Bad Breath and the Bondage of Expectations



Those nasty little critters can certainly mess with emotions.

To be honest, life has not turned out like I imagined. Mind you, it’s not all bad. I’ve been blessed beyond what I ever hoped in so many areas of my life. But, sometimes I obsess on things that didn’t happen.  Once I decide the way life should be I have a hard time letting go.

Not a good mindset for working in the ministry. Things change all the time. So much is out of my control. I should know that by now.


My ministry blossomed early, around the age of eight. Chalk that move up to being a pastor’s kid.


  • sitting through hundreds of sermons,
  • observing my father comfort people through all manner of dilemmas every single week
  • and singing in front of the church with my five siblings almost every Sunday

I figured I was ready.

Funny thing is, the directive for my first spiritual mission came not from

  • a sermon,
  • a voice from heaven,
  • or even my father.

It was a commercial.

That’s right. A 60 second Television spot about a woman who agonized over her co-worker’s bad breath. Each night this woman practiced telling her co-worker about the situation.

“You have bad breath,” whispered the actress into her bedroom mirror, “use this.”

The woman pulled a bottle of mint green mouthwash from behind her back and pretended to offer it to her co-worker.

The next day the woman actually offered her co-worker a swig of Listerine. The co-worker was transformed.

Somehow this commercial jelled in my head with Dad’s weekly admonition to tell people about Jesus.

“You have bad breath,” I whispered into the mirror with the reverence of a seasoned evangelist, “Repent and use this mouthwash.”

My target? A teacher at my elementary school.

Did she have bad breath? I don’t think so.

But, hey, things get a little crazy when you try to save the world before your brain is fully developed.

Next day was show time.

“Get out a blank piece of paper,” my teacher said half way through the morning, “It’s time for your weekly spelling test.”

She read out each word slowly. Didn’t help. I couldn’t spell over half the words. So, I decided to write my “salvation” message across the top of my paper.

This is where expectations came in.

I expected the teacher to be amazed and transformed. Looking back, I now realize she was expecting to interact with a normal child that did normal things in normal ways.

We were both disappointed.

Halfway through grading the spelling tests at her desk, the teacher stood up and called my name.

“Into the hallway,” she demanded, “now.”

“What is this?” the teacher hissed after we left the classroom. She waved my spelling test in my face. I stared at the smudged proclamation that rambled across the top of my test paper. It wasn’t the gospel message after all. I guess I went with the Listerine concept without realizing it.

That didn’t even turn out.

My misguided sense of phonics turned “you have bad breath” into “you have bad birth”.

Try explaining your way out of that one. At age eight.   Let’s just say it was not a pleasant experience.

Update – my spelling skills have not improved much since then. But, I’ve been growing and learning in the area of expectations.


  1. Disappointment is unavoidable when we demand that our future fit in the narrow confines of what we think life should be.  It’s like walking into a gelato shop and demanding a certain flavor. We walk out in a huff because that flavor is not available. We miss experiencing the new and exciting flavors that would shake up our taste buds and widen our world.
  2. Stuff happens. No matter how carefully we plan, our whole life could change when we least expect it. Some people mourn the  tiniest of changes. They never embrace the good that remains.  Other folks, rocked by deep tragedy, struggle through each and every stage of grief. Slowly, very slowly, they move forward. People with courage. We can learn a lot from them.
  3. Letting go is not easy. Releasing our expectations of where and how we dreamed we would spend our days can be hard at first. But, it’s the only way to keep from dying inside. Choose to live.
  4. A world of possibilities remain after we let go of what we never had in the first place. The emptiness the remains is actually crammed with unexplored options.  Anything can happen.

WARNING! Expectations are obnoxious stinkers.  They like to yell that

  • you blew it,
  • you lost it all,
  • you’ll never, ever have another chance to dream.

They are wrong. You have a future. It just may be different from what you planned.

Live it to the max.