Unmet expectations can destroy a marriage, ruin a business, split a church and crush the human spirit. Every hour of every day our minds are filled with sets of expectations for everyone with whom we engage and everything to which we put our energies. When our anticipations and our realities are out of sync, chronically, we become discouraged.
Through watching friends, I developed some imaginings of what my first pregnancy might look like. I pictured the excitement of confirming suspicions on a stick while my husband and I laughed and hugged, the wonderful reveal to friends and family, buying cute maternity clothes, designing a nursery and such.
The reality of my pregnancy erupted one cold, January morning with violent, unrelenting vomiting which nothing stopped except hospitalization, I. V’s and drugs. I cycled in and out of the hospital many times, unable to keep even my own spit down. At home, in between hospital stays, I sat on the couch or the bathroom floor all day long, dutifully trying to eat jello and crackers and keep them down., too weak to even engage in conversation. Imagine an unending stomach flu. My husband felt guilty every minute he worked and helpless every moment he spent with me. This loveliness lasted until the end of that May. Those nightmarish months looked nothing like my pregnancy dreams and left both of us deeply discouraged.
When life doesn’t go the way we planned, we are faced with response choices. We can live in the disappointment of “should have been,” or we can find ways to flourish in the land of “what is and what might be.” I seriously lacked any “go with the flow” or “make lemons from lemonade” skills in my young years, therefore I wasted a lot of time living in pity parties, wondering why things couldn’t just go the way I wanted.
The beginning of anything new, whether it’s a marriage, a job or something else, can become a minefield of unmet expectations when a situation shapes itself differently and we lack the strength of character to adjust and commit to makes the best of what God’s given us. My visions of life as a newlywed didn’t match our reality remotely. With Ken in graduate school, he attended classes and studied non-stop, except for meal breaks, from early morning to late at night. For the first few months in a new town with no friends or family, loneliness overwhelmed me. I read huge classic novels from cover to cover in between job hunting, a small, part-time waitress job, and the miniscule amount of housework necessary in our 400 square foot apartment. My college degree gathered dust as I discovered that teaching jobs in my field couldn’t be found. Every day my dreams seemed to move farther away and I lived in a state of perpetual disappointment.
As disheartening as some of my lifetime unmet expectations were, they are junior varsity compared to others which require much deeper courage and strength. When your spouse states that they don’t love you anymore and they’ve found someone else who makes them happy, that’s enormous. If your company downsizes and you are one of the expendables, that is a monstrous blow to a sense of value and a feeling of financial stability. When an adult child chooses a self-destructive lifestyle with addiction or other devastating behaviors, it’s heartbreaking. Cancer upends lives and demolishes expectations every hour of every day.
Job knew a lot about loss and unmet expectations. Who, in their wildest imaginings would think that their entire family and business could be wiped out so completely in such a short time? With no family or possessions left and covered with painful sores, it’s no wonder he sat in an ash heap. Discouragement is a normal response to broken dreams, but if we choose to live in the ash heap of disappointment, we aren’t able to see the new possibilities God places before us.
A victim mentality, hopelessness, cynicism, sarcasm, bitterness and a host of other negative emotions will attempt to establish themselves as our new baseline when we are low. How do we shift gears and recapture a peaceful, joy-filled outlook? Here’s what works for me, perhaps it can help you too:
Remind yourself that the unexpected for you is no surprise for God. He’s already prepared a new way for you to walk and function before you even knew you needed one. Whatever you need for your adjusted situation, He will provide. He is your Jehovah Jireh and you Good Shepherd.
Forgive anyone who contributed to your unmet expectations. You will make yourself crazy spinning around over what individuals should or shouldn’t have done that affected you negatively. It doesn’t mean you forget what’s been done or never lovingly confront them, it means you don’t hold it against them.
Feel what you’re feeling then begin to move on even if it’s just small steps. I’ll say it again; feelings aren’t right or wrong. How we act on them, leads to victory or despair.
Don’t rehearse the details of your setback with numerous people. Share your disappointment with one or two close friends, not everyone you meet. Some people allow themselves to be defined by their disappointments and the minute you show an interest in them, they launch into a soliloquy about all the harsh blows life has dealt them. To be sure, some people walk through some long-term Job style stuff but repeatedly talking about wrongs and disappointment just makes it harder for their soul to recover and become re-appointed in a new direction.
Re-establish your hope and expectations in the Lord. I find I must return repeatedly to a place of abandonment where I say, “Lord, this isn’t what I wanted or dreamed of at all, but I believe you create beauty, purpose and meaning in whatever you allow into my life. Let me line up with your will and your kingdom purposes in my attitudes and actions. I know your hand is good towards me and you are always, always, always, trying to prosper me, not harm me.” Sometimes I pray this a bunch when it’s a massively squirreled up situation.
Find Scriptures pertinent to your situation and hang onto them like it’s your job. I know I keep saying this but if you can get this truth, of immersing yourself in the Word and rolling it over and over in your mind, I promise you are going to handle life’s crazy dial much better than many others.
Life will perpetually hand us lemons. We must decide whether we will simply drink the bitter juice or transform it to some tasty lemonade.