This post was born from a realization that I recently had about an unhealthy expectation. I’ve had this particular expectation about life since I was a teen. I never really thought about the validity of it. However, what I do know is that each time the expectation creeped up on me, I ended up feeling bad. Sort of loser-ish. This realization has lead me to decide it’s time to test my expectations and begin rewriting them!
What are expectations?
Expectations are our beliefs about what is likely to happen in the future. Anticipated outcome. Initially, we understand life through what is expected of us. Later we form expectations of others and of the world around us. Neuroscience tells us that we are happiest when our expectations are accurate. The opposite is also true.
Expectations live in the small things like our daily tasks and schedules. For example, you expect to take thirty-five minutes to get ready before you leave the house for the day. You expect that Sunday will be more restful than Tuesday. You expect appointments to happen at or around their scheduled times. Even these “small” expectations are deeply rooted in us. When our expectations are met, we see our day as good or smooth. When they are not, we may see our day as bad or bumpy.
Expectations also speak into bigger, meaningful parts of our lives like relationships, family and vocation. Think about where you thought you would be at this point in your life. Career. Marriage. Kids. Education. Friendships. Did you expect some things to change that didn’t? Did you expect some things to remain the same that changed? These “bigger” expectations are also deeply rooted in us. They vastly inform how we see, not just our day, but our life as working or not working, failing or succeeding.
The Power of Expectations, Healthy & Unhealthy
Expectations have power over our perception of our lives in big and small things. For this reason, it makes good sense to consider our expectations and put them to the test. A handful of years ago, I had my own season of testing my expectations. I learned that –
Healthy expectations are realistic, based on past experience and rooted in reliable truths.
It’s easy to let our expectations run wild in opposite directions. We can unrealistically believe for the best outcome. We can unrealistically expect the worst outcome. The first extreme sets us up for unnecessary disappointment and the second drums up anxiety and stress as we wait for the worst.
As I mentioned, this post was born from a realization that I recently had about an expectation I have had about life since I was a teen. I have had the expectation that, as I grew older in age, life would become more and more secure. So, as an adult, when recurring hardships would arise, I would sometimes come to these two unhealthy conclusions such as –
Financial hardship should be of the past. Shouldn’t I have been smart enough or worked hard enough to rise above or be prepared for seasons of less? I should be financially secure by now.
Insecurity should be of the past. Why do I feel insecure or vulnerable even when I am genuinely loved? I should be secure within myself by now.
Put Your Expectations to the Test
As I considered the three-pronged expectation test, I asked myself the following:
- Is my expectation that life increases in security over time realistic?
- Is my expectation reflective of my past experiences or of persons that I know?
- Is my expectation based on reliable truth?
Frankly, we don’t have control of the variables impacting our lives. For that reason, we can’t trust that security increases with age. Life is more like a roller coaster. We can decide how loud we’ll scream or if we will sit in the first row. But we don’t design the coaster (for the most part).
On the coaster, we can acknowledge our fears and grab the one who promises to be with us, especially when we are upside down or speeding down fast. Believing that the coaster is not supposed to be filled with “sharp curves, steep slopes and other elements designed to produce a thrilling experience” is shifting sand. No, it’s not realistic to expect life to become more secure with age. Perhaps it makes more sense to believe that our relationship with God grows more secure with age (if we let it).
My expectation that security increases with age hasn’t served me well before. For that reason, it will probably not serve me well now. When I measure my circumstances with this expectation, it usually contributes to sadness and less hope as I consider the hardship at hand. On the other hand, my actual life experience tells me that whenever I lose my bearings, God brings me close. In awfully hard times, he shows me new ways to trust him. He teaches me fresh ways to understand and believe his word. He shows me what I am capable of. God answers prayers.
Is there a reliable truth that makes my expectation credible? Over the years, I’ve grown in wisdom and grit. I’ve learned that kindness, consistency and hope go a long way when life is hard. Yes, life experience over time grows character. But character is character, not security. In addition, my expectations tend to call down judgment upon myself over circumstances that I don’t have control over. My expectation leads me to overlook what God is up to in my life when things are difficult.
Let’s conclude that my expectation is not the healthy kind. That means it is time to rewrite my expectation. But first . . .
Why are we obsessed with expectations?
How did we get so attached to if/then thinking? Why do we like the future telling crystal ball so much? What is so attractive about anticipated outcomes?
I heard a great answer recently from biblical scholar N.T. Wright. He said we are obsessed with controlling and understanding outcome because – –
We are children of the 19th century.Professor and Biblical Scholar, N.T. Wright
I know, what kind of a great answer is that? Let me give you the context.
The 19th century is known for the rise of rationalism, utilitarianism and science. We (you and me) are the children of thinkers who shifted away from experience and intuition. We crave answers and we believe we can get them through empirical evidence and the scientific method. So, I am telling you that, not just as a generation, but as a millennium, rationalism is a broad-brush stroke that describes how we think.
Can you relate to over rationalized thinking?
For example, we seek control by way of rational thinking like “if and then” statements or conclusions. We create expectations through calculations. If we are not careful, we can use intellect to pull God into our desire to calculate and control. We can insert our expectations of life and how we want to get from A to B right into God’s will for our lives.
At that point, we are stepping into the designer’s shoes. Because we are human and we want answers, we often try to wear shoes that explain, make sense or anticipate the sharp curves and steep slopes of our lives. We apply calculations to subject matter that requires far more complex thinking. Will you stop here with me for a moment and read that again? We apply calculations to subject matter that requires far more complex thinking. This is not a dig at your intelligence or mine. There is a far greater force at work that is unarguably beyond our comprehension.
What do you we do with unanswerable questions?
How does a man named Randy in hospice wake up after an induced coma and brain bleed and start intelligently engaging with his wife and kids?
Why does death look more like healing for my Aunt Randi who has been addicted to drugs her entire adult life?
How did I keep going long enough for the knife in my chest to heal after my oldest left for college?
How does God bring a friendship back after so much scar tissue?
How does a marriage find new ways to love over and over again through a lifetime lows and highs?
How can we believe that there is a whole eternal life ahead of us when the one we are currently living feels so linear?
Girls, I am on a roll. I can think of ten more unanswerable questions like this. So can you because you are also living in a time and space of limited knowledge and control, and also a space of unlimited love and grace.
Expectations have power over our perception of small and big things in our lives. Put your expectations to the test. Weed out the unhealthy expectations within you. Give yourself grace in the sense that it is normal to desire control and to rely on rational, scientific if/then thinking. At the same time, acknowledge that there is a far greater force at work that is beyond our comprehension.
REWRITE UNHEALTHY EXPECTATIONS
Rewrite your if/then statements with open ended faith. Burn down your versions of crystal balls and tarot cards. Practice desiring freedom over control. Believe a story that is not masked with anticipated outcomes but embraces the designer’s adventure for us. You were not made to suffer under unhealthy expectations.
We are the children of the age of rationalism. But we are first children of God. We can crave answers and also decide to be filled with mystery. We can utilize intellect and also defer to a complex designer who is redeeming beyond our human comprehension.
Dear sisters, this is how I rewrite my unhealthy expectation that security increases with age. Rather, I believe –
Over time and every time, God promises to be with me, especially when I am upside down or speeding down fast. God brings me close when I lose my bearings. In awfully hard times, God shows me fresh ways to trust and believe him. He places me among safe sisters who weather storms with me and stay in the room with me when my vulnerability is at its height. In difficult times, He shows me what I am capable of and that he answers my prayers. He helps me sit tight in unanswered questions and brings me to quiet waters. He teaches me that no matter what this moment is made of, His goodness and mercy follow me all the days of my life.
Thoughtful Questions on Rewriting your Unhealthy Expectations:
Can you think of any expectations that are not working for you? If you can’t think of any, consider your childhood dreams, family background, your version of success or any big letdowns you have experienced.
Once you have one or two of your expectations pinned, try the three-pronged test. Healthy expectations are 1) realistic, 2) based on past experience and 3) rooted in reliable truths. Can you rewrite your expectation to a healthy version?
What do you think about N. T. Wright’s statement that “we are children of the 19th century.” Do you find yourself analyzing primarily through rationalism and science? Can you intentionally incorporate intuition and experience into your thinking?
Do you remember any times in your life when the hand of God was beyond your comprehension? That’s the kind of thinking you can use to rewrite your expectations. Try it!
Hey girls, this post has me thinking a lot about character. I wrote a devotion called The Character Study: 14 Days of Growing Wisdom into Your Everyday. The backbone of this devotion is wisdom of the proverbs. You are invited to Download Day 1! Click Here.