“Unmet expectations can be the source of the great disappointments in life.”
We are all managing unmet expectations. How you deal with that fact can make us or break us. It’s true that disappointment and discouragement are near the top of the list among the things that many struggle with when it comes to unmet expectations. And the Enemy loves to use both of those to distract and derail us.
Most people intuitively know that our expectations profoundly affect our life experiences. Yet even as believers, we simultaneously expect too much and too little. They have a profound impact on how we perceive life.
Expectations can be defined as “beliefs about the ways things will be or should be.”
Recently a potential ministry opportunity presented that I perceived involved me taking a leadership role in a new ministry that I was passionate about. As we worked through the weeks of the programme I became a little frustrated because my expectation of my role and that of the leader was quite different. They were wanting me to be part of a team that supported the programme.
Since then I’ve continued reflecting on what is expectation and what is reality. Again and again I’ve seen how often my disappointments have their roots in unmet expectations. This wavering deeply troubles me. I have tasted God’s goodness, enjoyed close fellowship with him, rested in his tender care. I have known both his power and his love. Yet in the midst of profound struggle, I have no answers. Just questions.
I this blog I want to share how unmet expectations (regardless of the source) lead to frustrations. Then I want to share promises I have learnt to manage my expectations.
- At times I am unaware of my expectations.
We all have expectations, but often we are not aware of them. We just assume this is the way things are always done, and if the other person doesn’t do them our way, it is either wrong or even sinful! Because we are often unaware of our expectations, we assume there is only one normal way to do something: our way. But is it not even more tragic when we, God’s servants, go about serving our Lord and others weighed down by a heavy spirit of disappointment – unable to run well, to serve others with exuberance, to say nothing of being living examples of the Good News of joy and gladness? At times I have been in this space.
- Sometimes my expectations are unreasonable.
We might be fully aware of our expectations, but for me many times my expectations have tended to be unreasonable and unrealistic. I don’t know about you but probably my biggest disappointment is with myself. So then, what expectations do I have of myself that I do not live up to? And are they right and realistic expectations? Or even biblical expectations? Or could many of my expectations be rooted in my sinfulness?
- Much of the time my expectations are unspoken
We may be aware of them and they may be reasonable, but we do not verbalize our expectations to those people who are important in our lives because we assume they think and believe the same things we do. Why verbalize something that should be obvious to the other person? We are not mind readers and to assume others can read our minds is often misleading and arrogant. I need to take the time to communicate my expectations with others.
I concluded from this discovery that none of my expectations in the above circumstances coincided with reality. And my unmet expectations can cause doubt. Unmet expectations often elicit that response in me. Especially when I’ve been faithful.
So what are possible solutions that I have discovered:
A better way for me to manage expectations is to:
- Become aware of what I expect. Personally I’ve found it very helpful when knocked about by some disappointment to ask myself the question: What unmet expectation lies behind this particular disappointment?
- Be reasonable in my expectations (through God’s word and community). If your ministry experience is anything like mine, wrestling with disappointment is unavoidable. However, dwelling in the quagmire of disappointment is unnecessary. By making Jesus the centre of my expectations I can always expect good and great things from Him.
- Practice speaking/communicating my expectations to those who are important to me. I must take time to know what others expect and verbalize my expectations.
For now, I’m learning to accept God’s plans for my life. Plans that are different than what I envisioned. I have to dwell on what I knows to be true rather than fixate on my circumstances. When I face unmet expectations and God takes me away from my dreams, I must trust in God’s infinite wisdom. When my cup of suffering seems too much to bear, I need to rest in his unfailing love. When my life spins out of control, I need to remember God’s absolute sovereignty.
I may not understand what is happening. But I cannot stop talking to him. Or turn away in fear. I must simply go to Jesus and tell him my doubts. Ask him to help me see. And when I doubt, God calls me to trust what I know to be true. To trust the foundational principles that I know from Scripture and from experience. That God is completely sovereign. And loving. And wise. Not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from his will.
In this life, I may never see how God is using my unmet expectations. But one day I will be grateful for them. All I can do now is trust that he who made the lame walk and the blind see, who died on a cross so I could spend eternity with him, is going to do the very best thing for me.
I’m reminded at this time of a song I learnt many years ago
I bring to Thee my heart to fill;
I feel how weak I am, but still
To Thee for help I call.
In joy or grief, to live or die,
For earth or Heaven, this is my cry,
Be Thou my all in all.
Christ is all, yes, all in all. My Christ is all in all.
No tempest can my courage shake,
My love from Thee no pain can take,
No fear my heart appal;
And where I cannot see I’ll trust,
For then I know Thou surely must
Be still my all in all.
Words and Music by: Herbert Booth / Williams A. Williams and Eric Himes
May God richly bless you