Gregory Popovich herds cats. Sort of.
He created a world-famous circus show with cats and other animals pushing strollers, walking tightropes, answering phones, and putting out fires.
How does he get the cats to do what he wants? He doesn’t.
But what he does do can help shape expectations for our dreams for our families.
1. Patiently pay attention to how God is forming your family
I don’t necessarily teach a cat anything. I watch them for a while to see what they can do.
I (allow them) to show off their individual personalities and talents. Just like people, every pet has a special quirky little thing they like to do. This is what makes them who they are.
He knows he can’t mold another living creature into the image he wants. Their creator has an image in mind and is already molding them. His job is to discover that molding and cooperate with it.
Doing this with your family honors God’s dream for them. God had something in mind when he made them. Your job is to cooperate. To do that, you have to pay attention.
2. Turn loose your personal expectations
Popovich doesn’t go out looking for cats for a role. He doesn’t say, “This one will be the fireman. This one will ride the dog like a cowboy.” His expectation is to see the cats fulfill what they seem created to do.
This is challenging but also freeing. You’re free from the stress of owning your agenda for how your family turns out.
But you still have an agenda: God’s agenda for them as individuals and as a family.
You’re forced to be selfless.
You’re forced to pay attention so you can cooperate with their ‘specialty.’
You’re forced to be purposeful.
Let’s say you’re on Say Yes to the Dress with your daughter. You want her to be happy. Yes, you have a personal favorite dress. Yes, you’re convinced you know what looks best on her. But selflessly you pay attention and help her discover the dress that she adores and that fulfills her dreams.
You steer and influence, but in the end what gives you the most joy is her joy. You’ve already influenced her for twenty-plus years. So you let your influence mature in her personal decisions.
3. Help them be who they are becoming – some are stars, some sit in chairs
Popovich pays attention to who his cats are and what they like to do. Then he helps them be that and do that. Training is five minutes per day. He doesn’t sweat it. He knows it all adds up.
Some climb ladders. Some do handstands. Some don’t fit anything for the show he has in mind. They sit in chairs on stage. “They’re my chorus line.” He doesn’t fight it.
We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepeared beforehand, that we should walk in them – Ephesians 2.10
You can’t stop God from shaping your family to what he has in mind. We all have unique drives, motivations, and personalities. Some cry all night, some sleep. Some eat their veggies, some don’t. Some sing, some love numbers, some are stoic, some study dolphins, some love an orderly bedroom. Some sit in chairs.
You can try to get the dolphin student to keep an orderly room, and you can try to get the orderly one to study dolphins. But when you major on what they’re already majoring on, everyone will have more fun and be more successful.
4. Family membership is more important than any dreams
All of Popovich’s cats come from shelters. Unwanted house pets. Strays. He rescues them and makes them his family. They’re family members first, performers second. They stay in the family if they are stars or if they sit in chairs. They stay in the family when they retire.
You can sense when you’re not meeting the expectations of someone important to you. We all have a people-pleaser gene. It’s a powerful thing when someone senses that the highest expectation you have is for them to feel security and worth just from being in your family.
Acceptance in heaven comes from the work of someone besides me. I’m supposed to perform, but not for acceptance. The family puts skin on this picture of the role of performance: First comes acceptance, then performance.
What unique shapes and directions do you see in your family?