Thursday, August 20, 2009

Teachable Moments

A couple of weeks ago, we had a guest speaker at church. He told a story of visiting a park one day, and on a bench all by herself sat a little girl somewhere between two and three years old.

She was sobbing, broken-hearted.

As a father, this guest speaker was concerned that the child was lost or hurt, so he carefully approached her and asked, "Why are you crying?"

She looked up at him and sobbed, "Because my expectations are not being fulfilled."

We all laughed at this precocious statement. (The girl's father was nearby, and he was watching over her, having placed her there as a form of discipline.)

Last week, I had myself a good cry. Now, I'm not an easy crier. I don't like to cry, I avoid it as long as I can. But things had accumulated inside to the point that they needed an outlet. And as I sat on the side of the bed sobbing into my hands, I started thinking. (This happens to me a lot. I'm wallowing in self-pity and the wheels start turning, trying to figure out why, and when I think I might stop, and if this crying is really justified. I think it is the reason I rarely cry. I end up talking myself out of it most of the time. And while I'm crying, I'm analyzing, which takes all the enjoyment out of a good cry. But I digress.)

I realized that just as the toddler in the sermon illustration, I was crying because my expectations were not being fulfilled. A doctor's appointment didn't go the way I had wanted it to. My husband didn't act the way I had expected him to act. The scale didn't say what I wanted it to say (quite the reverse, actually!). I had expectations, and they were not fulfilled.

Fast forward a week. I'm working on some interview questions for the Romantic Notions Newsletter that goes out with each month's shipment of books. One of the questions asked was:

What is the most important message that you want your readers to gain by reading your book(s)?

After a lot of thought, I came up with this:

I want my readers to know that our most teachable moments tend to come when our expectations are not being fulfilled.

I don't know about you, but I'm not at my most teachable when things are going great. I tend to float on the surface, doing the good things, and not facing any conflict or life lessons. It is not until something unexpected comes along, some conflict, some catastrophe occurs, that my heart is contrite, broken, weak, a mess. THEN I am teachable. Then I can learn a lesson that changes my outlook and my behavior. And that's what happens to my characters too. I throw a conflict at them, and they are forced to evaluate their thinking, beliefs, and actions and make changes.

So, have you had a teachable moment recently?
Was it due to an expectation not being fulfilled?
What is it that you want your readers to gain by reading your stories?


  1. Yes, I agree. I am not at my most teachable when everything is roses. I wish I were. Then maybe there would not be so many ups and downs in my life. But then again... that is life:)
    LOL about that little girl.That is so something I would have said as a child. Great post.

  2. I think for me, I am teachable slightly after the experiences that are difficult. It takes me a while to gain perspective, usually in hindsight. While I'm in the season of difficulty, I sometimes feel that I'm walking in the dark, even though I know God is there right beside me still. But it takes a little distance for me to begin to understand and accept the situation.

  3. This post really resonated with me this morning, Erica. This is so true - both in fiction and in real life and is something I'm sort of passing through right now as well. Thanks for sharing this!!

  4. My teachable moment would have run a little long and so I posted it on my blog if you would like to read it. Rather it be mental or physical, in all of my writings I want the world to get the understanding that no matter what we say or do, our actions and reactions have an affect on someone and it can have the effect of changing the world.
    Thanks for this post.

  5. Awesome post, Erica! Sorry about your breakdown though. I'm just like you, hold it all in until it boils over like molten lava--no stopping it, but then in the midst of it still try to by analysing and deliberating. You're right, it does spoil the release just a little.

    I want to read your books, especially now that I know their purpose. So true, it's in the down times that we finally learn well! This reminds me of the moral premise of books. In fact, I do believe this is your books moral premise!

  6. I didn't know you had a cry last week--hope you are better now!

    Let's see....I haven't actually had an expectation fulfilled in a long time. I'm living through a very long dry season. So either my whole life is a teachable moment, or I've just been too dense to get it. Which is worse???

  7. i didn't have a good day yesterday. i had a job interview...and had such high hopes that it would be one i would want. but as soon as i walked into the room, i knew this wasn't the job for me...regardless of what they thought. and i was so disappointed. i had built up the interview in my mind as god's answer to my jobless situation...but it wasn't. thus, i'm waiting again. and in this season if disappointed expectations, god is teaching me to trust. i can't imagine a harder lesson for a control freak. i'm definitely not there yet, either.

  8. Oh boy...I think the last three years of my life has been one long teachable moment. And sometimes it took me more than once to learn what I was supposed to learn. But I suppose that's how it is with our stories, too. No matter what happens to our characters and how many opportunities we throw their way, sometimes it takes them all the way until the end of the book to get it right.

  9. Erica, I LOVE that statement. So true. Sounds like something people would cross-stitch and put on their wall. :)

    We had a car fire recently--which was frustrating since we already have two mortgages. It was a real, "Why, God?" moment.

    But He showed me some things about myself. More importantly, He showed me some things about Himself.