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The holiday seasons’ Land of Expectations

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By Tracy Springberry

In the children’s classic book, “The Phantom Tollbooth,” the hero Milo, receives a surprising gift, a game that includes a tollbooth, toll fare, a map, a car and a rulebook. Not knowing what else to do, Milo assembles his gift and heads through the tollbooth and arrives promptly in the Land of Expectations, where he gets stuck by what he expects.

Most of us, this time of year, head through the gateway of Thanksgiving and arrive, just as Milo did, in the Land of Expectations.

The holiday stretch of the Land of Expectations Expressway is a bright, festive place marked extravagantly with huge brightly colored billboards announcing destinations you can expect if all goes well.

“Happiest time of year!” says one.

“Times You Will Always Remember!” says another.

“Have a Holly Jolly Christmas.  It’s the best time of the year.”

“Heart-melting family moments.”

“Joyful, giddy children.”

“Winter wonderland romance.”

In order to be helpful, other signs provide directions on how to get to those destinations.

“Buy gifts.” “Make gifts.”  “Send cards.” “Attend plays and concerts.” “Simplify and focus on your values.” “See more friends.”  “Go to more parties.” “Have a party!”

“Stay at home.” “Bake more.” “Bake less.” “Give more away.” “Volunteer.” “Enjoy more.” “Love more.”  And finally, “Work harder!  You can do it all.”

Most try to follow the directions, any direction, and meet the expectations of joy and perfect happiness and instead, end up exhausted. We begin to wonder just what this season is called the “Happiest Time of the Year.”

This year why not try a side road off to the left of the Expectation Freeway?  It is not well marked or well traveled.  It looks like a little used country lane.  The sign is old and a bit worn and says, “For Those Who Follow Their Hearts.” 

There are no directions on this road, just questions. 

One asks, “What do you love?” 

Another asks, “What brings your family the most joy.” 

And “What connects you deeply to your community?” 

There are no right answers — just gentle private paths through the wood.

Maybe you will answer, staying home.  Someone else might answer, more parties.  Some want to make gifts.  Others want to sit in a chair with a glass of wine and order gifts on Amazon.com.  Still others love dreaming up ways to give gifts of time. 

The spiritual teachers of many traditions say, “follow your heart and do what you love.”

Most of us have to learn how to do what we love because a lifetime of expectations gets in the way.  We have to practice.  I invite you to begin that practice now — take that little road to the left of the Expectation Freeway. 

Those who have traveled it report adventures and unexpected moments of happiness.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

About Tracy Springberry

Tracy Springberry is a Unitarian Universalist minister. She serves the North Idaho Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Coeur d’Alene.

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