Do you re-watch movies? How many times? Why? Research says we re-watch movies because they fulfill our expectations in the following ways.
- Comfort – less mental energy to process, less work makes them more comfortable
- Nostalgia –remembering the past in idealized ways (e.g., Christmas movies)
- Perspective – make you feel more optimistic and counteract loneliness and anxiety
- Predictability – no surprises; know how it will make you feel
We also go to chain restaurants and stores again and again, even when away from home, because we know they’ll fulfill our expectations for the most part.
Expectations in relationships are more complicated. Yet, because expectations are the currency on which trust is built or broken, we must learn to communicate them. Often, it’s communicating expectation with small things that build trust and provide a foundation for fulfilled expectations with the big things.
Our expectations of ourselves and others are often unrealistic. We must remember that we are imperfect people, and we need to live in forgiveness and grace. When we fail to meet expectations – our own or others – we must admit our mistakes, learn from them, and move forward.
Strive to be dependable, communicate expectations clearly, and ask questions to clarify others’ expectations. At the very least, do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. Become known as a dependable person who meets or exceeds expectations.
Navigating expectations in relationships is difficult. No one will meet or set them accurately 100% of the time. We can only do our best and learn from the times when we don’t.
Leaning on Expectations
Because imperfect people will imperfectly set and meet expectations, we cannot let our mental, spiritual, and emotional stability rest on human expectations. Said another way, if my emotional, mental, and spiritual stability hinges on others meeting my expectations or on my ability to meet others’ expectations, I’m going to come unhinged at some point.
Even my expectations of God lead me to disappointment because I often set them based on what I want and how I feel rather than on what God’s word tells me about him.
What can we expect from God?
When I establish my expectations of God on his word, he never lets me down. In other words, I need to let the Bible define my expectations of God. Then, I can hinge my emotional, mental, and spiritual stability on God meeting those expectations.
Though many verses tell us about what we can expect of God, one especially stands out for me.
“But forget all that—it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19, NLT)
The Israelites are in Babylonian captivity, and Isaiah reminds them of God delivering them from captivity many years before from the Egyptians through the Red Sea. Isaiah is telling them that God will deliver them but to not look for him to do so exactly like he did years before.
The big picture in these verses is on restoration for God’s people because of who God is. Yet, Isaiah 43:18-19 also tells us about what we can expect of/from God still today.
1. Expect the unexpected.
Instead of overthinking our expectations, we must anti-intellectualize them. In other words, don’t box God in and create limitations of him in our thinking and thus in our own growth.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55: 8-9)
In other words, remember what God has done in our lives and be grateful. This is a theme throughout much of the Old Testament. At the same time, we must learn as Lucy did from Aslan in Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis that…
“Things never happen the same way twice.”
God will come to our aid, especially when we ask but often even when we don’t. We can expect him to act in our lives but realize it probably won’t happen the same way twice. Scripture tells us this too.
“I am making everything new.” (Revelation 21:5)
We can have expectations of God. Scripture gives us a lot of them. But, we cannot dwell on them being met like we imagine because God always has something new planned.
2. Expect a way through.
God can see the forest through the trees. In other words, He sees the big picture, so we can trust him to lead us in the right direction.
“A man’s mind plans his way [as he journeys through life], But the LORD directs his steps and establishes them.” (Proverbs 16:9, AMP)
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV)
We can make our plans, then trust God to direct our steps in, through, around, or over them. And when we feel trapped, discouraged, and/or overwhelmed, we can say, “Show me the way.” Then, expect he will because he says he will.
3. Expect the impossible.
“’Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” (Matthew 19:24-26, NIV)
In this story, Jesus doesn’t just say the rich entering heaven is possible. He turns it into a principle we can still count on today – ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE WITH GOD.
God is a God of absolutes in a world of relativism. We can refuse to follow the crowd and instead be obedient to the one who is powerful above all else.
“Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” (Jeremiah 32:17, NIV)
In Star Wars: A New Hope when Luke Skywalker is persuading Han Solo to rescue Princess Leia, he tells Han he’ll be rewarded beyond what he can imagine. Han responds, “I don’t know. I can imagine quite a bit.”
If you’re like me, you’ve got a pretty active imagination, too. I can come up with some pretty crazy scenarios. Yet, experience has shown me that God really can do more than I can imagine. Scripture speaks to this truth, too.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21, NIV)
Adjusting Your Expectations
When we know what the word of God says about God, we can shape our expectations of him on what he says and not on our circumstances or our imaginations. In this, he will never disappoint. In fact, I find he always exceeds.
We must always remember that our expectations are limited and imperfect, and we can be grateful that God moves based on who he is and based on what we think or imagine. As we do, we’ll find that his way is always better.
Let gratitude shape your expectations. Remember what God has done, be grateful for it, and then expect him to work the impossible in your life.