I figured it out. Using the vast observational and sneaking skills of an eight-year-old, I figured it out. I was 90% sure that I knew where Mom was hiding the Christmas presents, but I had to be sure.
One afternoon, when my parents were gone, I gently slipped the keys to the Chevy Impala off the hook and headed quietly downstairs to the garage. I carefully opened the door, taking care that my siblings wouldn’t hear me.
I slid the key into the trunk lock and turned. The trunk popped open – when what to my wandering eyes should appear? A trunk full of toys. Some were still in bags from Sears and K-mart, other were uncovered. A little deeper snooping revealed the treasures to be:
An Erector Set and a baseball glove! I was confident that these were meant for me. I had asked for them, and mom and dad delivered. I was ecstatic.
I carefully put things back the way I found them, closed the trunk and returned the keys to their hook. Confident that I had covered my tracks.
Fast forward to Christmas morning:
Santa came! But there was no Erector Set or baseball glove under the tree. I was confused. Next, I opened the presents from my parents and the rest of my family and…still no Erector Set or baseball glove. After everything was open, I was confused, and honestly just waiting for my dad to pull out the last gifts from behind the chair.
It was not to be. I’m sure that I got plenty of good gifts, but not the two that I was expecting. I was disappointed. Interestingly, to this day I don’t recall what I got for Christmas that year – I only recall what I didn’t get.
The only explanation I could come up with was that mom had discovered what I had been up to, and swapped out the presents – to teach me a lesson. I never spoke about this experience to my mom, and she never said anything to me. But I never snooped again. (I just told my sister about this yesterday!)
That Christmas did not meet my expectations because I blew it up. Sometimes I feel that when things in life don’t meet my expectations it is someone else’s fault. Sometimes we blame it on Providence with the trite, “I guess it wasn’t meant to be.” (Fully knowing that the reason it ‘wasn’t meant to be’ is because we blew it up all by ourselves.) Other times, our expectations can be dashed through no fault of our own. Those are harder to deal with because they seem so “unfair.”
Christmas expectations are interesting, as they are often deeply ingrained and founded on years of traditions. Thankfully, we focus on giving more than receiving, so those expectations can be somewhat muted. But there are some expectations that can be dashed. Christmas can be a time of wonderful family togetherness, but added stress, travel, money, and conflict can all cause that out holidays don’t live up to our expectations – realistic or unrealistic.
This year, with the bizarreness of the pandemic, many expectations aren’t even contemplations this year. Many will not travel to be with family, many events are being scrapped, even Santa’s lap is off limits. In this case, the expectations are not realized, not because we blew them up, but because that’s just how it is.
Some of us are fortunate and will be surrounded by family this Christmas. (Well, as of right now…) Others will not, as the normal traditions get blown up. This will be a hard year for many. Many will be alone, or distanced from loved ones. Many will be ill, or their celebrations will be limited because of contagion. I feel for them. Christmas can be a difficult holiday for some, but this year that is even compounded more.
It is a tough year. Of course, speaking of expectations without referencing the opening lines of “A Tale of Two Cities,” would be incomplete:
“It was was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
(Coincidentally, Charles Dickens, who wrote that, also wrote one of the most beloved Christmas stories of all, “A Christmas Carol.”)
Right now, 2020, is the best of times, AND the worst of times. Our normalcy has been blown up by the pandemic, and many traditions along with it. Expectations are ever-changing and adapting.
I imagine it has been this way since the first Christmas. Now I don’t know Joseph, or much of what he went through as Christ’s step-father, but I wonder how his expectations met with the reality of his calling.
I know me, and if I had been sitting in a stable, watching my wife struggle through labor with animals looking on, my thoughts would have been something more like this:
“Man, when the angel appeared to me and told me that Mary is giving birth to the Son of God – the Savior of all mankind, I didn’t really expect it to be like THIS.” I would have probably thought the same thing when fleeing to Egypt.
It is a fact of living that things do not always go according to our expectations. Thankfully, the Lord has provided us with an amazing capacity to adapt to different circumstances. Many years ago, Elder Marvin J. Ashton said this:
“Another important ingredient of proper attitude is resilience, the ability to cope with change. Adaptability cushions the impact of change or disappointment. Love can be a great shock absorber as we adjust in trials and tragedy.” (link)
As Elder Holland shared on of his “maxims for living: “No misfortune is so bad that whining about it won’t make it worse.” (link)
This Christmas presents us with an opportunity to be adaptable, without whining. Sure, things are weird, but if we focus on what we don’t have, rather than what we do have, we will be like that ungrateful eight-year-old who focused on what didn’t get – rather than what he did get.
That is the first and most obvious suggestion to overcome the disappointment of unrealized expectations: Focus on gratitude. As President Monson said, “Everyone can be discontented if he ignores his blessings and looks only at his burdens.” (link) (As I previously have written, I believe Thanksgiving sets the table for this very well.)
President Monson also touched on another way to adapt and find joy when life doesn’t meet our expectations: Focusing on others.
“I believe the Savior is telling us that unless we lose ourselves in service to others, there is little purpose to our own lives. Those who live only for themselves eventually shrivel up and figuratively lose their lives, while those who lose themselves in service to others grow and flourish—and in effect save their lives.”
Right now IS the best of times, it IS also the worst of times…a time to flourish, or a time to shrivel up. Pick one.
The focus on gratitude that launches into the holiday season can well carry us through the holidays with more joy and less disappointment, should that be our burden. Then, with a grateful heart, we look outward towards others, and we’ve got ourselves the recipe for a wonderful, weird Christmas.
Merry Christmas to you all.
NOTE: Thank you for the response to my call for blog posts. Some have already been sent in, which I appreciate. I know some of you are hesitant – don’t be. You can do this.
Also, there is no rush. You don’t need to submit right away. Maybe you can find some time during Christmas vacation, or put it on your list of things to get done in January. Whenever you get to it is fine. Just get to it!
If you have no idea what I am talking about, please check out last week’s post: “Celebrating 10 Years With an Invitation to You.“