I’m a planner, which is largely a good thing, but also is the source of much of my unhappiness. The thing is, when I plan a day, an evening, a date, or whatever, it’s easy for my plans to turn into expectations, and when what I anticipate isn’t fulfilled I become sad, frustrated, and out of sorts. I don’t think I’m alone in this. In truth, it seems to me expectations are a big and broad problem for us, which leads me to conclude: Expectations are of the devil, because they’re often unfilled, which upsets us, and even when they aremet the best we get is a dull sense of satisfaction. Meanwhile, accepting and appreciating is heavenly, because it keeps us present, open, and receptive to the gift of this person, this moment, this place, and so on.
We recently went on a lengthy and wonderful vacation to visit some family and friends, who have become family. My main plans were to play, rest, and connect. Yet, somewhere along the way this also became my expectation! 😦 I say that because he middle of our trip was a weekend stay in New Mexico to visit my stepson’s wife (would that be stepdaughter-in-law?) and their two young kiddos. My stepson, Andrew, is in the Air Force and deployed, so sadly we didn’t get to see him, yet we had a great time hanging out with and playing with Stephanie and the kids.
I mention this because the weekend we were there found Stephanie in the midst of moving houses. She was literally switching towns and houses the day we left … while caring for a one-year old and a two-year old. The military is really great about moving people and had packed and transported much their stuff before we arrived, and planned to finish most of the rest as we were departing. The night before, though, reality crashed down on Stephanie as she realized there was a good chunk of odds and ends that had to be taken care of that night.
Ordinarily this wouldn’t have been a deal for me, as I’m happy to help friends and family. As you’ve likely guessed, the problem was my expectations. We’d planned to make dinner that night, after which I’d anticipated resting and hanging out. Imagine a toddler who gets a toy that they adore. Then, consider the chaos that will ensue if you try to take the toy away from said child. THAT was my inner mind state for the first part of helping Stephanie prepare. Wearing a forced smile on the outside, I was a petulant child on the inside … all because of expectations.
As we helped out, the conversation in my head went something like this:
Two-year old Lang: “Grrr.”
True Lang: “You do realize she’s moving tomorrow and has two little kids right?”
Two-year old Lang: “Sigh.”
True Lang: “You know you’re only upset because you had expectations and they aren’t being met?”
Two-year old Lang: “Yes, expectations are from the devil … and I’m still frustrated.”
True Lang: “Put yourself in her shoes and remember when you’ve asked for and needed help from others.”
Two-year old Lang: “Ugh! You have a point.”
To make a long story short, my expectations turned a sacred evening of kindness into a crappy time for me … at least until choosing acceptance and appreciation helped clear my mind and return my joy … which was a process and basically didn’t happen until near the end. With that in mind, I’d like to expand this idea and point out some other ways I find it super helpful.
Relationships are a big place where expectations are a killer, while acceptance and appreciation are joyous. I think about my relationship with my wife, Lisa. When I do nice things for her with an expectation of a certain response, I’m neither truly loving her nor being kind to her or myself, because I’m setting her up for failure and me for disappointment. Accepting and appreciating her as she is, though, is true love.(Please note, I’m speaking in generalities here, because naturally we should NOT accept any forms of harm; plus, Lisa and I should and do encourage each other to grow and transform.) Think about the potentially hot button issue of sex. Having an expectation as to frequency and/or quality sets you and you’re partner up for being frustrated, disappointed, pressured, and unsatisfied. A friend of mine told me: The more I care and give to my wife without expectation, the more loving I am, and I think he’s on to something applicable to significant others, friends, and family alike.
Changing our mentalities from expecting to accepting and appreciating is not only helpful for our plans and relationships, it’s a game-changer when it comes to work of any sort, be it job, parenting, counseling, acts of kindness, housework, yard work, or any other doings. Rob Bell says: “Give your gift and walk away.” I love this on SO many levels because it names our efforts (and those of others) a gift, and reminds us to rid ourselves of the burden of expecting a specific result. When we expect our boss to notice and applaud the great job we did or to get a promotion, we’re lining ourselves up for heartache. When we assume our kids will ______, we’re imprisoning them and ourselves. When we suppose a friend will take our advise or anticipate recognition for doing the dishes or presume people will remark how good our new clothes, hair, or nails look, at best we will end up marginally content as what we planned of others became true, while more often than not we’ll be frustrated, disappointed, and unhappy. I could keep going, but hopefully you see what I mean. 🙂
I have a hunch that the number one cause for unhappiness isn’t others, it’s ourattachment to plans, results, responses, etc.! Yet, while changing our mentalities from expectations to acceptance and appreciation isn’t a cure all, I bet it’ll help a lot! What do you think?
Grace and peace,