The Expectation Problem

Caryn: Within the past couple years, I’ve adopted a new mantra of sorts: Keep expectations low. Carla can attest to this—since she now refers to her own birthday as “the day of low expectations,” thanks to jolly old me.

While this may seem like a huge downer of a mantra, I actually adopted it after watching a thing about how the Danes (and I’ve written about this before in a zillion places so forgive me if I’ve written about it here. Of course, I’m way too lazy to go back and look) are the happiest people on earth—thanks to their low expectations about life.

After hearing this, I realized how much time and energy I’ve wasted in my life (and how much disappointment I’ve endured) simply because of my own high expectations. My family life was no exception. I became a mother with all sorts of assumptions built in about the ways it was “supposed to be.”

I blame those “supposed-to-be’s” for nearly every meltdown I’ve had since then (or actually over my whole life). So I was nearly giddy when Revolutionary Cindy left this comment after our last post. She said: “Regarding the myth thing: I used to get depressed every Christmas because it didn’t fulfill my longings for the ‘experience of Christmas.’ I thought kids were the answer; they weren’t. I still was depressed and unfulfilled after Christmas. Finally, one year I stopped and tried to figure out what it was that I was longing for–what I was picturing the perfect Christmas would be. I pictured my whole family (parent, siblings, kids–a happy, laughing crowd) all gathered at the family farm. Playing games before the blazing hearth. Sledding and building snowmen. Hot chocolate and cookies. Wonderful meals shared around a big table. Sparkling tree. You get the idea. Then I busted up laughing. There hasn’t been a farm in my family for generations, and I really, really, really wouldn’t want to spend that long with MY family. My big sisters bossing, my kids tearing the place up… I’d formed the idea from all those sappy holiday specials and Christmas cards. I was depressed because I longed for something that didn’t exist.

“I’ve done that with parenting, too; and with my relationship with church. What I’ve been trying to do since then is, when I feel discouraged or alienated, figure out what it is I’m longing for and decide if it even exists anywhere. In the meantime, I try to come alongside my friends and acquaintances as we all try to figure this out. “

I couldn’t have said it better myself (which is why I didn’t). But seriously, the Christmas farm thing? Totally me. Seriously. I want that SO bad! And I too carry unreal and probably unattainable images over into my family life (which is why I consider Pottery Barn Kids catalog to be porn and chuck them in the recycling pile before even bringing them into the house). Why do we do this to ourselves?

I read somewhere that this is simply our longing for heaven, for the pre-fallen world, for the way it WAS supposed to be (and WILL be). But is it that easy? Can we just accept that then and move on?

Carla: Having just celebrated my day of low expectations, I am so with you here. But I don’t think it’s a longing for heaven. I think it’s an inability to be content with the lives we have. I mean, I don’t really expect my birthday to stop the action in heaven so all eyes are focused on me, which is exactly what I expect on my birthday here on earth.

Our longings for love, for meaningful relationships, for lives that feel purposeful are, I believe, the essence of what it means to be human. But I don’t believe that wanting those things is a sign of weakness or falleness. I believe it is a sign of the life God calls us to here, now. Yes, our relationships will be imperfect, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate them and seek them out. And yes, we will be disappointed by love and by people and by the way our lives look sometimes, but it’s only because we know it can be better. If our only hope for meaning and connection was to wait for heaven, I think I’d go nuts.

I think the trick is to consider the origins of our expectations–do they come from these real longings for purpose and relationships or from some false image of what that should look like? To me, being loved, being connected to other people, having a sense of purpose in our lives are not unreasonable expectations. But “love” that looks like romantic weekends at the sea and fresh flowers every Monday might be a little unreasonable.

I felt so blessed by the many birthday greetings that showed up on my Facebook page–I matter to those people and that matters to me. But I get in trouble when I start to focus instead on who didn’t call or who didn’t send me a card–that’s me defining connection in an unreasonable way.

And purpose? Well I’m still trying to figure that one out. I used to think I had to change the world. Now I’m trying to be content with making the little places in which I operate a little kinder, a little more compassionate, a little funnier.

Caryn: I didn’t mean to suggest that we should not expect any sort of joy or happiness or dreams come true in this life. That sounds a bit suicidal (though, sadly, I think throughout history and certainly around the globe today there are cultures where heaven is seen as the only place those things might exist).

I meant more our sense of incompleteness, of “this isn’t all it could be.” But I’m SURE that’s why we’re called (am I opening up a can of worms by using this word?) to be content—because nothing will be perfect. So we gotta deal.

That said, I think those moments of connection, of bliss, and wonderful surprise are pictures of heaven (which, by the way, Carla: I’m SURE everything will stop on your b-day in the Sweet Bye and Bye to celebrate you).

But anyway: I really want to hear about some of the Revolutionaries’ disappoinments, about the things in their lives that were “supposed to be” and that haven’t turned out that way. How did you deal?

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