Updated: Jan 9, 2021
I have a friend named Margie. She's a gem. I mean, how can you have a name as cute as Margie and not be a complete doll?
She's beautiful. She's honest. She's kind. She's strong. She's down-to-earth. She's faithful. And, she's just a lot of fun to be with.
Sometimes we'll play tennis.
I use the term "play" very loosely. We stand on a green, cement slab with a net between us. We each hold a racket in a hand and we try to make the other person as tired as humanly possible while chasing after a bright green ...chew toy?
Wait, no, I mean tennis ball. Although - true story - first time we played, a tennis ball-shaped dog toy might have been mistakenly mixed in with the others. And, I don't even have a dog!
Needless to say, there was an unexpected "squeeaak" followed by rolls of laughter.
So yes, we "play" tennis.
Lately, we haven't been able to play though because others have beat us to the court. And, they are actually playing tennis, so we don't even bother. Instead, we opt for a long walk through a neighborhood well beyond our humble price range. We enjoy admiring the beautiful and diverse styles of homes. And without fail, our chit-chat about our day turns into heart-felt, honest conversation.
Yeah, Margie's a good one.
Walk It Out, Talk It Out, Just Get It Out
We often talk about the good, the bad and the in-between happenings of our days. This time our conversation centered on expectations as we began to connect our current disappointments to unmet expectations.
It was the inspiration for Charles Dicken's thirteenth novel, but I dare say the first two sentences of his novel, A Tale of Two Cities, seems to be the perfect summation of expectations.
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. - Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Worst of Times
Let's start there.
Okay, so do me a favor. Think back to a time when you became stressed or frustrated. What happened? I bet it could be summarized into 3 parts.
[So-and-so] - [did or didn't do] - [blank].
Even if that "so-and-so" was you!
Since stressed is desserts spelled backwards, let's think of this as an ice cream sundae. (I think it makes all this talk about the "worst of times" a little more enjoyable.)
Your stress, well it's the main part, so it's the ice cream.
And we all know how stress can stack up. Yep, you choose the flavor and go ahead and add a few extra scoops. I'll go with strawberry.
So now, what's allowing all of this stress to be held in your hand?
That's right, the waffle cone. A waffle cone built of expectations. We're holding this cone, expecting it to keep our hands clean. Expecting that we'll finish the ice cream first, then the cone. Expecting the crunch of the cone to provide the perfect compliment to the soft, smooth ice cream.
And a sundae would be no sundae at all without some sugary, sweet syrup drizzled on top! Yep, we're goin' for it today.
Chocolate, caramel, strawberry? Maybe all three!
But that syrup, for us, well it's the sticky, oozy, deceiving thoughts of self-pity.
Let me tell ya why.
The syrup, kind of like self-pity, seemed like a good idea at first. Seemed justified, even. I mean what's a sundae without syrup? But now it's dripping down the sides, and my hands, my pants, my friend's hands, the car door, - literally anything I touch or come near - is stained with the sticky mess of self-pity.
Let's make this tangible.
Maybe you ordered a steak and it came out over or under cooked. You paid good, hard-earned money for this meal, and it's not what you wanted. It's not what you expected.
Maybe your roommate left dirty dishes in the sink or your spouse cleaned his golf clubs with your brand new tea towels. (I've seen that last one played out a few times.)
Maybe there's construction going on and your drive took you twice as long, and now you're late. Not fashionably late. Late late.
Maybe you were looking forward to a birthday celebration, being treated to a nice meal, and because of COVID and your growing family of young nieces and nephews, you get an at-home pizza party.
Oh, just me on that last one?
Mmk. Well then, let me tell ya about it.
I was being a brat.
Hate to admit it, but I was. I didn't have any specific plans for my birthday weekend, but I knew I'd for sure get a nice meal. That's how my family celebrates - your birthday, your pick! I wouldn't choose anything super fancy, but I wasn't going for a place with a family-friendly kid zone either.
With my family growing more and more by the year, we had three (now four) at four years and under. It's a fun age but not the most conducive to restaurants.
Put one down and she's tempted to see the walkways between tables as her own personal running track. If another happens to skip her nap, we may all get to enjoy a fun, dramatic melt-down.
Then, the baby of the bunch is trying his hardest to spread his wings and fly by feeding himself, but his somewhat clumsy grasp on the spoon has the macaroni falling into your lap. Lucky you, you sat next to the baby.
So yeah, restaurants. Not happening this weekend for all of us.
My Not-So-Desirable Stressed Sundae
My waffle cone of expectation - a nice, birthday dinner out.
My ice cream scoops of stress and frustration - an unexpected and undesired, casual pizza party at the house.
My syrup of self-pity - a hefty, poured on thick, serving of the difference between what I thought I deserved and what I got; spiraling out of control into feelings of not being thought of, spiraling into not being worthy of inconvenience, spiraling into not feeling loved; and worst part - affecting me and everyone around me.
Yep, they all got to share in the icky sticky-ness of my pity party.
Never thought an ice cream sundae could be so ugly, but here we are.
Thankfully not too much later, I began to realize my resentment was based on unmet expectations. My self-pity was rooted in judgement.
I had judged those closest to me as not loving me enough and not willing to be inconvenienced.
Yeah, such an ugly, uninvited lie.
The problem, well one of the many problems, with self-pity is that is blurs our vision. We can't see clearly when we're looking through the lens of self-pity and judgement.
As soon as I unconsciously judged another of not being willing to be inconvenienced and not loving me enough to do what I assumed I would do for them, I saw every other action as such.
And, this couldn't be further from the truth. They were doing their best to show me how much they loved me with the circumstances we had before us.
It's the worst of times because expecting life to go our way is guaranteed disappointment. When those unmet expectations involve others, it becomes resentment.
In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul teaches us about love. He writes,
Love...is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. - 1 Corinthians 13:4-5
Placing unspoken judgements and expectations on others is not fair and it is not loving. We wouldn't want them placing unspoken expectations on us and then judging us when we fail to measure up, so why do we do it to them?
In essence, we're making a deal but never discussing it. You would never make a business deal without first talking through all of the fine-print details, then why do we do this everywhere else?
It's hard, nearly impossible, for someone to live up to our expectations if they don't know what they are. We can't leave these expectations unspoken. That leads us to...
The Best of Times
So what's the secret? Do we just let go of all expectations? If it leads to disappointment and resentment, would you just staple it together and call it all bad?
No, not at all.
It's kind of like money. Money is neutral. It's neither good nor bad in itself. What we do with money can be good or bad.
Same is true for expectations. They're neutral. What we do with the expectations determines if they fall into the worst or best of times.
God is very clear in His Word. He repeatedly calls His people to expect good from Him.
Now, it may not come in the way we expect, but we can rest in His goodness. It is in His character.
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!" - Psalm 21:14
Wait for the Lord - wait for what?
For the Lord to be faithful! Expectation of faithfulness resounds in this command from scripture. Waiting does not diminish expectation any more than waiting diminishes it for a pregnant mother.
Rather, we are enlarged in the waiting. We are growing in faith as we wait expectantly on the Lord.
"If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land." - 2 Chronicles 7:14
There's abundant expectation when praying to our Father in heaven. We don't pray empty prayers, that would be wishes. It doesn't say, wish and seek my face. It says pray and expect God to hear you from heaven!
So How Do We Do This?
How do we take something that's neutral like expectations and lead it towards the holy, best of times?
We surrender it to the Lord. We say, "Lord, this is what I want, but Your will be done." Jesus modeled this for us. Before being betrayed, He prayed,
"Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done." - Luke 22:42
Between the first and second breath, there's a change in direction.
There's a choice. A choice between surrender and self-righteousness (which, self-righteousness we know leads to that sticky, messy self-pity).
If I had made the choice to do this and change direction in my own thoughts, I would've been able to see more clearly and choose thankfulness, rather than the unnecessary pity party I put us all through.
There's strength, uncommon strength, in surrender. There's joy in knowing the Father sent His Holy Spirit as our very present help in time of need. There's peace in letting go our pride and clinging to humility - where we find rest.
So let's make a deal... to stop making unspoken deals!
Let's bring these expectations to the surface. Let's talk about them, pray about them, and find the courage to lay them at the foot of the cross where they belong.
Yes, let's choose surrender.
The good life, well it starts with a good day. Then another. Then another. Let's choose to live #TheGoodDay one day at a time.
I love hearing from you, so go ahead. Leave a comment. Be brave. Maybe your comment will speak life into someone else!