After church one Sunday, I looked at my daughter Riley and said, “you were having some trouble reading the screen this morning.” I was teasing her about messing up a few words when we were reading the prayers off the big screen at the front of the sanctuary. My oldest son Jed said, “she does that all the time.” Riley responded, “I was having trouble with the words of the prayers and the songs today.” Jed said, “yeah, it was special.” We all laughed. Then Riley explained that she thinks she knows what the next word should be so she says what she thinks is coming before the slide on the screen changes. This I understood. I don’t necessarily jump ahead when reading the screen, but trying to anticipate what comes next is a common cause of stress for me.
Last year when Riley was a senior in high school, I worried about pretty much everything. I worried about her choosing a college. I feared how I would feel when she performed her last dance performance with the studio she’d been with since she was four-years-old. I felt anxious about getting through her graduation. I feared about how I would make it through her college move-in day. I was scared of her living so far away from us.
I created a lot of heart ache for myself by thinking of all the things that could happen and assuming they would all be negative. I believed I couldn’t handle the future unfolding before me, and I carried that burden around with me constantly. The anticipation of those events was so much worse for me than the events themselves. Even though I cried plenty of tears during those events as they occurred, we survived and even thrived. Instead of being interminably sad, I felt so proud of Riley for all of she’d done and who she’d become that I felt happiness through the tears.
Sometimes anticipation is joyous and full of excitement. Sometimes anticipation is helpful and necessary as it was this week when we prepared for an incoming ice storm. But anticipation as defined in the Oxford Languages website involves “expectation or prediction,” and if we assume our expectations will be disappointing or if our predictions are negative, we end up dreading the future. Fearing failure. Consumed with apprehension.
Turns out, I may come by this fraught relationship with anticipation naturally. The Enneagram is a personality typing system that for me, is eerily accurate. I am an Enneagram 6, and this is a description of my type: “Sixes are defined by their desire for safety and security. They seek to anticipate and avoid risk… Sixes are alert and vigilant, always thinking several steps ahead to anticipate and prepare for what could go wrong.” (truity.com). Even knowing this about myself, I still get caught in the trap of negative anticipation. I have a hard time remembering my tendencies curbing them before they consume me.
We can all benefit from taking a step back when we find ourselves focused on negative expectations and predictions. We can take a deep breath and recognize that focusing only on fear of the future creates anxiety and unnecessary stress and usually solves nothing. Let us care for ourselves in the present by limiting our anticipation of what may go wrong in the future.