This season, I have been learning a lot about the difference between expectations and the attitude of expectancy.
We all have, and I think, need expectations. They can be a source of great excitement or discouragement. It seems to me that there are a few options regarding expectations:
- Attempt to have no expectations and therefore live a life aimlessly wandering from one experience to the next,
- Set high expectations and experience pleasure, resentment, or disappointment as they are or are not accomplished or
- Manage expectations to not allow our spiritual, mental, or emotional outlook to depend on them.
The first option is accepted by many in life who come to this mindset after a lifetime of unfulfilled expectations. They finally give up on having expectations so they are not disappointed. They live a life of neither expecting much nor celebrating much. It seems a lot of older people can live with this perspective after many failed expectations toward the end of their lives. But I think a lot of younger people today also live with this mentality because of their sense of having little control over their lives.
The second option is most often taken by young people who have such high expectations for their lives. Their emotions are up and down as they live from one expectation to another and then have them fulfilled or dashed as they do or don’t come true. I suppose there are some who never outgrow this roller coaster approach to their emotional mindset.
The third option seems to me to be the one represented most in scripture. This is where expectancy comes in. It is a check or counterbalance to expectations. Because it lives with a clear future-oriented mindset but doesn’t lock into an exact outcome as necessary for one’s faith or a positive mental/emotional health. I believe expectations can and should motivate us, but the fulfillment of them shouldn’t be tied to our continued growth spiritually, mentally, or emotionally.
So, how do we set appropriate expectations while at the same time keeping an attitude of expectancy? Expectancy is an attitude of hope that God will continue to work in and through our lives regardless of specific outcomes. Expectancy comes from surrendering the outcome to God’s jurisdiction. To be very honest, so much of whether something succeeds is way beyond our ability to control. So, it is dangerous to have expectations based on things over which we have little control. A good read on this perspective is Tim Harford’s book Adapt; why success always starts with failure.
If we set expectations but realize the fulfillment of them is often beyond our ability to control, we can keep growing because we know that God is at work for our maturity and growth. In that hope, we can depend. That is why James tells us to have joy during significant trials because we know God is producing growth in our lives through these tough times.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.James 1.2-4
This can keep us from a roller coaster faith while still having excitement for the future and not living a boring unfulfilled life.
The last few weeks have been a real struggle in living this truth for me. Six months ago, I bought a 2015 Tesla with only 23,000 miles for a great price. Of course, I had great expectations. But I found out last week it needed a $8,000 repair.
We can’t afford another car at this time without a trade-in, but Tesla didn’t want to take it as a trade-in. So, I am living in the midst of having hope in God’s providence while living with some failed expectations.
This is a great opportunity to go from an expectation tied to a specific outcome to an attitude of expectancy that looks to God to work through these circumstances to produce a trusted end…my trust in him. That is why our Lord is called the God of Hope in Romans 15.3, and it is God who gives us hope. We don’t need to conjure it up; we simply need to live in it.