We all have expectations. Optimists have positive expectations. Pessimists have negative expectations. And most of the issues we have with people and life are based on our expectations. So a question we should ask is, ‘Why have expectations at all?’
Expectations lead us to the pain of ‘hope deferred’ (Proverbs 13:12). If our expectations are not fulfilled we become upset and that can lead us to strife with others or cause us to pull back from them.
People often express displeasure with others based on their expectations. Consider the conversations you hear among your friends, or even on the media. People often express their disapproval of the actions of their spouse, children, boss, employees, friends, government, etc.
But just because we hold an expectation does not make us right. Our expressed disapproval might sound like an expression of high moral values and our privileged right to find fault with others, but it is actually a violation of God’s instruction to us that we are not to judge others, otherwise we will be judged (Matthew 7:1).
Our expectations can be completely wrong, no matter how deeply held.
A wife might complain, “My husband comes home and watches TV!”
Well, that puts him among millions of other husbands. So, what’s the problem?
The problem is she had a different expectation. She may really want him to do chores, or to give her personal attention, or to play with the kids, or help the kids with their homework, or make repairs or just be busy rather than appearing lazy.
Whatever her expectation it is the basis for her judgment, disapproval, frustration, resentment, etc.
Similarly a husband may complain about his wife not pleasing him, when she does many things for him that other wives do not do. The problem is not the amount of things she does, but whether what she does matches his expectations.
Those expectations could lead to bitterness, feelings of rejection and even divorce.
These issues are often brought up to couples planning to wed, to show that the families of origin have different modes of operation and different values, which lead the couple to have different ideas of what they and the other should do.
The word EXPECTATIONS cuts to the heart of this problem.
Recently my wife expressed disappointment with me because we had arranged to chat about something and her expectation of how I would engage in the process was different to mine. I did not realise she had a specific expectation of me and my failure to meet her expectations was a disappointment to her.
This simple moment of mismatched expectations became a good prompt for me to distil the process of unfulfilled expectations impacting our lives.
We all encounter times when others, especially our spouse or family members, do not meet our expectations. And at times we may even feel that God has not met our expectations.
Consider how easy it is for people with expectations to say such things as: “He wasn’t supposed to do that”; “I never expected to hear her say such a thing”; “Why did God let it happen?”; “Are you just going to sit there and do nothing about this?”; “I never thought you’d let me down like this”; “You don’t care, do you?”; “You’ve really let me down this time”; “Life wasn’t meant to turn out like this”; “Why did this have to happen to me?”; “I deserve better than this”; “I have every right to be angry”.
On the other hand, people often find themselves facing the disapproval of others without really understanding what they have done wrong. “I had no idea I was supposed to do such a thing”, “What in the world did I do wrong now?”, “Why can’t you be happy with what I do?”, “I did it the way you said”, “I thought you’d like it, that’s why I went out of my way to do this for you”, “What’s the use? No matter what I do I get in trouble”.
Inner Needs and Desires
Expectations are based on our inner needs and desires. We want people to please us. We want things to go well for us. We want things our way. So we set up expectations that others will please us and we will get our way. When this doesn’t happen we accuse the others of failing us, rather than facing our own inner expectations.
When our expectations bring us into strife with others we can be sure that they are based on pride and selfishness. When our expectations cause us to feel hurt by others it is most likely that we have made that person an idol in our life and are looking to them to bring us fulfilment and personal benefits which we should be looking only to God to bring to us.
Expectations and Wants
Our expectations are closely linked to our wants.
Consider the interchange of the word ‘expect’ and ‘want’ in the following sentences.
“Surely you don’t expect me to believe that!”
“Do you expect me to wait around all day for you?”
“The children expect me to wait on them hand and foot.”
“I expect you to take notice of my wishes and to fulfil them.”
“I expect this mess to be cleaned up by the time I return.”
If we have many expectations of others then we could also be seen as someone who is highly demanding or desiring to control others. Expectations, wants and demands are often interchangeable.
Death to Expectations
Imagine what life would be like if you had no expectations and made no demands on others or on life itself.
If you saw your life as a responsibility to please and worship God and to fulfil His will for you life, with no expectations more than that life will happen and you will enjoy eternity with God when this life ends, then you would not end up in arguments with people about how they fail you.
If you had no expectations of others, or of life itself, you would accept whatever comes your way and do your best for God’s glory. Husbands would love their wife no matter how she treated him, and wives would submit to their husbands no matter what he was like. Parents would love and train their children without resorting to disapproval, manipulation or control. People would serve God whether it was easy or hard and endure all manner of challenges with faith and patience.
Expectations are Toxic
When we hold expectations of others we elevate that person to the place of an idol in our lives. We see them as a source of something we want, when God is our source. We think that if our spouse, parents, children, others or society was to treat us a certain way then we would be fulfilled and happy. But we are to be fulfilled and happy in God, not by the provisions of others. If we look to others then they are effectively an idol we have put our trust in, in the place of God.
Expectations of God
We are to have positive expectations of God, because He is holy and totally reliable. His word is true.
But even there, we must remember that God is sovereign and that when God does us good it may not be the way we would have ordered it.
Deep trials are often a way of God doing us good, as we see illustrated in Psalm 107.
We also see how David the shepherd boy faced two fearful menaces, a bear and a lion. That’s not what the average shepherd sees as a good thing. They would not normally order such experiences if they had the choice. But for David his encounters with the lion and bear qualified him to take on Goliath and become a champion (1Samuel 17:36).
David’s famous Psalm 23 talks of having our head anointed with oil and sitting at a banqueting table. But the road to such a place is through the “valley of the shadow of death”.
God assures us that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28) and we are to believe that God “is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). We also know that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38,39).
So we are to have high expectations of God.
Yet Revelation 4:11 tells us we are not on the planet for our own pleasure but for God’s pleasure. Jesus told us to “seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33).
We are to live in high expectation of God, while at the same time trusting God when things appear to go wrong, and allowing God to take us on His road, not the road of our choosing.
As we mature in life we have each learned to let go of things. As we do, we experience increased freedom. So why not accelerate your personal growth right now by taking stock of your expectations and letting go of them?
Let go of your expectations of your spouse. You probably expect them to please you and fulfil you. Well, let go. Give up such expectations. If you get such things treat it as a blessing, not as a right you can demand. Choose to love and serve God, no matter what your spouse is or does.
Let go of your expectations toward your children or parents. Much of what you want them to be or do is probably linked to your personal values and wishes. Thank God for your family. Trust your children to God. Do what God asks of you as a child and as a parent, and leave the rest to Him.
Let go of your expectations of life. It has been said that ‘happiness is a means of travel, not a destination’. Enjoy the life God has given you and do all you do to the glory of God. Rejoice, whether you abound or are in lack.
Ask God to show you your expectations and as you discover them from time to time, probably by feeling upset by someone not meeting your expectations, ask God to forgive you for holding such expectations and for judging others, and then give up that expectation altogether.
I believe there is great freedom for us all to enjoy as we do.