Vertically Connected Blog
Years ago, a student of mine named Becca was having a cooking party with some of her Chinese friends. They were going to make some authentic Chinese food, and Becca was going to make them some authentic American food: chocolate chip cookies.
As she was carefully following her mom’s tried and true chocolate chip cookie recipe, Becca’s Chinese friend came over and, pointing to the piece of paper she was looking at, said, “Becca, what is that?”
“This?” she asked. “It’s a recipe.”
“What is a recipe?” he asked.
“It’s the instructions I use to make my cookies.”
“Do you always use one of those?”
She told him she did. And then he said to her, “Oh, in my country, we don’t use those. We cook by feel.”
“I thought that was interesting,” Becca shared. “But I went back to making my cookies the way I always do — measuring everything carefully, leveling the flour with a knife, making sure I was adding the ingredients in the exact order they were listed on my recipe. I know that if I want my cookies to turn out like my Mom’s, then I have to follow the recipe exactly.
“A moment later my friend came back over to me and asked, ‘Can I ask you another question, Becca?’
“I said, ‘Sure.’
“‘Do you live your life that way, too?’
“I was so surprised at his question. But I found myself half-smiling and answering, ‘Um . . . yeah . . . maybe I do.’”
Becca then shared with me, “As I thought later about his question, I realized that is how I live my life. I couldn’t believe it. I want to be in control of everything, making sure I can control the outcome. I hate surprises. And so, I plan things out in my life, ‘measuring’ everything carefully and in the exact order, trying to make sure that things happen exactly the way I want them to. And I do this all the time. I don’t have a clue how to live ‘by feel.’”
As I have thought more about Becca's experience, I have discovered that her approach to life could be one reason all of us might struggle at some point in our lives.
Sometimes, we try to live by a “recipe,” much like we would carefully follow a recipe for chocolate chip cookies. I call it being “recipe-driven,” and it usually involves this mentality: “If I do A then B then C, then surely I will get D.”
In other words, we expect that a certain and specific investment of our time, energy, ability, or even faith will produce a certain and specific outcome.
There's only one problem with this mentality.
Besides being an incredibly frustrating way to live, being recipe-driven actually hinders our growth and happiness in many ways – including socially, emotionally, professionally, academically, and spiritually.
Before we dive into how, let's look into what being recipe-driven might look like.
In all honesty, when it comes to being recipe-driven, the process is usually a little different for each of us, but the premise is largely the same.
We can be recipe-driven in relationships, jobs, and even callings. “I’ve got to be assistant manager by 28 and manager by 30, so I can take over the business at 35.” or “The girls have to have a spiritual experience on the night hike at camp.”
We can create recipes for gaining a testimony, repenting, or finding a spouse. “We have to visit all the church history sites or our children won't gain a strong testimony of the Restoration.”
Michelle and I have even recognized a recipe-like mentality in some of our parenting, thinking that there’s only one acceptable path of success or righteousness. With this mindset, a parent’s good intentions become a calculated effort to make sure a son is in baseball, student government, the honors society, and choir, or a daughter is popular, athletic, artistic, and spiritual — activities or character traits that almost become checklists for good parenting (or good kids).
One husband even shared: “I’ve figured out that somewhere in the back of my head I had a ‘recipe’ for a good marriage. I had very specific ‘ingredients’ that I thought had to be part of a marriage. They were silly ideas like if we truly had a good marriage, then we would discipline the same way, always be happy to see each other at the end of every day, or agree on how to invest our money. My wife and I have a great marriage, but often I have been frustrated with it without knowing why. I now realize it is because I thought that, without certain ingredients, my marriage wasn’t good or would possibly fail.”
It may already be obvious by now, but being recipe-driven robs us of many things including joy, peace, and gratitude.
Because life isn’t just about simply adding “ingredients” together in the right order to produce the results we want, trying to live by a recipe sets us up for a lot of disappointment, frustration, and even struggles with faith.
Our plans just don’t always go as planned.
We get sick on our mission and must come home.
We can’t figure out what to major in and it takes us seven years to finish college.
We don’t get the promotion we thought we would.
We’re 32 and still not married.
Our children won’t follow our “recipe” like they’re supposed to.
Our marriage has problems we never imagined it would.
We suffer from health problems that we never expected.
And then, just like when a batch of cookies doesn't turn out like we expected, we assume we must have done something wrong along the way!
In fact, an underlying factor in many of our recipes are our expectations: We expect our spouse to react a certain way; we expect a child to make a certain decision; we expect our conscientious efforts planning a family vacation will produce a perfect, stress-free, bonding experience for every member of our family. These unwritten, often unspoken, ideas can get in the way of reason. They can get in the way of our relationships. And they can certainly get in the way of revelation —especially if our expectations about others are actually about us.
One mother shared this interesting story about being recipe-driven:
“A few years ago when our oldest son came home from his mission, I was surprised to find myself feeling hurt, frustrated with my family, and even a little disappointed with my missionary. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. It should have been such a glorious reunion. We were all so happy he was home. And yet I had all sorts of insecure emotions in my heart. I later realized that I had created expectations of the experience. I expected our reunion to go a certain way. I expected our son to act a certain way. I even expected our family to shape up a little bit and behave better than normal so that we could be one big happy family. And I didn’t even know I had those expectations!
“However, because it wasn’t quite happening the way I expected, I felt incredibly disappointed and frustrated with the whole experience. I also later recognized that because of those expectations, I was missing out on the other wonderful experiences our family was having. I wasn’t noticing the ways he had grown and changed. I was also not as in tune as I could have been to what I might need to do or say to help our son transition after his mission the way he needed to. I was just hung up on what wasn’t happening.”
Being recipe-driven is a mentality that focuses far more on outcomes and outward successes than on experiences and the benefit of a process. It causes us to become so set on the way we think things should be done — on our “recipe” — that we don’t want to consider another plan or that we might be wrong. And sometimes, because of this mindset, our spiritual efforts become rote checklists that are disconnected from genuine efforts of the heart such as patience, compassion, learning how to be guided by the Spirit, and faith in the Savior.
In fact, there’s really no room for mistakes, learning experiences, or even personal revelation in these recipes we create for life, all of which seems so contrary to the doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In our efforts to control and organize our lives, we, instead, create rigid parameters and even bondage.
This is a brief discussion on what being recipe-driven looks like.
Have there been thoughts that have come to your mind about your own life?
Have you recognized ways you may have created a recipe for a certain experience?
Or can you maybe now see reasons you might be feeling frustrated with something in your life or struggling with your faith because a situation didn’t turn out the way you expected?
When we recognize our recipes, we recognize much more than our unrealistic plans.
We begin to recognize reasons our relationships are suffering.
We begin to realize why we are feeling hopeless.
And we even begin to understand why our faith is wavering.
And I have discovered that it's often not because of something we are doing wrong or something wrong in our lives, but rather these unrealistic outcomes we are expecting in our lives.
Once we start to recognize these expectations, we can begin the process of rewriting the hopes and plans for our lives - which usually involves having (or praying for) the humility to ask the Lord to refine our expectations, broaden our understanding, open our eyes, and educate our desires (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “According to the Desires of Our Hearts).
It is an incredible journey to go on and so worth taking.
Stephen & Michelle Hunsaker
Stephen teaches at the Logan Institute of Religion for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has been teaching for over 26 years.
Michelle is a full-time mom who enjoys reading, writing, teaching, and anything and everything to do with musicals.
They are the parents of ten children and authors of the book : Boxing the Lord In and Other Ways We Hinder Revelation.
Their hope is that each week through the thoughts and ideas they share in this blog, you can become more "vertically connected" in your lives. They seek to see and share "things as they really are" and "as they really will be" (Jacob 4:13) by learning how to build more and more on the sure foundation of the Savior, Jesus Christ and the doctrines and principles of His gospel.