Gauging expectations for real life…lessons learned while duck hunting

This past Saturday was the youth opener for waterfowl in South Carolina.  So, at 4 a.m. the alarm sounded and I woke up our 15 year old son, Grant, and within 30 minutes we had our boat in the water.

Grant was excited.

I was very excited.

This was going to be a GREAT duck hunt, we were both really feeling it.

However, within 2 minutes we ran into our first setback.  “Dad, did you put the plug in?”
Oh no, we forgot to put the plug back into the boat!  (The plug is a helpful little device that allows you to drain water from the boat once on the trailer – but really needs to be in place before launching the boat unless you feel like swimming.)  So, we pulled the boat back out of the water and waited about 5 minutes as a few gallons of the intercoastal waterway gushed back to where it belonged.

OK, we were now in the boat, on the water, and no longer leaking.  That was progress!  We arrived at the spot where we wanted to hunt, but someone was already there.  We thought 4 a.m. was early enough – but it turns out that for the really good spots you need to get up even earlier.  Make mental note…

We find a new spot and put out the decoys, and in the process of doing all of that in the dark I left one of our anchor lines in the water and started the motor.  Uh oh, now we only have half of an anchor line!  (Mental note number three, make sure all lines are fully in boat before starting motor!)

So, needless to say, we ran into several difficulties that morning.  (And I didn’t even mention losing my favorite hat and one of our brand new decoys…)  So, here is the question my wife asked me – “Did you have fun?”  Another way to phrase that same question, “was it a successful hunt?”

When it comes to feeling successful in hunting or any area of life, we have to first examine our expectations.  The truth is, we would have been in serious trouble if our expectations that morning were to:

  1. Sleep in 
  2. Make zero mistakes and encounter zero obstacles
  3. Enjoy sunny, warm weather
  4. Limit out on ducks in time to enjoy a hot breakfast

Grant and I expected to wake up extremely early, to hit a snag or two along the way (we are still novice duck hunters, after all), and shiver as we motored across the water at 4:30 a.m. in 35 degrees.  Although we had feelings of frustration at times, those feelings did not dominate our experience or ability to enjoy the hunt.  In fact, we were laughing about most of them later that day (I admit to still feeling a little frustrated about that stupid anchor line!)

So, was it a successful hunt?  I would say yes, because of the following expectations I had on the front end:

  1. Safety on the water (coming back dry and in one piece)
  2. Extended time with my son doing something we both enjoy
  3. Appreciating the beauty of God’s creation
  4. Putting Grant in front of a few ducks and giving him an opportunity to shoot

Expectations are critical.  Not only do they determine whether or not we can enjoy life, they also guide us when aligned with our deepest values.  This morning I read Acts 14.  Paul had just been stoned and left for dead in Lystra, and upon returning to the church in Antioch he says; “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

Did you catch that?  Going through hardships should be something we expect as part of kingdom living.  Are we defined by those hardships?  No!  We find our identity as children of the king.  We HAVE TO go through hardships because we GET TO enter the kingdom of God.  The consistent teaching of the Bible is that enduring temporary hardships en route to all that God has for us (in this life and the one to come) is a very good and gracious trade off.  Jesus said succinctly, that only when we lose our lives do we find true life.

Why all of the hardships?  They come for several reason in my life:

  1. I make mistakes, and sometimes just decide to sin even though I know better, and suffer the consequences
  2. Other people make mistakes and sin, and it impacts my life
  3. As Christians we live in a broken world that is not yet redeemed – we are not home yet and will struggle in our pilgrimage (Jesus said we would have trouble in this world, in fact, he said we would be persecuted and hated because of our faith in him)
  4. God is training me to be more like Christ – inside and out – and that means I must continually repent and change.  Change is always painful.

These hardships are the turbulent air we pass through as we travel to our destination.  If seated, buckled, and expecting hardships we can ride them out with grace, and at times, with a little humor.  If walking down the aisle holding a cup of steaming hot coffee – acting as though we have already arrived in paradise – we are going to get burned, and so are the people around us.

The question I leave you with today: what informs your expectations for life in the kingdom?  How do you define “success”?  Are we taking what Jesus and Paul said seriously about the bumpy road ahead for all Christ followers, or have we internalized the values of a culture which holds out safety, comfort, happiness, and pain avoidance as the greatest good?

…by the way, because we have a gracious and loving Heavenly Father who delights in giving good gifts to his children, Grant did limit out on wood ducks within 10 minutes, and we did eat that hot breakfast!  But the beauty of it all is that it would have been a win for us either way.

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