Living Above Your Expectations

Regardless of the feeling you have about the last two weeks of holiday celebrations, it is inevitable that somewhere along the way, some year on the calendar, and in some context of celebration you have felt deep disappointment.  For all of its dazzling lights, mouthwatering feasts, festive gatherings, and traditional commemorations – there is always some element of letdown at Christmas.

That is because the people we expect to be around, or at least to be nice, don’t show up at all – or show up below our acceptable standard of behavior.  Letdowns occur when the experiences we had hoped to enjoy just aren’t quite like they were last year, or last decade.  Disappointment springs from the great anticipation about the “things” we are going to get from others, only to realize that the reality of opening the presents did not satisfy.  The warm feeling from the yesteryears of Christmas felt more like heartburn and headaches this holiday season.

I am not trying to be a Scrooge here (in fact, I personally had a pretty rewarding Christmas vacation THIS YEAR).  However, we have to admit, we often set ourselves up for dissatisfaction at this time of year because our expectations are focused above the reality and in the wrong things.

Wave Two

Accepting that realization, here we are just a few days into another new year.  Hang on.  Another wave of disappointment might be approaching at full speed.  There is something about the turn of the calendar that compels us to start again – on that diet, that reading plan, that spiritual quest, that attempt to restore a relationship, that organizational plan at home or the office, and that new beginning that we need in a myriad of areas of our life.

Psychologists tell us that January is the most depressing month of the year.  One expert has specifically postulated that January 18th is the most depressing day of the year.  What happened to our fresh start and all the excitement of new resolve? Disenchantment somehow spoils the soup and we are back in the same old doldrums of a frustrated life.

Great Expectations

Having painted a bit of reality, I must say quickly and enthusiastically that I believe we all need anticipation and hope.  Inventor and businessman Charles F. Kettering said, “High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation.” “High expectations are the key to everything,” said Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart.  I believe the Lord has made us to dream, hope, plan, and expect. 

However, high expectations carry the risk of strong disappointment.  Frustration comes from unmet expectations.  And we especially need to guard ourselves from cultivating false expectations.  People, possessions, and pleasures never ultimately meet our deepest needs and prove to be fickle and fleeting.  Everything we can see with our eyes and handle with our hands in this life can ultimately let us down.  Dennis Wholey notes, “When nobody around you seems to measure up, it’s time to check your yardstick.” Another writer says, “Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is a little like expecting a bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.” 

Lessons For Our Letdowns

At one of the great low points of his life, David found himself exiled in the desert after the betrayal of his son Absalom.  Forsaken by his loyal followers, exiled from all of his possessions, stripped of his regal position, and estranged from his family and friends, David faced down overwhelming disappointments.  In this moment of soul recalibration he wrote, “My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him.  He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved.  In God is my salvation and my glory; the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God.  Trust in Him at all times, you people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us” (Psalm 62:5-8).

After struggling with superficial measurements and surface comparisons, the Psalmist learned that the ultimate good in life is placing our desires and hopes in the power and pleasure of the nearness of God (Psalm 73:18).  He prayed, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.  My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (vv. 25-26). 

The lesson seems to be that we should hold our expectations loosely, but place our faith and hope firmly in the reliable faithfulness and goodness of God.  Sometimes our celebrations and resolutions are invigorating and satisfying.  Sometimes they fail to deliver.  In it all, we must  trust Christ, not circumstances, to meet our needs.  One advisor said it this way: “Keep high aspirations, moderate expectations, and small needs.”

Copyright © 2011 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.