so wonderfully human.
“Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack.”― Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings
We all have expectations. Expectations of someone’s behaviour, of how life is supposed to turn out, negative or positive expectations. Their fulfilment or lack thereof can induce incredible joy or deep sorrow. A study from Princeton University found that expectations shape the brains of infants as young as 6 months old, proving that in one way or another, nobody is exempt. There is no life without expectations.
How do we experience expectations? When I first thought about this my mind immediately went to disappointed expectations, but as I did some research (ehem, Instagram polls) it gained some insight on other peoples thoughts on expectations. When I asked if expectation and disappointment go hand in hand, only 38% of you said yes and 62% said no. Similarly, while 59% said they perceive expectations to be something negative, 41% said they think it’s a positive thing. Since these results are so close together I thought we’d do a word association on what the first thing that comes to mind is when you hear the word “expectation”. There were lots of different answers but the one that sums up the two ends of the spectrum of expectations best was “happy anticipation or pressure to perform”.
So everybody experiences expectations and they can be both a good or a bad thing.
With just a little bit of thought, I would say we can all come to that conclusion quite quickly.
But is there a way we can become people who experience more happy anticipation than devastating disappointment? And if so, how?
Firstly we need to understand why expectations are necessary.
Expectations can be used in different functions and are therefore useful for multiple things.
They can set standards, allow us to plan, to work hard and achieve something, they allow us to measure results, but even more than that expectations, if used properly, allow us to think of how things ought to be and when we have that mindset, we start to care when things don’t live up to that expectation. This is what makes us work hard and fight for a better world.
For example my friend Gaby has the expectation that people shouldn’t have to work in unsafe conditions for little money just so that we can have cheap clothing. By setting this expectation she is now able to measure the results and they aren’t good. This disappointed expectation motivates her to fight for a change, so she is working on educating people on ethical clothing and providing alternatives to shopping from cheap retailers, such as the clothing swap party she just hosted.
That is a case of expectations playing a necessary part in making life better, but let’s distinguish between the different types of expectations. There are unrealistic expectations, those usually lead to disappointments because they are too high to be met. Then there are dystopian expectations, those paint a dark picture and keep us closed of from enjoying reality because we are so terrified of something bad happening.
And finally there are realistic expectations.
Unrealistic and dystopian expectations both cannot really be used for anything because they don’t comply with the realms of possibility. They twist reality and lie to us about what is about to happen. So to be in a good relationship with our expectations, we have to be willing to look reality straight in the eye.
To use expectations for our advantage we want to look at them as markers to help us prepare. Expectations are good guide-posts but horrible foundations.
Let’s pretend you are building a house. Look at your expectations as the markers for mapping out the house, they allow you to plan, but you adjust them as things change and progress. When we look at our expectations as something fluid that helps us prepare and aim high while being subject to change, we’re good. However, often times we make our expectations the concrete foundation we plan to build upon and when things turn out differently than we thought, instead of moving the markers around we watch the entire foundation crack and we lose the basis our plans depended upon.
So how do we prevent cracked foundations?
It’s like the quote said, we hold them lightly.
We are aware that we are not in control of most of the things in our lives and that that’s okay. Friend, if that was hard for you to read, I’m right there with you. I’m a planner and a dreamer and it’s so easy to let my mind run wild and think about every little detail. I have experienced my fair share of cracked foundations and it can be heartbreaking. But guess what? There is not just one way to do life. There’s not just five or even twenty. Your life could go a hundred different beautiful ways and every single thing that doesn’t turn out the way you expected, it’s a marker. It can be moved. There’s another way. Don’t let the concrete dry on your expectations. I know solid ground seems safer, but the illusion of solid ground sure isn’t.
In “the knowledge of the holy” A.W. Tozer says: “All God’s acts are done in perfect wisdom, first for His own glory, and then for the highest good of the greatest number for the longest time. And all His acts are as pure as they are wise, and as good as they are wise and pure. Not only could His acts not be better done, a better way to do them could not be imagined. An infinitely wise God must work in a manner not to be improved upon by finite creatures.”
I am paraphrasing my new friend Nicole here, but if your heart is after God then you can trust that whatever situation you are in is the best possible situation for you to be in right now. Expectations are something so wonderfully human, but partnered together with Jesus we can experience their good and know we’ll be okay in their bad.
Having expectations means putting your heart on the line and risking to get hurt.
We’re just human and sometimes our minds run wild and we don’t have reasonable, fluid expectations, we get hurt and that really sucks. Sometimes our expectations may seem perfectly good and reasonable and we don’t understand why it wouldn’t work out like that and that is so hard. But friend, let that be a moment for you to encounter the closeness of God, who has known every moment of your life before it had ever happened, before the earth existed, who knew of all your disappointments and hurts and thought the world needed you anyways. Let that be an opportunity to meet Jesus in the midst of uncertainty and open your hands to what He has for you. To realize that even when life looks nothing like you thought it would, God is in that.
I think we need to redefine our relationship with expectations to know that they are necessary, they can inspire good and while their disappointment might not be the best thing that’s happened to you, it could still be beautiful.