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Expecting the Unexpected: Living With Expectancy Rather Than Expectations

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Family Hiking in the mountains with no expectations
Creating expectations of how life should go can open our hearts up to disappointment. However, if we live with anticipation and expectancy of what is to come, and what God is doing in our lives, we can experience greater joy in the journey.

I kicked a loose piece of granite as I hiked the Colorado backcountry, sending it careening into a pile of gold aspen leaves. My day was not supposed to go like this. In fact, the whole year had been an exercise in unmet expectations. New Year’s Day 2020 heralded in bright hopes and grand plans for the next twelve months — every single one of which had been upended. As a person who strongly prefers having a plan and knowing what to expect, all the year’s plot twists were throwing me for a loop. I felt as if I had become a pro at expecting the unexpected. However, every time the year threw another curveball, it turned my insides to Jello. 

In the grand scheme of things, my morning wasn’t awful. The weather was perfect. The sky was clear and blue, and I felt strong enough to conquer the seven-mile hike I had planned through the national monument. Everything was meeting my expectations. Well, almost everything. 

A friend of mine worked at the monument over the summer. We shared a love of the rolling ridges, geologic formations, and butterscotch-smelling ponderosa pine. My week had been brutal and I just needed a good friend to shine some sunlight and perspective into my day. However, when I arrived at the visitor center, my friend was nowhere to be found. My heart sank into my boots.

Disappointment stole the wind from my sails. Suddenly, the trail I had so looked forward to exploring didn’t hold the same intrigue. I wanted to pout like the kid in the backseat whose parents just drove past the ice cream shop. It wasn’t like me to feel so discouraged. What was the deal? Had I created and clung to an expectation of what things should look like so tightly that I had opened the door for crushing disappointment?

It felt as if Jesus sat down next to me on that empty picnic table and wrapped His arm around my shoulder. “Give this to me, and lets you and I go on that hike.”

“But…”

“No buts. Trust me. Hand over your expectations and let Me lead. And, remember: when you walk with Me, plan to expect the unexpected.”

Expecting the Unexpected

I hoisted my backpack onto my shoulders and made for the trail I had planned to investigate. While I had seen the area on a map, I had no idea what I would come across as I navigated the rocky terrain. Therefore, I had zero expectations about what I’d see on this hike. I was expecting the unexpected. My boots crunched against the dirt as I climbed the ridge. A sense of excitement stirred in me, just like a kid on Christmas morning. Anything could be around the next turn; I just had to wait to unwrap whatever gift was waiting. 

As I prayed and hiked through the golden aspens and old volcanic deposits, a thought struck me. Jesus’ voice was clear. “Why don’t you live your life like this — walking with Me and enjoying the expectancy of what’s to come, instead of trying to have every moment planned?”

I stopped in my tracks. What if I did live every moment without clinging to expectations, and just expected the unexpected? And what if I let go of the rudder and let God steer the boat? If I invite Him to go on the adventure with me and let Him lead, how much freedom would I have to sit back and enjoy the ride? How much disappointment would I avoid?

God had been trying to teach me this lesson all year. It took that morning on the trail to drive the point home. Standing amid the aspens near the elk watering hole and listening to a stellar blue jay squawking, I prayed. “God, teach me to live with expectancy and excitement rather than rooting myself in my own expectations. Help me to see that what You have planned is far greater than anything I could conceive.”

As I wrapped up my seven-mile hike — one full of beautiful scenery, animal encounters, and laughter with some other hikers — my phone buzzed. A message popped up from the friend I had missed. It suggested a location to see some great views in the next town. I’d come this far; why not a little further? By this point, I was inspired by the anticipation of what might wait around the next corner. I could hear God’s whisper, “Go see what’s there.”

Wouldn’t you know, my friend was there waiting for me under the aspens. My unmet expectations turned into one of the most encouraging and refreshing afternoons that I have ever experienced — and was far better than anything I ever expected.

Expectation vs. Reality

How often do things in our lives go exactly as we planned? Even a run to the grocery store never turns out quite as we imagine. How often do you plan out every nuance and run through every imaginable scenario in your mind? Do you create expectations as a way to feel in control of those situations? The reality is this: you have little or no control over any of it. What will happen is going to happen regardless of how well you have planned, and worrying about the future only causes anxiety

Don’t get me wrong: planning is a good thing. It’s beneficial to be organized and to have certain things planned out. For example, it’s helpful to make plans such as reservations and sending invitations for your child’s birthday party. However, when we set expectations of how that party should turn out and who should show up, we set ourselves up for disappointment. We are not doing ourselves any favors when we cling to those unmet expectations. 

A Heavy Burden

Imagine that you are carrying a massive rock, such as the ones surfers use for underwater training. When you cling to that rock with all your might, you sink to the bottom of the ocean. If you stay there long enough, you’ll drown. You have to let go of the rock to swim to the surface for air. Now imagine that rock is the expectations you hold of any given thing in life. How hard are you clinging to them? If you’re not letting go, do you feel that sinking feeling in your chest? Do you feel like you’re drowning? 

Take a few minutes to list out some of the expectations you have of how life should look? Do you have expectations of… 

  • When or whom you should marry?
  • How many kids should you have?
  • Where you should live?
  • How your career should progress?
  • Your children — how they dress, act, perform in school, or what jobs they will choose?

What are your expectations for today? Do you expect to have certain things accomplished by the time dinner rolls around? 

The big question is, how do you react when those things don’t pan out the way you planned? Do you get bent out of shape and let the disappointment sink you? Proverbs 17:22 tells us that “a joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up bones.” Are we letting those unmet expectations and disappointments crush our spirits? And do we allow that crushed spirit to turn into a bitterness that poisons the well of our hearts?

Let me tell you; there’s another way. Here are some ways that our unmet expectations can reveal God’s blessings.

Embrace the messiness of parenting and find home, faith and family with author and Focus on the Family President Jim Daly.

Unmet Expectations Teach Us to Invite God on the Journey

Every time I hike, I invite God to walk with me. However, Jesus doesn’t want to be involved in our lives only when we need something or are facing a challenge. He wants to walk every moment of every day with us. We need to invite him to do so. Just like any relationship that we have in our lives — with our spouse, our parents, our kids, or our friends — we need to invest time and energy in nurturing that relationship. We need to read God’s love letters to us in His Word and talk to Him in prayer. 

Inviting God to walk with us on life’s journey can help us to give up a lot of stress. I often imagine life as a hike — I have no idea what the trail is like or where it leads, but God knows every step. How frustrated am I going to be if I try to guide when I haven’t even read the map? Instead, trusting God to lead me through the valleys and peaks will relieve me of a lot of stress. When we focus on God and not the challenges in front of us, our perspective shifts. Expecting the unexpected gives us so much freedom.

Words To Live By

Isaiah 26:3 reminds us, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in You.” 

Morgan Harper Nichols once said, “Perhaps He is shaping you to fix your eyes on things above, so you will be reminded over and over of His love, His promises, and no matter what happens, there is still more to come.”

Do we trust Him to keep us safe on the journey? Even though we may find ourselves bushwhacking through the forest, do we trust that He will get us through? Do we trust God enough to hand over the unmet expectations that weigh us down like a rock in our backpacks? Regardless of if our disappointments are minor or grieve us deeply, God is with us every step of the way.  

So here’s the question: Do you want a life that is safe, predictable, and goes by the book? Or do you want a story that pushes you to rely on God?

Teaching Our Kids to Expect the Unexpected

Not only is it essential for us to learn to live with expectancy, but we have the opportunity to teach our kids to do the same. The attitude of expectancy will impact how they handle things that don’t go their way or according to their life plan. As they try to navigate the twists and turns of life and figure out who God has called them to be, our kids must trust God to lead them. They will need to expect the unexpected, and learn to let go of those expectations that they have created, or that society has created, for themselves. An attitude of anticipation for the future creates flexibility and will help our kids remember that God’s plans are far greater than our imaginations.  

We also have the opportunity to teach our kids how to roll with the tides by teaching them some words to use when they are thinking about life. For instance, using words like “should” solidifies expectations in our kids’ minds. It sets in concrete the way they believe life should go. For instance, if a child says, “My science fair project should win first prize,” they are going to be sorely disappointed if they take second place. Instead, if we teach our kids to see the world through the lens of things that “could” happen, they set down the expectations and open themselves to seeing different opportunities. For example, “I could be the first chair violin in the orchestra at school, or I could be the second chair and help support the other musicians.” The words we use can have a tremendous impact on our kids’ mindsets and expectations.

Moving Forward 

2020 has been a year where many expectations have shattered. We’ve all been forced to roll with the ebb and flow of the ever-changing tides and expect the unexpected. We can choose to cling to our expectations of how life should look or let go and learn to live with anticipation. God has been actively working on my heart in this area this year and, chances are, you are feeling Him tug your heartstrings too. He wants you to give your unmet expectations to Him and trust Him with every nuance of your life — both big and small. He is inviting you to take the journey through life with Him. Remember David’s prayer as you start each day: “In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice. In the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly” (Psalm 5:3, NIV).

© 2020 by Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.

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