Friday, June 17, 2011

JUNE JOURNEY: Defining Expectations

The more I think and talk about expectations, the more I wonder if how we interpret or define the word "expectations" determines whether it's healthy or toxic?

  1. A strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future
  2. A belief that someone will or should achieve something
  3. An expectation, which is a belief that is centered on the future, may or may not be realistic. A less advantageous result gives rise to the emotion of disappointment. An expectation about the behavior or performance of another person, expressed to that person, may have the nature of a strong request, or an order.
If we have high hopes for someone else, our expectations are based on a motive or desire for them to be successful, content, happy, blessed, etc. Our hopes are not based in any sort of self-fulfillment, but only for the other's well-being. To me, this is a healthy expectation.

Sometimes we expect others to produce a benefit in our lives because we have already paid out in some positive return in their lives. I scratch your back, you scratch mine. The problem with this is that sometimes, our motives aren't just for business (you pay my fee, I provide a service according to our contract). Sometimes our motives are based on selfishness—we manipulate the other party because we have an end result in mind. We compliment them and give them flowery praise, hoping they will recommend us for that position we hope to get. When we give to get, that's a scary place to be. A cheerful giver gives for the sheer joy of seeing the other person light up, for the incredible blessing of knowing it pleases God—even if no one ever finds out we gave of ourselves in some way.

Whether we say it or just think it, when we have a long list of "ought tos" and "should dos" we are on dangerous ground, manipulating another person to do something out of guilt or shame rather than out of a willing heart. When God gave us the Ten Commandments, they were a list, yes. And He expects us to follow these and other rules of life as set up in the Bible. He set these up, I'm guessing, partly because He knows these "10 Expectations" give us a formula for the best possible outcome in our lives. But I also know from His scripture, that He loves it when our obedience comes from our love for Him rather than out of fear. His Law spells out a recipe for reaping and sowing, rewards and consequences, etc. But His Law more than that sets up a way for us to know we are NOT God and that we need a Savior in our lives—they are a map to the only perfect one. We strive for righteousness, but know that the only true righteousness comes through Him. So, that's God's system. But who are we to think WE get to have a list of expectations similar to the Ten Commandments in another person's life? We are not God—in fact we are still very flawed, just other journeymen on the same path. So—setting up a list of rules for someone else (whether expressed or implied), using manipulation and guilt-trip tactics is a sign our expectations are toxic.

Do my expectations in others come out of a motive of hoping for something good in their lives, or hoping they bring something good to MY life? Could that be the bottom line on defining whether an expectation is toxic or healthy?


Niki Turner said...

One major difference between God's expectations and human expectations is that the latter are so often left unspoken.

Those silent expectations invariably lead to disappointment and damaged relationships. I know for myself that when I feel someone has "let me down" it's almost always because I've failed to communicate my expectations.

Excellent post, Kathy! Thank you!

Joy Weese Moll said...

Those are very useful distinctions -- high hopes, mutually beneficial, and guilt-trip ticket.

You might like the book I'm reading, and will be leading a book club discussion on next week, The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore, about two guys with the same name and many similar disadvantaged circumstances while growing up. One ends up in prison for life and the other ends up a Rhodes Scholar and successful businessman. The book asks "why?" and a partial answer seems to be those high hopes sort of expectations by the people around the boy destined to be the Rhodes Scholar, missing from the life of the imprisoned man.

Anonymous said...

It is very helpful!

Anonymous said...

THX for sharing

Robin J. Steinweg said...

Ha! This reminds me of a long-ago Prairie Home Companion spot: Give the gift that keeps on giving---
the gift of guilt!

Excellent article, Kathy. You have, as you have a way of doing, hit it spot on.

Karen Barnes Jordan said...

I SO agree with your statement: "... setting up a list of rules for someone else (whether expressed or implied), using manipulation and guilt-trip tactics is a sign our expectations are toxic."

I joked once about someone close to me being a "travel agent for guilt trips." For a long time, I found myself ducking the guilt trips from this person. I pray that the Lord will help me NEVER fill that role in someone else's life!