Distractions keep us from being present and enjoying the moments we live. For the churchboy, the greatest distraction is attempting to live up to a set of expectations. An expectation is a belief or anticipation of how someone should or will respond. Churchboys have many expectations they chase after: their own expectations, expectations of God, expectations of the church, and expectations of others. Quite often these get intertwined and create a web of confusion which is difficult to break free of and leaves one unable to ever enjoy the moment. Disapproval from friends, family, and fellow church members is felt when expectations are not met and long held beliefs and practices are questioned. This disapproval gives way to separation and alienation from those once held close as peace is found more and more in uncertainty rather than simply accepting clear-cut, placating answers to the tough issues of life and conforming to perceived expectations. It is in this journey toward uncertainty the recovering churchboy wakes up to Truth as the scales of expectations begin to fall slowly from his eyes. In my previous post, I discussed how both the prodigal son and his older brother fell victim to the distraction of regret. If you are perhaps unfamiliar with the story, allow me to share below:
The tale opens with the younger of the father’s two sons going to his father asking for his share of his father’s estate. Immediately after the request we are told the father divided his estate between the two brothers. Within a short time, the younger son packed all his belongings and left home and, before long, wasted his entire fortune. To further compound the situation, a famine hit the land and the only employment he could find was feeding pigs. As hunger drove him to the point of desiring the slop he was feeding the animals, he woke up to the idea of his father’s servants being better cared for and receiving three meals a day while he was starving to death. At this point, he decides to return home and beg to be accepted as a servant.
Imagine the confusion of the younger son as he is returning home and, just as he can barely distinguish the silhouette of his father’s home in the distance, he notices a cloud of dust gaining momentum moving towards him on the dirt road only to realize the catalyst for the dust storm is his Father running to him with open arms. Pushing his father away, he begins his rehearsed speech of what a failure and let down he truly is and has become. The father interrupts as he wraps him in his arms all the tighter and shouts to all around, “Bring him some fresh clothes, shoes, and jewelry! Get him cleaned up! It’s time to celebrate and party! My boy has come home! Once thought lost and dead, he is now found and alive!”
During the younger son’s celebrated return home, his older brother was working in the fields and unaware of his brother’s return and the party being thrown in his honor. As he approached home after the day’s work and learned of the celebration and its cause, the story records him as refusing to enter the party and storming off sulking in anger. Being approached by his father for an explanation, he states his case rather emphatically, “I’ve worked for all these years. I’ve never brought you any shame and always done everything you ask. You’ve never held a party in my honor, yet this fool returns home after wasting away all his money and you throw a feast for him as a reward!”
Just as the father’s heart was overflowing with joy upon the return of his younger son, I can imagine sorrow pricked his heart to hear the words of the older brother. How heart-breaking it must have been to look at his oldest son and say, “Don’t you get it. You’ve worked for me all these years and never once realized all I have is already yours.”
The story of the prodigal son is one of the most well-loved and well-known stories Jesus ever used to illustrate the Father’s love. Taking a closer look at the story of the prodigal we can also see examples of how distractions of expectations rob each of them of enjoying the moment just as it does the churchboy.
Expectations of the Younger Son: The Internal Churchboy
As the story opens, the younger son’s request reveals his unhappiness and dissatisfaction with his current life as he is distracted by it not meeting his expectations of what life truly should be. He sets about spending all his time, energy, and resources in attempts of achieving and acquiring all he ever wanted. However, as his bankroll runs thin and his energy is spent, he is forced to face the reality we all must come to realize. Life has no “supposed to be.” Once distracted by his own personal expectations, the distraction of regret has become his close personal companion as he finds himself weary, lost, and alone with no other choice but to return home ashamed and groveling expecting rejection.
Though they would never admit it or exhibit it externally, churchboys often view themselves as the eternal prodigal. Convinced and conditioned to believe the problems of their lives are simply a result of their own selfishness and pride leading them astray, they live their life feeling unworthy to be called a son and seek solace in simply being known as a servant. They anticipate being turned away in displeasure as they return to the Father week after week, Sunday after Sunday confessing their failures of living up to the Father’s perceived expectations: “I didn’t pray enough this week. I didn’t spend any time reading my Bible. I spent more time watching TV and on social media than I did with you. I lost my temper, said things I should have never said, and hurt those I love. I’m sorry. Although I don’t deserve it, please forgive me. I’m so unworthy.” Churchboys beg and plead for the Father’s forgiveness to simply feel accepted once again. Their expectations of the Father are tainted with the fear of rejection and anticipation of being turned away as a result of their image of themselves and how they perceive the Father views them.
The prodigal’s return home is a beautiful illustration of waking up to the true unconditional acceptance of grace for the first time. The cocoon of shame and unworthiness from missing the father’s perceived expectations slowly begins to crack as unconditional love breaks through and the son slowly begins to realize there is nothing he could ever do to not be considered a son. When I was first presented the gospel of grace and acceptance after many years of living the weekly cycle of the prodigal, I was just as perplexed as I’m sure the younger son was being wrapped in his father’s arms and celebrated for returning home. To realize the Father has no expectations in being considered a son is the path to recovery for the internal churchboy.
Expectations of the Older Brother: The External Churchboy
The older brother’s response is reflective of the churchboy’s outward life. Much like the older brother, churchboys make public displays of all they do to please God. They expect to be rewarded for their service and are serving for the reward of acceptance. Their security and trust lie in their years of service rather than in who they are. Because of their track record and accomplishments, they view themselves in higher regard than others. Blinded from the true definition of sonship, their expectations are to be accepted based on the good they’ve done, as well as the evil they’ve not done.
Such is the way of the churchboy, constantly working to obtain what he already has access to. He believes the only way he will ever hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” is by working more, doing more, saying Jesus more, and outshining those around him. As long as he feels someone is closer to the Father than himself or there is something greater he must do, the churchboy will continue working to reside in a place he doesn’t realize he already exists in and can never escape, the Father’s love.
The perceived expectations the older brother has of the father are really no different than his younger sibling’s, but they go about meeting those expectations in different manners: the former through working to achieve and avoid, the latter begging and pleading. Until they release their expectations neither brother, nor the churchboy, can enjoy the moment they are in. For the brothers, that moment is a moment of love, acceptance, and celebration of being with their father. For the churchboy, it’s the same.
Expectations distract from us enjoying the moment and being present where we are. Our minds become so entangled with what’s supposed to be, what’s required, and anticipated outcomes we become blinded to the expectations we’ve placed on ourselves, on others, and on our God. Let us rejoice in the unconditional love and acceptance of the Father and pay the Father’s love forward in unconditional love and acceptance of others.
More posts in the Enjoying the Moment series: