This Crazy Life

The Problem with Expectations

Have you ever learned something new, or noticed a unique car for the first time, and suddenly you hear about it or see it everywhere? It’s so weird. And it happens all the time. Or at least it does to me.

It’s called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, and I’ve been experiencing it lately when it comes to one particular word: expectations.

I recently began pondering this word on my own. It obviously wasn’t a word that was new to me, but I found myself dissecting it a bit after noticing that I have an unusually complicated, rather annoying relationship with these little things called expectations.

And, as the phenomenon would suggest, it feels like everyone and their mom – as well as their dad, sister, brother, cousin, nephew, and dog – is talking about expectations. That word has been plastered across my News Feed, my Instagram, in blog posts, and even sprinkled throughout conversations with friends.

So, as I tend to do when something fits perfectly into a pattern, an already established phenomenon such as this one, I was just about to let it slide. Until I realized that there was more to it; this one was more important, more meaningful, than just some phenomenon we all experience from time to time.

I don’t know about you, but my expectations consume me. They exhaust and overwhelm me, and they paralyze me.

I’ve come to realize that I craft these ridiculous expectations for nearly every single moment of my life. Not only for the bigger ones, which is easy to do, but for small ones, too. For time with friends. For a Sunday afternoon. For when my husband gets home from work. For my kids’ nap time.

I construct mental images of what my experiences ought to look like; those contrived expectations remind me a lot of a Hallmark movie shot within the pages of a Pottery Barn magazine. They’re perfect little moments, the kind that I strive for and never actually attain.

Which means that I live a lot of my life feeling disappointed. Not overly so – it’s a fleeting disappointment that I recover from rather quickly. But being disappointed for any amount of time is quite crummy, anyway.

And then there are the times that I don’t recover as swiftly. I waste precious minutes, sometimes hours, wallowing in self-pity, frustrated that my Hallmark-Pottery Barn mashup didn’t pan out the way that I had anticipated. The way that I had expected.

These expectations of mine, they are quite unfair to everyone involved. They hurt my husband, my kids, my family, my friends, and myself. They make the people that I love most in my life feel as if they’re not enough simply because they stepped outside of my flawless, unattainable box. That breaks my heart, and it has to stop.


But as I began to break down my flawed mentality, I became utterly confused. Because expectations in and of themselves are not a bad thing. In fact, God encourages us to hope for things, to expect without reservation.

And that is exactly where I’d gone off course. I’d veered from the good, fulfilling, intended path to one full of frustration, dissatisfaction, and regret.

The problem wasn’t my expectations; the problem was the root of my expectations. Instead of being rooted in the desires of God’s heart for my life, they have been rooted in the desires of my own heart for my life, which have been embarrassingly skewed, to say the least.

All this time I’ve been prioritizing my misinformed, romanticized perceptions of happiness, love, marriage, motherhood, friendship, family, community, and celebration over what God would have those pieces of my life look like.

This leaves me thoroughly disappointed each and every time because I’m putting my faith where it doesn’t belong. Circumstances vary, plans shift, and people fail.

God, though – He doesn’t. He doesn’t vary. He doesn’t shift. He doesn’t fail. He is the only One worthy of my expectations.

So for the sake of those I love, and for my sanity, I’m taking back my expectations.

I’m taking them back in an effort to relinquish them to where they truly belong: in His hands, worked out in His time, displayed in His perfection. Not my distorted sense of perfection, a jigsaw puzzle of movie scenes, song lyrics, and snapshots from a magazine. True perfection, which looks nothing like the perfection of my shallow dreams.

But true perfection, His perfection, begets true joy. And that I will gladly expect.

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