Acts 4:1-2 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
Several years ago, when my daughter went off to university in another city, I felt the loss very keenly. She, on the other hand, was off on an adventure and had new things to try and new friends to be with. It was a difficult transition for me. I said the word “should” a lot: she should call us more often. She should come home more often. She should think of us more often. She should miss us more. I had raised her to be independent, and now came the stark realization that she no longer needed me! I often found myself feeling disappointed, angry, frustrated, and annoyed.
The Lord taught me many lessons through that time, one of which was this: if you have no expectations, you will never be disappointed. On the surface that may sound harsh, but it ties in very well with the penitential lifestyle.
There are two kinds of expectations. There are the good kind that mostly flow from our daily duties and obligations. We are expected to go to work on time, to give an honest day’s work, to change the baby’s diaper, to follow traffic laws. The other kind of expectations involve the laying of burdens on others.
It is very easy to lay the burden of expectation on others, but it is a two-edged sword doing damage to ourselves and to the target of our expectations. Yet, we do it all the time, most often with those closest to us. A wife feels frustrated that her husband watches TV while she is doing the dishes. Her expectation is that he would help her and they could go watch TV together. She gives him the cold shoulder. A grandmother feels disappointed that her adult grandchildren no longer visit her. Her expectations simmer and when someone does come to visit she is gruff with them.
I do not wish to invalidate the way people feel in situations of perceived injustice. In many cases clearer communication could alleviate the situation. However, for those of us called to a life of penance, and for anyone wishing to grow in holiness, it would be good to examine our consciences and work towards annihilating our expectations. The penitent is called to cultivate spirit of detachment and to offer up any slights or injustices to God, linked to the cross. St. Ignatius of Loyola gives us a prayer that may assist us in growing in the virtue of detachment:
“Grant, O Lord, that my heart may neither desire nor seek anything but what is necessary for the fulfillment of Your Holy Will. May health or sickness, riches or poverty, honors or contempt, humiliations, leave my soul in that state of perfect detachment to which I desire to attain for Your greater honor and Your greater glory. Amen.”
There are certain “tells” that indicate when we have need to pray for a spirit of detachment. Feelings of disappointment, frustration, anger, and annoyance can be clues that more work needs to be done. There are many books and websites that can assist us in growing in detachment. The Imitation of Christ is a must-read and re-read for anyone wishing to grow in holiness. Here is an excerpt:
“Be not troubled about those who are with you or against you, but take care that God be with you in everything you do. Keep your conscience clear and God will protect you, for the malice of man cannot harm one whom God wishes to help. If you know how to suffer in silence, you will undoubtedly experience God’s help. He knows when and how to deliver you; therefore, place yourself in His hands, for it is a divine prerogative to help men and free them from all distress.
“It is often good for us to have others know our faults and rebuke them, for it gives us greater humility. When a man humbles himself because of his faults, he easily placates those about him and readily appeases those who are angry with him. It is the humble man whom God protects and liberates; it is the humble whom He loves and consoles. To the humble He turns and upon them bestows great grace, that after their humiliation He may raise them up to glory. He reveals His secrets to the humble, and with kind invitation bids them come to Him. Thus, the humble man enjoys peace in the midst of many vexations, because his trust is in God, not in the world.
“Hence, you must not think that you have made any progress until you look upon yourself as inferior to all others.”
Abandonment to Divine Providence is another spiritual classic that can take one quickly down the path of detachment:
“Everything arranged by God as regards actions and sufferings must be accepted with simplicity, for those things that happen at each moment by the divine command or permission are always the most holy, the best and the most divine for us.”
Avoiding the temptation to lay our burden of expectation on others is only half of it. The flip-side is the expectation we ought to lay on ourselves to grow daily in holiness and to always try to set a good example for others. There is a wonderful anecdote in the Little Flowers of St. Francis where a peasant once admonished the saint: “Try to be as good as everyone thinks you are, because many people have great faith in you. So I urge you: never let there be anything in you different from what they expect of you.” St. Francis immediately threw himself down before the peasant and kissed his feet, thanking him for having admonished him so charitably. St. Francis was one who was always hard on himself and easy on others, an attitude that is worth imitating.
May God grant us all the grace of detachment from the expectations that serve only to lay burdens on others and disturb our peace.