Guarding our joy through understanding our expectations.
What Are Our Expectations?
Our view of our circumstances and therefore our response to them is formed primarily from the expectations we have. This includes relationships, career situations, and, possibly the most important one, how we view God.
This is a more specific application of the idea that perception affects our reality. While that’s true, the only way that perceptions can impact us is through our expectations. Perception is simply how we look at people and circumstances; expectations is how we interact with people and circumstances.
To use technology as an example: I perceive that technology is beneficial and I like to use it. My expectation is that it will work. When my expectations are not met, I am annoyed.
Expectations are what set the stage for my response to my environment. If I have no expectations, no preconceived ideas about how things will go, it is impossible to be disappointed. Disappointment only comes when something about the experience didn’t live up to what you thought it would be.
The Subtly of Expectation
While it seems straightforward to analyze your own expectations, it can be difficult or not impossible to be aware of what yours are. For something that is so important to our overall healthy walk of life, how can it be so subtle? Should we somehow be automatically connected with this things that is so deeply a part of us? No, and the key to why not is that “it is so deeply a part of us.”
When we go through life, there are habits and thought processes that are so ingrained in us, be it from nature or nurture, that we can’t separate them from who we are. They are the fluidity that we walk through our day in. This is important in many ways because it gives us context in new situations where we otherwise wouldn’t have any clue how to operate in. A perhaps slightly oversimplified example would be going to the grocery store. If you are going to the one that you grew up going to, you know where all the products are that you need to buy. If you are going to a brand new grocery store that you have never been to before, do you have to stop and ask the first employee that you see for a detailed map of the aisles? No, because you have an expectation of what a grocery store is and how it’s set up enough to be able to navigate and find what you need to, even if you have to look in two or three places first. Your expectations have allowed you to navigate an unknown situation and still achieve the goal that you needed; in this case, you bought food.
The Crash of Expectation
Expectations can cause us difficulty when we start applying them to areas of our life where they don’t apply, but we want them to anyway. We begin to expect certain things of people that they are not in a place to provide. In the disappointment that follows from our expectations not being met, we often react in selfish ways. Because our expectations are so deeply engrained in us, we feel that it’s our right, our destiny, or some other similar expression of desire that we have our expectations met.
In relationships this can cause true wedges and damage between friends or especially spouses. Because the other person doesn’t share this expectation, they feel attacked or pushed into something that may not make much sense to them. Enough times of this level of misunderstanding and the relationship begins to grow sour.
With God, the same thing can happen. We can set up these expectations of who God is and, more importantly, what He’s going to do for us. These expectation come from a variety of sources: from church, from culture, from charismatic teachers or preachers, from ourselves, and from the Scriptures. Not all expectations are wrong; any that are based on the Word of God are true. Unfortunately, many of expectations come from other influencers and lead us to have disappointing experiences of God.
While having our expectations let down is one accurate way to open our eyes to our expectations, there is another way to find them out, one that could lead to less pain in the process. This way is a conscious exploration of how we are approaching our choices. As we move through our day, we can pray that the Holy Spirit will open our mind and enlighten us to understand what is motivation what we’re doing.
One obvious place to start is when we ask the Lord for things. Take a moment to stop and be aware of what you expect as a result of your prayer. What do you think God will do? How do you think God will answer your prayer? What do anticipate with have changed after God is done?
There are no wrong answers to these questions; they are meant to be observations of what’s going on in your heart and mind right now. As you become more aware of what you expect, it becomes easier (and possible!) to begin to look at whether those expectations are based on God’s truth or on your ideas of what He should do.
Another red-flag that indicates expectations is the word should, especially in the context of what God or others are doing. When you feel that another person should have done or not done something, it can be an indicator that you have preconceived ideas about the circumstances. This can be a good time to stop and explore the expectation to discover more about why you’re thinking what you’re thinking.
The first step in understanding these expectations is to be able to become aware of them. Doing these awareness exercises isn’t always to highlight incorrect ones, but to become aware of them. Once you’re aware, the next step is to begin understanding which ones are based on God’s truth and which ones are incorrectly based on culture, past experience, or self-defense response.
For example, if you are asking him to remove circumstances in your life that case you stress, ask yourself what will have changed when those circumstances are removed? Will you have moved closer to the Lord by them being removed, or will your life just have become more convenient?
God wants to bless you more than you can imagine, but God is not here solely to bring you the comfy, cozy life. He’s come to conform you into His image for His glory, which is the greatest glory there is. If your expected answer doesn’t change you and humble you and make you more pliable in His hands, your expectations might be based more on an earthly expectation than an eternal one.
And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. – John 17:3 (NRSV)
When we talk with the Lord and as we walk with Him closer and deeper every day, are you expecting to get know Him? Are you expecting that at the end of every day and at the end of all your days, that you know Him not only has a Savior and Redeemer, but as a friend?
The hope of the righteous ends in gladness, but the expectation of the wicked comes to nothing. – Proverbs 10:28 (NRSV)