Thursday, March 31, 2011

Experience v. Expectation

I'm realizing today just how much my expectations shape my experiences.

Is this a bad thing?

Depends on your expectations...

We all have them, expectations that is, we all plan for certain events to have certain outcomes.

The way I see it, we all have (to some extent) a cause and effect understanding of life.

In elementary school if you did well on your test you received a sticker or a treat. If you were bad you got detention. Cause and effect.

In high school, when you finally got your drivers license it lead to freedom. When you exceeded the speed limit it resulted in a ticket. Again, action and consequence.

Cause and effect understanding drives society. It's choices and the resulting fallout from those choices (for good or ill) that serves to shape our understandings life and our experiences. We are told to be decent to one another. We're told that if you do good things good things will in turn come to you. The danger of this kind of thinking is that with it, ever so subtly, comes the expectation that this is how life will be.

The problem, for many, comes when the "effects" don't line up with the way we think that life should go. When things don't fall into place like they should. In other words, the "good" people don't always experience positive effects and the "bad" people do not always get the negative effects. Have you ever experienced a moment like that?

Maybe it's not even an issue of "good" people versus "bad" people. Maybe you are just a person who has tried hard to live a decent life and have come to a place where it seems that all of life's cards are stacked against you. It hurts and it seems so wrong. So unfair.

The result of this is often bitterness. We look up and lash out. We think that God must not really care because He wouldn't ever let these things happen to someone He truly loved...


Think about it. Even people of little "faith" strike out at God when their world seems to be crumbling around them.

What I am beginning to realize however is that, instead of pointing my finger at God, perhaps I really need to look inside myself. The more I go through this process of looking inward I see that, not only do I have very high expectations of the way I believe things should go in life, but that many of these expectations (if I'm honest with myself) are selfishly motivated. Not all, but many I would say are.

It doesn't take a very close examination of the world to understand that it is full of disappointment. Turn on the news sometime, you don't have to watch long before you see a string of broken dreams. Promises of a tomorrow that some thought were guaranteed are shattered.

We can't expect so much of the world; the world doesn't have a track record for being faithful to what we ask of it.

We cannot manipulate the world. But we can certainly choose how much or little we are going to expect from different circumstances. We can also learn to be content even when life does not go as we wish. It is possible.

Unrealistic expectation can actually stifle experience.

I can't list in a single blog post the countless times I have let the disappointment with life's twists and turns rob me of the joy that living here and now can bring. What matters is the experience. It is not merely the knowledge that your life is incredible and significant, but letting that knowledge seep deep into your heart. Into your whole being. Because when the heart actually realizes these things experience itself becomes a whole new adventure. Fresh. Exciting. Joyful.

Some of the best things in life often come when one doesn't expect them to...

A cliche'? Perhaps.

But there may be some truth to be discovered here.

I can't tell you the countless number of times people talk about their significant other/ spouse and they relate to me that they only found that special "someone" when they had given up their own search completely. They surrendered their expectation and just focused on being themselves.


Or how about the victims of disease. Nobody honestly expects cancer right? I think many people live with an underlying expectation that their families will be free of disease throughout life and die peacefully at home. They are shocked and devastated when that their expectations aren't met. How could this happen?

Yet what can come out of the devastation?

A family that becomes closer than they ever were in the past.

A community rallies around an individual and fights back together, accomplishing things the individual could no accomplish alone.

A greater appreciation for the little moments and the time spent with each other here and now.

The early church was brutalized. They were wrongfully accused, beaten, tortured and executed simply for wanting to share their truth. Yet the early church made a mark upon human history by its courage, faith and love, even toward those who were mistreating them. They didn't expect anything in return. There wasn't an expectation to be treated "fairly." Yet they lived and loved more admirably than many Americans do now.

Obviously expectations are necessary so the idea is not that expectations are bad, or that no one should have them. Rather, it is a call to discern between realistic and unrealistic expectations we have.

Here is another cool thing that I've found.

As I've started to remove the unrealistic expectations from my life I am starting to find that blessings are abundant. See, when you don't automatically expect something of someone else, and they do respond favorably there really isn't any other word to use except blessing!

It brings a happiness that is much different than one in which you get what you expected all along...

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