Life seldom turns out as you expect. In the beginning, the world is your oyster. You have hopes and dreams. You know what you want to be and where you want to go. Yes, the water gets rough sometimes, and you end up with some sand in your britches, but you just take it in stride and seize the opportunity to make a pearl.
Years later when you look back, you realize that very little of what you had planned actually happened. You’ve had enough plot twists and turns to make a Bond movie look positively slow. And pearls? Oh, yeah. Several strings.
Take parenting, for instance. When those pink, squalling bundles land in your arms, your heart is filled with love and pride. You hold the answers to every child rearing dilemma that could possibly arise. You’re sure you’ve got the next Michael Jordan or Condoleezza Rice or Albert Einstein.
About halfway through, you realize that what you really have is a little band of pirates. Apparently Somalia isn’t the only place where brigands roam, judging by the state of your pantry. When they’ve pillaged the cupboard for the umpteenth time and held each other hostage again with BB guns and slingshots, it hits you – it doesn’t take a village to raise a child. It takes a team of Navy Seals.
By the time you’ve sent the last one off to college, having mortgaged your one remaining pair of socks, it’s clear that they’ve pirated more than the larder. Gone is your secret stash of chocolate, your bank account, and all your supposed answers about parenting.
Now, let’s say your dream is to be a dentist. You begin your career with high hopes of making a difference in the world by polishing to a faretheewell every molar that passes through your chair. You attack the plaque. You banish cavities wherever they are found. You fight gingivitis. And then.
Then you get your first biter. As those teeth clamp down, the “praise the Lord’s” have to jump over some other stuff to get out. You secretly consider yanking out every one that is presently embedded in your digit and replacing them with a rubber set. But you won’t, and when you look back at the end of your career, you have the satisfaction of knowing that not only is there less tartar, but there’s a new generation of flossers out there, thanks to you.
How about the Queen of England? Can you imagine her feelings at the beginning of her reign? Oh, to marry a prince and live in a palace filled with liveried servants. Why, you can even have a bedside coffee bar staffed by a full-time barista, if you’d like.
Then the little royals start to come. It’s a known fact that you can’t spank royal bottoms, so you use psychology. “That makes mommy feel bad, Prince Festus. You don’t want mommy to feel bad, do you?” Which, as expected, the royal stinker never hears because he’s torn off to slide down the marble banisters again.
By the end of your reign, when they’ve trashed the family name with their well-publicized shenanigans, that crown is feeling a little heavy, and you’re left wondering, “Did I spank them enough?”
I wonder how a young preacher feels the first time he takes the pulpit. Most likely, he is filled with excitement at the opportunity to minister God’s grace to this, his flock. He eagerly visits the sick. He brings a covered dish to every potluck. He weeps with those who weep, and he rejoices with the others. He marries and buries them, only glad for the chance to serve.
As the years go by, perhaps he gets tired of a phone that never stops ringing. The idealism has long since vanished, and he knows now that not everyone that wears a sheep suit is one. In his darkest moments, he wishes he could baptize a few of the troublemakers by immersion for just a little longer than necessary. He resists, of course, and when he reaches the end of his earthly life, he receives the ultimate praise: “Well done, you good and faithful servant. I know you had some hooligans in your pews, but you did well.”
No, our ending seldom looks like we expected. But hopefully we will finish strong, knowing that we’ve left behind healthy children, shiny teeth, or a growing flock. And you know, those royals just may not be too big to spank.
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