Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Expectations are a double-edged sword

I know you can do it!!      I expected better of you.
We're counting on you.    Was it too much to expect for you to call?
I know it's late, but I don't have anyone else to turn to.      How could you forget?!

Each of the phrases above reveals an expectation. We can expect the best of people, we can have expectations about their behavior, and sometimes we expect the worst in a situation. How do we handle our expectations of ourselves and others?

It doesn't help that the word expect has two main meanings: i) to look forward to as something reasonable, likely or certain; ii) to consider obligatory, to require. We can expect it to rain when a low-pressure system comes, but nature doesn't owe us anything. A school can expect its students to arrive on time and properly dressed. Yet we get in trouble when we confuse the two meanings. It's fine to expect (have reasonable hope for) good things and proper behavior from people, but when in our mind we expect (require) that which is unreasonable or which simply can't happen all the time, it leads to resentment -- from both parties.

I blew it this morning, having some expectations from two people in my house I love which I thought were reasonable. Actually, they are reasonable in terms of "hope", what I or they would like to see happen with increasing consistency, but they're things I have no justification for angrily requiring. Using words or tone that conveys they failed something they I thought they should have been able to do is just plain wrong on my part. The words themselves cause them to resent me, while the underlying attitude I have leads me to resent them. Neither is good, neither reflects the love we have for each other.

Having high hopes and seeing great possibilities is a wonderful thing. Michael Jordan said "You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them." Being realistic is also good. "Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Capitalize on what comes." - Zig Ziglar. Mark Twain also reflects the difference between the two: "Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get."

We can hurt ourselves with improper expectations as well. It's one thing to hold yourself to a high standard, to believe you can achieve great things, to think you can do better -- but when we beat ourselves up for falling short it serves no good. This can even hurt our relationship with God. God has many hopes for us, many commands, and expects (hopes/desires) much of us, but too often His expectations of us are less harsh than our own. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (I Cor 13:7) That's positive "expectation". Yet love is not easily angered, and keeps no record of wrongs (v.6). Love avoids harsh expectations, and does not lead to resentment, but to stronger relationship. What does God require of me? I think it's less than the laundry list of do's and don'ts that many church folk expect of us -- but to act justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 16:8)

Let's keep high standards, study and obey His commands, but maybe take down our expectations on ourselves and others just a notch or two?

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