I recall reading a report several years ago that addressed the question of why three different groups of children achieved at different levels of success. This particular study highlighted the variable of parental expectations. Parents who expected their children to achieve at an “A” level tended to predict higher outcomes for their kids.
Parents who expressed concern only when achievement levels dropped below the acceptable threshold of a “B,” tended to raise children who achieved at this threshold. Another group of parents answered that they would feel uncomfortable when their children’s grades dipped below a “C.” Their children’s grades reflected this expectation as well. Once again, correlation does not necessarily indicate causality, but these results were at least provocative.
When I look at my own life, I see that there are many areas where I accept a “B.” When I play racquet ball, I can beat enough people to feel slightly above average. I refuse to do those things it would take to raise my game to the next level where I could beat most anyone my own age. My family thinks of me as a good cook. My goal has always been to replicate the food my Grandma Francie used to prepare for me as a kid. As a result, I make a pretty mean apple pie, and can turn out lump-free gravy. But when I hear about my friend Walt, whose gastronomic creativity took he and his family on a several month culinary world tour by way of his kitchen creations, I am made aware of my place in the home-chef pecking order.
I am like the children in Garrison Keeler’s beloved town, Lake Wobegon. Save for one or two areas, in most respects, I am “above average.” I love to jog, but have never competed in a marathon. I love an organized garage, but have never created a permanent space for each tool by outlining them on a peg board with magic marker. I keep my lawn under a few inches high, but tolerate clover, and clumps of onion grass. If you happened to use one of my toilets, you would have been instructed to jiggle the handle because I can live with slightly worn out parts that function “good enough.”
Except for a couple of key areas, I really am okay with my “B” existence. That is precisely why the Christian scriptures selected by most mainline churches for this week are so challenging to me and my fellow “B Teamers.” This Sunday’s Gospel passage (Matthew 25: 14-30) was all about investments. Like the story of the Three Little Pigs, one broker of his master’s money invested wisely. Another broker invested, and did okay as well. But the third little servant, out of fear, ended up like the foolish little piggy—out in the cold. As I contemplated those words, I began to think about how people decide to invest, or to withhold.
The confluence of the approaching season of Advent along with another nation-wide spike in COVID-19 presents an urgent question to people like me: “To what extent are you invested in your spiritual life?” If you invest just a little, your return on that investment will yield the same anemic rewards. But if you bring your “A” game to your spiritual life, you and your family can expect a return that is described in the Psalm this Sunday (128). There is a money-back guarantee that you will reap a rich harvest of peace, humor, intimacy, and love, even in the midst of life’s most profound challenges.
In addition to the standard practices most of us follow, Sabbath and Sunday services, meal prayer and bedtime prayers, are you seeking out more challenging spiritual exercises? For example, what are you doing to improve your conscious contact with God, throughout the course of a day? When was the last time you really opened yourself to the insight that God is crazy about you and simply wishes you would let Divine Presence embrace, enfold and love you…warts and all? A spiritual “A-teamer” doesn’t ask how to pray better. An A-teamer is trying to figure out how to make his or her life a prayer.
Few athletes ever attain their “A” game without a good coach. Do you share your frustrations, longings, mistakes, and dreams with someone who is wiser than you? Do you take the time to pray or meditate with your spouse in the spontaneous language of the heart? Have you tried that? Do you open your heart to your spouse on a daily basis? How about weekly? Monthly? Yearly? If you are single, or living in community, are you engaging in a vulnerable sharing of your heart with someone(s) on a regular basis?
As Autumn gives way to the bracing chill, just as this pandemic picks up new momentum, it is as if me and the rest of the “B” teamers are being called to dust off our “A” game. Perhaps the Advent spiritual bumper-sticker for we “B” teamers could read, “Expect More!”