"Scratch the surface of most cynics and you find a frustrated idealist - someone who made the mistake of converting his ideals into expectations". (Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline, p 146)
I am not sure if it is a generational or a personality thing, but it seems that I find myself constantly bumping into people who expend a lot of energy wrapped in frustration trying to accomplish an ideal. I personally have found myself pushing harder than I should as I tried to help churches become all that they are called to be. This has more often led to feelings of failure on my part and feelings of being pushed too hard by the leadership of the church. I remember a specific leadership meeting of a church where I was on staff. I pleaded that something needed to be different and with tears of disappointment in my eyes while refuting their comments that reinforced their status quo I said, "but that is not the way it should be."
Couples come in looking for the ideal marriage and are angry and resentful because their partner is not fully assisting them in their quest. They blame their partner for this less than ideal life that they seek.
"The couple who would strive for perfection in their marriage have taken their first steps toward divorce and despair." (Richard Stuart, Helping Couples Change, p 148).
The same is true with parents who are looking for the perfect family. If only their children would behave they would find satisfaction in life. Instead, they only see their life as "less than" what it "should" be. I often tell parents that no matter how perfect you try to be, I will still see your children in therapy.
I am convinced that a lot of this idealism is because we have been brought up in a culture that believes we are entitled to the ideal. Compared to the other cultures in this world we find ourselves having won the lottery of life. Where else in this world and throughout the history of mankind have there been such high expectations. Houses are expected to be large, our closets full of clothes, pantries overflowing with the king's dainties, entertainment of our choosing at the touch of a button, vacations and second homes, shiny new cars, health care and the best education for all, our 401K full, ad nauseam. Is it any wonder that some of the octogenarians question if today's generations could ever adjust to a true financial collapse like the one that our country faced in the early 20th century?
I love ideals. I think holiness is an ideal that every Christian is challenged to move towards. I do strive for the ideal of marriage, parenthood, and life in general. However, if it weren't for grace, I would find myself in an institution pulling my hair out. The reality is life is hard; marriage is hard; raising children is hard; making a living and paying bills is hard. That is life! If you are going to expect anything, expect "hard", not the ideal. Is this the same as lowering your expectations so you won't be disappointed? Maybe it is. As I told someone after coming home from a wonderful 7 day cruise in the Caribbean, "reality sucks!" But reality is not all that bad, as long as I am not living in a fantasy world of idealistic expectations.