Adjust your expectations

Another year has come and gone, and one of the reminders that I am getting older is the yearly physical that accompanies each birthday. A few weeks ago I went to see my doctor, and along with the usual pokes, prods and tests I received some sage advice: Adjust your expectations.

These words came in the context of our discussion on joint pain, sore muscles, and other signs that at age 47 I simply can’t do what I used to be able to do. I can still run, and I do – just not as fast. I can still enjoy food, but I must be more aware of the quality and quantity of what I allow into my body. Due diligence of rest, nutrition and exercise aside, the maturing of the human body, to put it nicely, cannot be avoided. The consequences of this process can be sobering, but during our conversation my kind doctor encouraged me to adjust my expectations in order that the limits that accompany aging can be soldiered with a sense of contentedness and peace.

I’ve thought a whole lot about this in the last three weeks since. I feel that his advice was prophetic in a sense; the more I’ve pondered it I’ve realized that it also speaks wisdom to some of the deeper issues of life.

Expectation. What a word this is. It speaks of the joy and vigor with which we approach many parts of our lives – our goals and dreams, our accomplishments, our relationships. But expectation is a two-edged sword; on the flip side, it is often much of the reason for our struggles and resentments. To give in to unrealistic idealism makes for a disheartened dreamer; by discarding it we create a curmudgeon in our soul.

Perhaps, like adjusting our expectation of what our aging body can do, we can also adjust our expectation in other areas of life. In doing so I believe that the acceptance that comes with living in the tension of heartbreak and reality can do wonders for our outlook on life.

I think the key to this is realizing that expectations based on human assumptions are going to cause trouble every time. For example, if I think my favorite football team is going to win for whatever reason, and they lose, I become disheartened. If I assume that my well-executed parenting strategies will produce a child exactly as I planned, I have forgotten than there are other variables involved. If I believe that marriage will be the idyllic dream I always hoped for, free of struggle and disappointment, I will soon learn the opposite.

Of course, this applies to many other areas of life: our job and career, our friendships, our health, our government, even our church experience. Beyond all of that, and bearing much more weight, is the application of expectation to our faith. If God does not seem to answer my prayers or work in my life the way I supposed he would, I have two options. I can adjust my expectations, submitting them humbly to his sovereignty – or I can rage against him because he did not turn out to be the idol I had constructed in my heart. An idol is, after all, a god of our making – one who is simply our excuse to avoid true obedience and surrender.

As for hope and expectation, Proverbs 13:12 speaks very simply to this: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” Here is bad news for our pride – your misinformed vision of life, love and happiness is going to sicken you. But there is good news too: that expectation, balanced with surrender and pragmatism, can bring joy and deep satisfaction!

As we approach a new year, may we surrender all our hopes and disappointments before God, trusting in his providence. From this we will walk into whatever is next with a heart that is soft and fertile soil for whatever he chooses to grow in our lives.

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