and frustration because they didn’t perform how I desired them to. I could even use their lack of proper response to justify my own poor attitude as I sulk about how it should have gone. And I could have made the ultimate issue about how poorly they participated and about how inconvenient this all was for me. Yet, if there’s one thing I know about that response is that it never ever results in love and unity.
If I allow the pursuit of perfection to become paramount the result will always be pain.
I have to be honest, though, I may be using this example from awhile back, but situations like this happen all of the time. No, really, ALL of the time. In small ways and in big ways my expectations are not met.
I can dream of the big stuff like a gloriously wonderful event like Christmas day with a picture perfect family, twinkling lights, candles aglow, and food that is ready and hot at the exact same time. I imagine no drama, no bickering and everyone carrying on and helping out like a well oiled piece of machinery.
Or I can dream of even the littlest things like the kids actually putting their shoes away where they are supposed to, or not fighting over the same exact one tiny car when there are literally a dozen of the same ones laying around, or simply saying “yes, mom” instead of whining when the answer is a no.
When my expectations of a dream world are not met, so often I respond in a way that puts me at the center of the story. And it is then that I realize these situations reveal far more about my own heart and than it does my kids’ shortcomings.
Could it be that the frustration I feel to the chaos, the mess and the imperfection is really my own resistance to the work that needs to be done in my own heart? Could it be that in these imperfect moments the one who needs to learn to see things differently is actually me, not my children? What if learning peace, patience, forgiveness and joy is what mattered more than how my tent looked, how my food tasted, or how my photos turned out?
Laying down my expectations to instead love and serve those around me is to consider others as more important than myself, which is the heart of Jesus. Choosing joy, peace, patience and forgiveness even when my dreams do not come true, is the work of Jesus. To pursue others, including my children, in kindness even when they are undeserved or oblviious reminds me of how I have been pursued when I am undeserved and oblivious, which is the grace of Jesus.
Entering into the pace, the demands and the hopes of this holiday season the focus must be on Jesus who is the only perfect one. There is freedom to decorate! To plan! To shop! To craft! And to enjoy my children, my family, our friends and this season to the fullest! But…..Pursuing the mirage of perfection is never to be the aim, Jesus is. A soft heart that welcomes the work that needs to be done in me first when (not if) things do not go as planned will be the greatest priority of this season.