I want to know what to expect. When I am in the hospital with my child, it means a lot to me to know, as soon as possible, if we will stay three days or one week or two weeks. I want to know what room we will stay in, and our view will be, and what time the playroom opens. I want to know if this means we are back where we were before, if it is a blip on a great record, or are we in frighteningly new territory?

How often do we let our desire to nail down our expectations guide our thoughts? What does your New Year entail? Will it be another, same ol’, same ol’? Are you waiting with longing for this awful season of your life to end? No more deaths, no more illnesses, no more hospital visits. Are you waiting with longing for that new season to begin? A positive pregnancy test, a wedding day, the day you finally receive a letter saying, “yes, we loved it, join our team!”

We Want to Label Things

Human beings are wired to fit people and experiences into scripts. We have a meet-cute script (not following the script might be written into the script), a first date script, another-fight-with-my-spouse script, a birthday party script, a Christmas script. These are the patterns we expect these occasions to fall into. We rely on the script. We look forward to the script. Things feel “off,” “out of place” when they deviate. In comes the responsive thoughts, “It’s not supposed to be this way.” “Why can’t I just feel normal?”

Child psychologist Jean Piaget introduced the term “schema” to psychology in the 1920s. To summarize Piaget’s theories, Sam McLeod boils down Piaget’s definition of schemas as “the basic building blocks of cognitive models… a set of linked mental representations of the world, which we use both to understand and to respond to situations. The assumption is that we store these mental representations and apply them when needed.” As a person’s mental processes develop, the complexity and interconnectivity of these schemas increases.

Another, more provocative personality in psychology developed similar ideas prior to Piaget. Carl Jung described them as archetypes: “universal, archaic patterns and images that derive from the collective unconscious and are the psychic counterpart of instinct.” These were stories and characters, part of a collective unconscious, that we tap into. They not only relate to a learned sense from society and experience of how it should have been (as Piaget’s script implies) but raise it to a mythical level, pondering ideals and how it ought to be. 

We Must Break Away from Archetypes

The Jungian therapeutic process is to bring these unconscious archetypes from their sleep, along with other unconscious thoughts rambling around below the surface, and integrate the ideal self with the true self (to borrow language from the neo-Freudians).

A lot of jargon, and for what? To pinpoint us back to our expectations. 

These ideas are not relegated alone to the world of psychology and its daughters. No, indeed. Written into Christian faith is this idea of an ideal, a perfect world and a fallen world. Cast out from the garden of Eden, welcomed into new Jerusalem. Our hearts are restless, we glean from Augustine, until they rest in God.

Every spark of creation, every personal interaction, every personal aspiration, is a vestige of the perfection of God. Our desire for perfection is not wrong but misplaced if we think we will achieve it with imperfect means. We are meant to be unsatisfied.

The schemas, archetypes, and our persona are all eventually turned on their heads. 

Christ Breaks Our Expectations

Christ said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his lifewill lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). The cross, a stumbling block and folly, becomes a sort of pessimist’s hope. This life will be hard. And if you truly want to live the greatest life, expectations must shift, widen, and stretch. 

Their complexity must grow. The interconnectedness between our thoughts, our ideals, and our lived experience must develop. 

I might feel safe and secure in managing my expectations. Access this script, understand this relationship. But with maturity comes the learning process that safety and security may not be the highest goods. We may have to be content with the complexity, sit with the uncertainty. Hence the oft-repeated phrase, “you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

I will not know the discharge date. The playroom might close early. My expectations change and I let go.

There is a great deal of discovery to be had. Let’s see what 2019 has to offer.