Expectations – Killers of Joy?

I’m still reading Ann Voskamp’s “One Thousand Gifts”. It’s one of those books I need to read slowly and savor, let it speak to me chapter by chapter . I’d like to share a passage that I’m pondering tonight. Leading up to this she’s talking about the joy of her youngest child at little things – little things to adults, but big in the eyes of a child. Voskamp begins to explore the idea that her child knows such joy because she  is not weighted down with expectations. She recalls:

“My mama, valley wise and grief traveled, she always said, ‘Expectations kill relationship.’ And I’ve known expectations as a disease, silent killer heaping her burdens on the shoulders of a relationship until a soul bursts a pulmonary and dies. Expectations kill relationship – especially with God. And that’s what a child doesn’t have: this whole edifice of expectation. Without expectations, what can topple the surprising wonder of the moment?”

As a counselor, I’ve many times heard, “But he doesn’t…” or “she just doesn’t…” We have all kinds of expectations of people and of God. And we place them on other people like boulders, crushing them and crushing their joy and their desire to love.  In many cases the expectations of other people are unrealistic. I don’t know about you, but I still cling to the expectation that my friends, family, and co-workers will always treat me well, always treat me fairly, never betray my trust, even love me perfectly. But I have to ask myself, have I loved perfectly? Do I even know what that looks like? One definition of sin is “to fall short of the mark”, and oh, how I’ve fallen short at times! I’m a sinner – one who’s struggling to love more perfectly, but still missing the mark. And in my head I know that everyone around me is a sinner as well – and that they won’t love me perfectly. It’s a struggle for every Christian to love God above all and to love others to the same extent that he/she loves self. Our motives are rarely pure.  And yet, I expect others to do what I do not…

But, beyond our expectations of being loved perfectly, we place expectations on people – that they’ll remember every birthday and send a card, that they’ll read our minds or body language and respond in the way we think we need.  We expect them to care what’s going on with us while they’re expecting us to care what’s going on with them. Quite a dilemma, isn’t it? We don’t say it, but we think they should want what’s best for us – even when it’s contrary to what they might see as best for themselves. It’s not logical, but that doesn’t stop us from placing the expectations on them.

And when they don’t say or do what we think they should, we feel let down, betrayed, hurt, and sometimes even depressed. We expect God to answer our prayers in certain ways and when He doesn’t, we think He, too, doesn’t love us perfectly, or has even betrayed us. We can misread love – God’s love and the attempts of others to love us. We can get focused on our unmet expectations and miss the many blessings we have. We can miss the joys of the moment – we can become critical and self-justifying.

What Ann Voskamp is talking about (and has me thinking about) is how a young child delights in the little things that we adults so take for granted that we miss out on the joy.  I don’t have children, but in recent years, I’ve acquired two kittens (now almost full-grown cats, but with some kitten left). I get such joy from watching their delight and expectation at new things – a new toy, a butterfly perched on the butterfly bush, being brushed. I have to admit that I’ve had thoughts that the younger cat is ADHD, the way she flits from one thing to another and her excitement over a moth flittering around a light, the chance to chase a rubber ball down the hall. Someday soon, she’ll outgrow some of those things. What a shame! I’ll miss seeing her all a-wiggle before shooting down the hall after the ball or leaping up the doorframe to catch the laser light beam.  Her joy in the moment is contagious!

What if we had that openness and excitement about the little things that we have received instead of burdening others with our expectations? What if we trusted God to love us perfectly even when it didn’t look the way we expected it to look? What if we were grateful for each breath? For each kindness? For each ray of sunshine? For moonlight on the waves? For butterflies? For the ability to walk, talk, think? What if we saw even our dysfunctional families as gifts of God’s perfect love to us? What if we didn’t have expectations, but merely trusted God?

What if I stopped focusing on what I expect from others and focus more on what God has already given me and how I can love God and other people? Voskamp’s books is sub-titled “A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are”.  And I think – if each moment we saw the many gifts of God, the many evidences of His love and grace toward us ..If each moment we had grateful hearts for how He’s showing us love right now instead of looking for Him to love us in a certain way…If we reflected His love to others instead of lusting to receive it in the specific way we crave – how much more joy might we know?

Will we continue to let expectations control us and burden our relationships with God and others? Or will we open our hands and let go of the expectations and demands of our flesh…let go of the “why doesn’t he…?” and “if only she would…” and let God meet us right where we are and thank Him for all that He gives us each moment?  Can we trust that He loves us perfectly and is ever at work in our world to bless us and conform us more to the image of Christ because He knows that would be the most fulfilling, joyous and intimate of relationships…?

Paul wrote in Romans 1:18-25 about the downward spiral that results from lack of acknowledging the characteristics of God (evident in His creation) and from having hearts that  reveal a lack of gratitude toward God.

“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools…” (Romans 1:21-22 NASB)

That segment of scripture goes on to say that those who lacked gratitude toward God went on to worship and serve the creature instead of the Creator. Isn’t that what we do? We place our hope in other people to meet our needs? To be the source of our joy? To do the right thing all the time? To be all we need? Don’t we want to be worshipped and served instead of worshipping and serving God? We’re killing relationships with our expectations. And all the while, God is revealing Himself, His character, His love, His sovereignty, His faithfulness, His desire to bless us in His creation around us.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been guilty of putting my hope in people and experienced that letdown when they didn’t meet my expectations. And I’ve worshipped and served the created being – expecting someone to be all I need in return  – instead of worshipping and serving the Creator of all that is.

And there were times I thought God had failed to do the right things toward me as well. Years later, I could look back and see that He was acting for my good and for His good an perfect purposes and in His perfect love for me, even in allowing painful times in relationships, but at the moment I judged Him as “not enough”.

I want that moment by moment experiencing of trust and joy that Voskamp describes. I want to look at life and relationships with the joy of a child and to be as excited about the moment’s blessings as my cats are at the sight of a butterfly. God is good and He gives good gifts. Let’s stop and enjoy them, acknowledge His steadfast love in them, and be grateful.

Lord, open our eyes to your blessings and move our hearts to thankfulness for them and for Your pursuit of us and desire for our best. Help us to trust and delight and let go of expectations.

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