It is said that expectation is the root of all disappointment and that is usually a true statement. The trouble is that life is full of expectations and most of them are very reasonable. I am at the bus stop and my app says that the bus will be here at 6:21 am. It is 6:20 so I expect it to be here very soon. I have an appointment to get my teeth cleaned at 8:00 am and expect to be in the chair shortly after.
If the bus doesn’t come or I have to wait a long time at the dentist’s office, I can be disappointed. I had an appointment—I expected something to occur at a precise time and it didn’t so I am dis-appointed. It’s funny how words make sense when you break them down.
Where expectations get tricky is when they are not about a fixed, agreed upon appointments, but in more nuanced things like relationships. I expect something from someone else and when things work out differently, I can be disappointed or even devastated.
Disappointment, then, is a useful indicator of an expectation that didn’t get met and the expectation should be examined. It can get us back to the root and allow us to solve the disappointment problem.
I want to start by looking at four verses in the book of Proverbs. Proverbs has a built-in way of defining words by using them in parallel with synonymous words. We will also see that expectation (the word is always used in the singular form in the Bible) is used in a positive sense.
“When a wicked man dieth, his expectation shall perish: and the hope of unjust men perisheth” (Proverbs 11:7, emphasis added).
“The desire of the righteous is only good: but the expectation of the wicked is wrath” (Proverbs 11:23, emphasis added).
“For surely there is an end; and thine expectation shall not be cut off” (Proverbs 23:18, emphasis added).
“So shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul: when thou hast found it, then there shall be a reward, and thy expectation shall not be cut off” (Proverbs 24:14, emphasis added).
Let’s look at the synonyms for expectation: hope, desire, an end, a reward. This gives us a good working definition: an expectation is a hope and desire that something will end up the way we want it to.
When an expectation involves another person, they have their own hopes and desires that may not match mine. Most relationship conflicts are simply a result of mismatched expectations.
Many relational expectations are based on faulty thinking. I assume that my partner wants the same things that I do. I assume that either one of us always knows exactly what we want. There are things that I don’t like about my partner, but I have an expectation that they will miraculously change. They have made it clear what they want in a particular area, but I expect them to want what I want anyway. No wonder I am disappointed!
The problem isn’t the other person, then; it is me and my expectations. At the root, I want to be in control; I want my life to go the way I want it to. I can project my desire to control on others through my expectations of them. Part of this is just the human tendency for self-centeredness and selfishness. But a bigger part for me is from living so long in a fantasy world where I am always in control and never disappointed. In that world, I get what I expect every time.
I no longer have that artificial world to escape into so I am learning to navigate the real world of relationships and their expectations and disappointments. Honesty and openness has become more important to me because they can eliminate expectations right from the start. If we spell things out up front and communicate honestly as we go along (even when it is uncomfortable), we are less likely to be disappointed as we relate to each other.
I want to shift the focus to expectation and disappointment being less threatening and more a normal part of life. If I (reasonably) expect the bus to come at 6:21 and it often comes at 6:30, being disappointed is reasonable. If the dentist keeps me waiting well beyond my appointment time, I am going to be disappointed. In situations like this, my expectation is not the problem. But what do I do with the disappointment?
This is where acceptance comes into play. Acceptance of the situation and my lack of control over it keeps disappointment from spiraling into ill-advised and regrettable words and actions. It prevents me from making a bad situation worse by adopting a negative, self-defeating attitude. Without acceptance, disappointment can quickly become a destructive bitterness.
Acceptance also keeps my head clear so I can make some intelligent adjustments. If the bus is always late, then I can catch an earlier bus or find an alternative way to work. If the dentist’s tardiness is a pattern, I can find a new office where they are more punctual.
I can use acceptance in the scarier realms of relationships too. I can accept people the way they are and not how I want them to be. I can accept that they have goals, desires, and dreams that may not match mine. I can honor them by being kind and loving as much as possible and by respecting their boundaries. I can accept myself for wanting something different than they may want. When it is possible, I can continue to enjoy and be satisfied with the current level of relationship.
Focusing on disappointment is dangerous for me because it keeps my eyes on the negative and blinds me to all of the positive things in my life. Staying disappointed can prevent me from gaining valuable lessons that the Lord Jesus Christ is trying to teach me. Acceptance gives me clarity and helps me see the greater good that God is working out in my life. Acceptance helps me to enjoy all of the good things in my relationships instead of wishing they were different.
There is a wonderful, positive aspect of expectation that will never disappoint me: God’s word is true and He will fulfill every promise that He makes. When life’s expectations fail, as they inevitably do, I fall back on the God that never disappoints me. That is an expectation that will never fail.
“My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him” (Psalm 62:5).
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