When Expectations Trip Us Up

It’s a no-brainer to say that when we expect things, we hope for and anticipate something. Without boasting even a bit, I think I can safely be dubbed the “Queen of Expectations.” The expectation gremlins popped up early in my life. I remember having glorious ideas for my birthday party or a holiday, only to grow despondent when the day didn’t match up to the rosy-hued picture I had developed in my mind.

Don’t you think it’s sad that you can’t spontaneously break out into song, dance in the middle of the street, and have everyone else join you as if it were the most normal thing in the world? The flash-mob phenomenon certainly satisfies this desire, though no one’s asked me to join in one. I have had some moments that were close, like caroling to the employees at Starbucks when our daughter worked on Christmas day, joining in with a worker at Costco who couldn’t quit singing “What a Wonderful World,” and waltzing along the Boise River Greenbelt while belting out songs from “The Sound of Music.” These memories make me tingle all over, just thinking of them! Times like that peg out my expectation meter at Expectation #354, “This is How Life Should Be.” Generally, our boys prefer not to be in the vicinity when Expectation #354 gets fulfilled, though my husband is always game.

More from the Queen of Expectations

While my husband, Jack, willingly does goofy stuff with me in public, there are times when meeting my expectations aren’t as fun for him. When we’re out running errands together is one such time: “Oh, you’re going this way? But I thought you would go the other way. Don’t you think it would be faster to take the other way that goes past the grocery store?” Now the problem isn’t with my expectations or even with my husband choosing a different route, it’s my response to it that’s the problem—but more on that later.

Anytime I have our family gathered together, I battle the crowd of my expectations. Norman Rockwell couldn’t paint a homier scene; Louisa May Alcott couldn’t write a more tender tale; Frank Sinatra couldn’t evoke a more heartwarming tune. Their skills all pale in comparison with the ideas I have for our family gatherings. Like heaven, but we’re here on earth. Sigh.

When our kids were teenagers, I discovered I had expectations about their convictions, goals, even their likes and dislikes. After all those years of teaching them to do things the “right” way (you know, my way), it was a bit disconcerting to discover they had their own ideas about music or what to do with free time or even the kinds of clothes they liked. Amazing!

I often expect my poor husband to be perfect— after all, he is a pastor! Isn’t he supposed to have an impeccable response, right away, every time? In my heart, I don’t give him room to wrestle through issues. Of course, I would expect him to give me plenty of latitude to work through my issues. Ahem.

Oh, and I have expectations about my walk with the Lord. I expect to be way more godly, bold, and zealous for the Lord than I am. And then, when I come face to face with my weaknesses, I may get discouraged. Wait, may get? I do get discouraged.

When Expectations Trip Us Up

I confess these things for a couple of reasons. First, I want you to know that I haven’t arrived when it comes to this whole “unmet expectations” thing. I’ve had a lot of practice working on it, though! And second, I’ve shared some of the lighter expectation scenarios to show you that even little things can trip us up at times. Is it any wonder we struggle when we come face to face with a major this-isn’t-what-I-signed-up-for expectation?

Having expectations about things isn’t all bad, though we might be tempted to think so. There’s nothing more rewarding than anticipating something and then finding it’s better than we even dreamed. When that happens, we respond with thanks and joy to the Lord. God’s kindness humbles us; we delight in His wisdom. There’s no problem with expectations then. When they are met, we truly rejoice and enjoy what the Lord has given.

No, we run into trouble with our expectations when God’s plan for our lives unfolds differently than we thought it would. When that happens, it can be difficult to submit to and trust what the Lord has planned for us. It may be the car breaking down on a day set aside for running errands, the kids getting sick the first day of vacation, or discovering that we’ll soon miscarry our baby. When the unexpected disrupts what we thought would happen, we may find ourselves anxious, fretful, discouraged, fearful, bitter, or angry. We may wonder:

  • Why is it so difficult to get on board with God’s plan, even if things aren’t proceeding the way I thought they would?
  • What is it that hinders me from experiencing joy and peace when circumstances are different than I thought they’d be?
  • How can I give God glory when life turns out differently than I thought it would?
  • How can I respond with joy and trust, even if my longings are never realized?
  • Can I truly have peace and trust when my hopes for something different grow dim?

First, let me encourage you, it is possible to respond well no matter what our circumstances. And this is coming from no one other than the “Queen of Expectations”! Our God is the One who makes possible that which is impossible. There is hope! The Scriptures give us all we need to respond in a God-honoring way to the unmet expectations in our lives. Step one to giving God glory, no matter what happens, begins with understanding where the problem lies. Once we figure that out, we can apply the proper remedies for fixing it from God’s Word. Without step one, we can end up exerting a lot of energy without seeing any lasting, life-changing growth.

Excerpted from Unmet Expectations: Reshaping Our Thinking in Disappointments, Trials, and Delays by Lisa Hughes, now available to order from Shepherd Press.

Shepherd Press