Unmet Expectations: How to thrive instead of dive


Ever find yourself saying, or thinking that?  I have.   It happens when my expectations of others aren’t being met.  It happens when people forget that this is my world and they are just living in it.

The other night it happened.   With my four year old daughter.  She disobeyed and her punishment was to sit in time out and keep quiet.  This was going to work out well for me because I was trying to read a new book.  Quiet, even for a short spell, is a premium in my house.

But my daughter wasn’t on board with my world.  She got it in her head that it’s impossible for her to remain quiet and she wanted everyone to know.  Endless chants of, “But I don’t know how to be quiet!” over and over and over again took me over the edge.  For nearly two hours me and my four year old daughter battled it out.  No one was being quiet.  I eventually went to my room, shut the door and crashed on the bed.  I was upset, frustrated, angry.  The book I was wanting to read was not going to get touched that night.   Ironically, and this is no joke, this is the book:


Has this ever happened to you?  I’m sure it has.  It happens to all of us.  People and events will never live up to our expectations all of the time.  And when they don’t, when someone or something doesn’t live up to our expectations, we are presented with a golden opportunity.  

It is here, in this moment of unmet expectations, that we will either dive or thrive.  Think about it. Think about the times you most often act out in your compulsion of choice – sex, drugs, drink, food, porn, gossip, or any number of other things.  Is it not because someone or something did not live up to our expectations?  Is it not because someone or something has hurt our feelings and we now feel compelled to medicate the fact that the world is not revolving around us?

It happens all the time.  You spend all day planning and preparing dinner and your husband or kids don’t like it, or don’t say thank you.  You work hard on a presentation and nobody or not enough people tell you it was awesome.   You wake up in the morning and have a flat tire.  Your friends don’t invite you to a party.  Your boss looks you over for a promotion you thought you deserved.  Your kid won’t be quiet when you want to read.  And the list goes on…

Each of these can either shipwreck us or increase the strength of our sails.  When people or events do not live up to our expectations we can either turn to our compulsion of choice and therefore continue participating in our own death, or we can turn our attention to Someone else and participate in our own rescue.  It all depends on how we respond.  Consider these three responses by Jesus:

At the end of John’s gospel there is a fascinating exchange between Jesus and Peter.  Peter wants to know what will become of John, one of Jesus’ closest disciples.  Peter has some expectations about what should happen to himself and how that compares with the others.  “What about him?” Peter asks Jesus.   Jesus rebukes him on the spot and tells Peter not to concern himself with what others do or don’t do.   Jesus tells Peter to take his eyes off of others and follow him.  Fix your eyes on Jesus.

In Matthew 18 an argument breaks out over who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Everyone has high expectations.  Everyone wants to be noticed.  Jesus cuts through it all by bringing  a child forward and teaching us that unless we humble ourselves we are nothing in the kingdom. 

In John 13, Jesus, who has high expectations of us all (be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect), showed the ultimate act of service by washing his disciples’ feet.  He did this even as he knew that one of them would betray him and one of them would deny him and all of them would abandon him.   Not one would live up to his expectations and yet he served them.  How?  Because he “knew that the Father had given him all things and that he had come from God and was going back to God” (John 13:3).

Jesus knew who he was following.  Not the crowd or his feelings about how they treated him.  Jesus had his eyes on his Father and the promise that was his if he remained faithful, he humbled himself and he served others, even those who failed him.

What if everyone’s  and everything’s failures to live up to our expectations were seen as opportunities to strengthen our faith and deepen the roots of our recovery?

I’m always amazed when I do as Jesus says and discover the grace and the peace that comes through obedience.  As I laid in my bed that night after the battle of expectations with my daughter I heard the Holy Spirit say to me that the times I am most frustrated with my children or with others are the times I am being the most selfish.  As I absorbed this truth I repented of my selfishness and how I had gotten my eyes off of Jesus and placed them on my expectations.  Suddenly peace invaded my entire being. It was the most natural thing in the world to then go and hold my daughter and apologize to her and tell her how much Daddy loves her and how sorry I am for being selfish.   In that moment she learned so much more about God and about living life than she would have ever learned in time out for one minute of silence.   And God’s word proved true, that if we would repent and turn again to Jesus, our sins will be blotted out and times of refreshing will come upon us from the Lord (Acts 3:19-20).

So the next time your expectations are not met be aware of the great opportunity before you.  The answer is not to cease having expectations, nor is it to necessarily lower our expectations of others (although that may be a healthy, and welcomed, thing for you to do).   The answer is to start living up to God’s expectations.  Fix your eyes on Jesus, humble yourself, and serve. 


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