How Your Expectations May Be Subverting Your Relationship With God & Others

Keith KettenringChristian Living, The Uncommon Journey

#16 UMBC 74 – #1 Virginia 54. The first ever #16 seed to defeat a #1 seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship Tournament happened last week. No one saw that coming. Many sports experts picked Virginia to win it all. UVA was ranked the #1 team in the nation; UMBC ranked #112. Virginia was favored to win this game by 20 1/2 points. They lost by 20. Virginia’s record coming in was 31-2, UMBC: 25-11. Number one seeds in the tournament were 135-0. UMBC scored 74 points, the most allowed by Virginia who played powerhouses like Duke and North Carolina. Honestly, how could a retriever take down a cavalier, anyway. Surprise!

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Virginia fans were expecting an easy victory. They were deeply disappointed by a resounding defeat. 

UMBC fans were probably expecting a defeat. They were greatly elated by a resounding victory. 

Lesson: Expectations are not reality. 

Yet, expectations can fool us into thinking they are reality. 

Peter Bregman, leadership “guru,” writes: 

 [It is easy] to mistake our expectations for reality, the past for the present, and our desires for fact….There’s a psychological term for this: confirmation bias. We look for data, behaviors, and evidence that show us that things are the way we believe they should be. In other words, we look to confirm that we’re right. 

How are we fooled by our expectations? Often, it’s due to our expectations coming true, being right. That makes us feel good, safe, and certain. We conclude that our expectations can be trusted. 

But when expectations are wrong, we don’t like to admit it. We’re often blinded by them. We only want our ideas to be confirmed. We struggle with releasing expectations that are not real. We’ll hold to them tenaciously even when it means broken relationships or huge frustrations. 

A couple weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend who was leaving a group I started and that he’d been a part of from its beginning. His expectations had not been met. His idea of what this group was about went unconfirmed. In disappointment, he was leaving. The group hadn’t measured up. I had not measured up. 

I’m a master at disappointing people. But, it’s not always my fault. Their expectations don’t match reality. And, they can’t see it. 

I’m told that Alcoholics Anonymous says of expectations: “expectations are the seeds of resentment” or “expectations are just future resentments waiting to happen.” Seems there’s a lot of good insight there.

Apply that to relationships with people and to God and you can see how important it is to deal with our expectations. If bitterness, cynicism, anger, or malice take hold because our expectations are not met, we’ve stymied ourselves in a web of sin. 

Expectations and God

The Jews were expecting a different kind of Messiah than Jesus presented to them. Goliath was expecting an easy victory over a lowly shepherd boy. The Egyptians expected to destroy the Israelites until God, through Moses, split open the waters of the Red Sea. Paul expected to fulfill his mission of persecuting the Christian sect until God intervened. 

God can do the unexpected very well. We like that kind of God when it works in our favor. But what about when He doesn’t perform as we expect? In those times He’s probably trying to break out of the little box of expectations we have Him in.  

It’s also possible to expect too much of God. We fabricate scenarios of how He should act, call it faith, then expect Him to do what we want. Like the genie out fo the bottle, we expect Him to make our wishes come true. 

The Apostle Peter is on the housetop praying. With his stomach growling, he has a vision of a sheet containing all kinds of “unclean” animals. A heavenly voice tells him to rise, kill them and eat them. He refuses since he’s never done that before and doesn’t believe it should be done that way. This command did not meet his expectations so he refuses to go along. This happens three times. 

Thankfully, Peter did receive the message and became open to sharing the gospel with Gentiles as well as Jews. If he had not been trapped by his expectations, perhaps he’d have received the message sooner. 

Dealing with Expectations 

How can we avoid the trap of being fooled by expectations? 

1. Do the opposite of what got you trapped. 

  • Expect things to be different rather than the same. 
  • Seek evidence that shakes up your perspectives.
  • Expect to be wrong instead of wanting to be right. 

This is not easy to do. We’d rather be right than wrong. Ironically, the more you look to be wrong, the more likely you’ll end up right. (These thoughts adopted from Bregman)

When you look at your spouse, ask yourself what’s changed? Instead of focusing on what he/she is doing wrong, find something he/she does right you never noticed before. Do this with your boss, children, neighbor and co-workers. See what a difference it makes to your expectations. 

  • When others disagree with you, listen instead of arguing. 
  • Ask, what do I not want to hear?

2. Move towards having fewer or no expectations of others including God.

Is it possible to have no expectations? If it is, that’s how I want to live. Simply accept what’s in front of me as reality and live into it as deeply as possible.

Expectations mimic control. And when we seek to control others and God, we get ourselves in trouble. 

Besides, my expectations are not reality, not truth, so better to give them up.

A life of no expectations is not a life without hopes or goals. It’s a life of striving towards these goals while acknowledging there is more we don’t know than we know. Restraining our ego, recognizing our limited viewpoint, admitting our ignorance,  trusting God more fully, not judging others, and keeping silence will go far in helping us reach our goals. 

There is One Truth, however. He is Reality. If most of life is lived in our own ideas, thoughts, imaginations, and feelings, most of which are not reality, then we need Him to consume us and rid us of our own expectations. 

Could this be what Jesus was getting at when He taught: “Do not be anxious for your life…?” God provides. Period. If He can take care of the birds, he can take care of humans. Do birds have expectations? I doubt it.They just live in the present moment in reliance on God. 

Do your expectations include awakening in the morning, living until you’re 90, having godly children and a happy marriage, succeeding in business, or overeating and not gaining weight? Do you expect God to heal you physically, always protect you from harm, give you what you want, or repeat Pentecost for you? If so, you’re setting yourself up for a world of hurt. He probably has other plans for you than meeting your expectations. 

3. Focus on developing humility and thankfulness. 

The antidotes for any kind of expectation are humility and thankfulness.Think back on the last time you got frustrated because your expectations were not met. Were you thankful for what was happening? Was your ego being confronted and you didn’t like it? 

Humility gives you the freedom to be wrong, release control, and esteem others rather than looking for your own desires to be met and trying to control outcomes.

Thankfulness allows you to accept everything with joy and a gentle spirit knowing everything is for your good, even that which might look bad. 

4. Stay in constant communion with the Trinity.  

When the heart is in sync with God’s heart, there is peace, joy, satisfaction, and goodness. I doubt God gets frustrated over unmet expectations. I wonder if He even has expectations. Certainly they wouldn’t be like our human ones.

I know from personal experience, when my expectations go unfulfilled I’m not at peace, feeling joyful, satisfied, or particularly good. Other negative emotions are usually in control. My heart is far from God. 

Bible Support

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore, humble yourselves…casting all your care on Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5.5-7). Live in God in such a way that humility results.  

“whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think on these things” (Philippians 4.8). These are not the things we think about when expectations are unmet. 

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4.6-7).  These verses say it all yet they are almost impossible to practice. Only living deeply in Jesus Christ makes this doable. 

I hope this post gets you thinking about your expectations and where God fits into them. 

Share your thoughts about your own struggles with expectations and what has helped you. 

Dr. K