Spring 2023 | Volume 16 | Issue 2
Just less than twenty-four hours ago, I sat talking with a friend about how I am a recovering perfectionist. I’ve always lived by a high standard, pushing myself to the breaking point and expecting others to do the same. No matter how much I strive towards perfection, I always seem to come up short. My friend’s response was so simple, just 4 little words: “Expectations will kill you.” Such simple words, yet they packed so much truth and revelation.
From an early age, many of us start to fantasize about our futures. Who will we marry? What kind of jobs will we have? We watch movies and read books that further fuel our fantasies. The more we fantasize, the more we start to develop expectations of what the perfect life should look like. We set goals as we get older to achieve these unrealistic expectations, and we set impossible standards for not only ourselves but our loved ones. Many times, we are left disappointed when reality doesn’t match our fantasies. But what if our reality could exceed our expectations? With God they certainly can.
What is an expectation? In psychological terms an expectation is a strong belief that something will happen. The definition goes on to further say that, more than anything else, our expectations determine our reality. Then are some expectations that we set really just a fantasy? Are they just an unattainable dream? While some of them are just fantasies, like all good fantasies, they all have certain levels of reality in them. There are levels of expectations that we do actually achieve. It’s the ones where we set the bar too high—the unattainable fantasies—that actually fail us. I’ve had many failed expectations in life, many of them stemming from my drive for perfectionism or expecting others to do the same.
When I was first married, I had an expectation of what I thought marriage should look like. I thought romance equaled love. Well, I ended up marrying (by Hollywood standards) a man who had no clue what romance was. I am sure I dubbed him the least romantic man ever on more than one occasion. My expectations of marriage were crushed long before we ever said ‘I do.’
It started with the proposal. My husband made no attempt to propose in some grand way like you see on television. He didn’t take me to a romantic restaurant or to a secluded beach. No, my husband decided to propose while I was watching television. And not just any television show, but during the middle of my favorite show. This was in the days before you could just stream your favorite show or hit pause anytime you wanted to. There I sat, fully engulfed in my show, when my husband decided it was the perfect time to pop the question. I paid no attention to the fact that he was kneeling down beside me or to the words coming out of his mouth until I heard the very last part, “Will you marry me?” Instantly I asked, “Wait did you just seriously propose? Did I really just miss my whole proposal? Are you at least going to do it again so that I can hear it?”
Obviously, I did say yes, and my romantically challenged husband decided that one proposal, no matter if I heard it or not, was all that was needed. The proposal looked nothing like what my childhood fantasy looked like. It definitely didn’t meet my expectations. For years I couldn’t understand why my husband didn’t make our proposal more special. It wasn’t until after 17 years of marriage, that I finally got my explanation. He said that he was so excited that he couldn’t wait to ask me.
Now, nearly 20 years into marriage, love looks nothing like what I expected to. It’s better. It looks exactly like my husband. It looks like a man who works hard for his family, who has seen me at my worst and stuck by me, who never complains if the house is messy or dinner isn’t cooked. Romance looks more like surprise take-out than a bouquet of flowers. Don’t even get me started on how romantic cleaning is to me now.
I read somewhere a meme that said, “You kids are making it difficult to be the parent that I always imagined I would be.” Boy, does that statement ring true in my family. There’s nothing in life that sanctifies you quite like being a parent.
My son made the comment the other day that he remembers that I was a lot nicer before I had my daughter. That was a long time ago, but I thought about it for a second and I realized that he was right. I really thought God would give me the perfect little obedient child and instead He decided that He’d give me a cross somewhere between Lilo and Stitch. Luckily that is one of my favorite movies. Seriously, this strong-willed child looks nothing like what I thought she would. Come to think of it, she looks a lot like me. Ouch! Now, that’s reality. But this little girl makes me laugh way more times than the number of gray hairs that she’s given me. We yell, fight, and butt heads way more than I ever thought possible. Our relationship looks nothing like I dreamt it would. It’s so far from perfect. However, at the end of the day, she tells me I’m her best friend. You know what? She’s mine too.
The moments that have exceeded my expectations the most are the ones where I don’t have any expectations, like Tuesday drives home from Taekwondo with my sixteen-year-old son. It’s only a ten-minute drive from Taekwondo to our home but so many of our deepest conversations have taken place in that short drive home. So often our conversations continue long after we get home. Many times we’ve become so lost in the conversation that we just turn off the vehicle and sit there in the dark, talking. It’s in these quiet moments in the car that somehow life’s expectations just melt away. It’s in these moments where God reveals to me that His ways are so much higher than mine. These moments feel like perfection. It’s in these moments that so often the Holy Spirit shows up and we both are changed for it. These are the moments that I’ll treasure long after he moves out of the house.
Expectations can give us the false belief that we’re actually in control when, in all reality, God is the only one in control. Any belief otherwise is just a fantasy. My very favorite verse is Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future in a hope.” Maybe it’s my favorite verse because it reminds me that I can trust His plans and that I’m not in control. Sure, I had a fantasy of what my life would look like, but fortunately God’s plans trumped my fantasy. My marriage, family, and life in general looks nothing like I expected it would. Many days it looks messy. My life is filled with a bunch of imperfect people just doing the best they can to love Jesus and love each other.
Today I woke up with a laundry list of unrealistic expectations, and I barely achieved any of them. Today started with what I originally would have deemed as a mommy fail. But, thank God for so graciously reminding me of the words of my sweet friend: “Expectations will kill you.” Although my version sounds more like, “Expectations will fail you.” Yes, they’ll kill you too, but that’s only if you let them. I made the choice to let go of not only the expectations from the day, but also the shame from the failed expectations. After all, as one pastor once said, “SHAME is just Self Hatred At My Expense.”
It’s when we choose to let go of our expectations, that God will truly exceed them. Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Expectations will fail you, but fortunately God never will.