Controlling Expectations

Image result for controlling expectations“Expectations” can be defined as the belief that certain things are going to happen.

Expectations can be negative, positive, or indifferent.

We all have expectations. They can be elementary like Annie sings, “The sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar there’ll be sun.” They can be grandiose and complex or small, underwhelming, old, and ordinary.

Expectations can be goals and dreams for the future. The lack of expectations can be an admission of defeat.

You can manipulate the outcome of your expectations in a negative way by sabotaging your success. All of us have a way of bringing about the results we expect.

Expect poor results, and the odds are you will get poor results.

Manipulation does not have to be a bad word. Dr. Keith Drury said,

“The person with the plan is the person with the power.”

Expect good results, and the odds are in your favor to get good results.

You are disappointed when your expectations are not met.  When I married, I expected it to be easy. We both were from Christian families and reared in church in sister denominations, attended the same Bible college, shared the same belief and value system, loved music and performance, and were devoted Christians.

What could go wrong?

Plenty!

We soon discovered we had many and significant differences. She was a spend-thrift, I was a saver. She was an emotional thinker, I was a logical thinker. She was always on the go, go, go, I was a homebody. She was spontaneous, I was a planner. She was gregarious and recharged her batteries by being with lots of people, I was an introvert and recharged my batteries by being alone.

Our adult daughter observed, “Everyone can see you have nothing in common.”

There was frequent conflict.

She wanted a gentleman, I wanted a wife who could play the piano and sing alto. We both got what we wanted, but from the beginning to the end it was not what we expected.

I have learned something about expectations:

  • The only expectations you can control are the expectations you have of yourself.
  • Good, bad, or indifferent outcomes depend upon your level of control.
  • The expectations you have that you cannot control is a recipe for disappointment.

Before my second marriage, I remembered the words of a former pastor,

“Do not have any expectations of her.”

That is exactly what I set out to do. I wrote down the expectations I had of myself and read them frequently. It is working thus far.

If you are measuring others by your expectations, you are using the wrong yardstick. Use the one closer to home.

The LORD be with you.

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Contradictions Revisited

Image result for contradictionsMy writer’s group thought that my article, Contradictions, last week lacked a connection between contradictions and expectations and they felt that the conclusion lacked connection between the aforementioned subjects and a neat wrap-up to the whole. Therefore, without regurgitating the original Contradictions, I want to try to revisit the subject for the purpose of clarity and connection.

Throughout the summer and fall of 2016 I was attempting to make amends to people I had harmed and repair friendships that had been damaged or broken. To that end I joined Facebook – after a three-year absence – and sent emails and letters. In several instances I was disappointed, hurt, and disillusioned by the response. One person I sent a letter to responded with a phone call extending forgiveness, but then proceeded to justify all his/her actions leading up to our break. I was disappointed and angry. The self-justification was unnecessary. It left me feeling like I had worked and processed my words and actions from the past, accepted responsibility for the same, made thorough admission of my guilt, sincerely apologized, and sought reconciliation for nothing. S/He responded in a way that left me believing that s/he had no confidence in my growth, no culpability in the whole affair, and had performed perfectly. It was not the response I had expected or wanted to hear. (Thankfully, after several more gentle and earnest attempts, the relationship is mending.)

In another letter I sent I recalled the close friendship this person and I had shared and some of the humorous and serious moments we experienced together. In the letter I asked him/her what I had done to him/her for him/her to not respond to me in my hour of need. The reply I received thanked me for the recollection of good memories and abruptly ended there. Not only was there no response to the questions I asked, there was no acknowledgement of them at all. Within days of receiving his/her letter s/he published an article on his/her blog about the need for a fallen Christian to embrace the church rather than run away from it. S/He used words and phrases like “safety,” “embrace,” “a place to grow,” a place where one can have the “freedom to fall and get back up again,” and a “community (where the fallen one) could have … an opportunity to flourish in faith and life,” The contradiction of his/her words and actions were dark clouds, pouring rain, heavy winds, and stormy seas to my mind, soul, and spirit.

S/He is not the only Christian who turned away from me. The community of Christians from which s/he came and of which I had been a part for 25 years did not reach out to me either. Not one person from that fellowship has ever asked me what happened or ever attempted to contact me in any of the myriad of ways one person can get in touch with another these days. Furthermore, when I attempted to befriend people from the Christian communities of my past – going back to my childhood – on Facebook, I was ignored or blocked by a host of them. (I thank God for the Christian people – mostly from my adolescent years – who embraced me, loved me, expressed confidence in me, and helped me in so many ways.)

You see, I have certain expectations of people, especially those who profess to be a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ. I not only have these expectations of them, but also hold myself to the same standard. If I announce to all that I have a certain and clear set of values, then you have a certain expectation that I will adhere to them. The same is true of me to you, I expect you to be what you profess to be. It is at this very point where expectations and contradictions converge. When you or I do not live up to the system of beliefs we profess, you and I are disappointed, disillusioned, hurt, and yes, even angry.

As I mentioned last week, contradictions of our expectations come from a variety of sources. There is/are . . .

  • Accidental and unaware contradictions. We are human and we are bound to say one thing and do another some point in our lives. For me, it has been several times I am sure.
  • Rethought positions. Beliefs that change with careful study of the original sources from which our belief systems flow.
  • Immature thinking on a subject. Beliefs often change with time, experience, and maturity.
  • Blind spots. These are words and actions that are unknown, unintentional, and unawares to us that contradict our stated standards. Others may see it in you, but you do not see it in yourself. It awaits revelation.
  • Blatant contradictions. These are known, intentional, and purposeful violations of ones stated belief system.

It is this last category that causes me the most irritation. It concerns me when Christians profess to believe in forgiveness and reconciliation and fail to do either. When they profess to embrace 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new,” (NKJV) and fail to accept that in another. I have come to believe that the Christian community at large has a systemic issue with reclaiming their failing or fallen brother or sister in Christ. This appears to be especially true of any who sin in a dramatic or public way that embarrasses the Church or betrays its trust. At this point the Church appears to actually become hostile, critical, condemning, unforgiving, and unwelcoming. The lost sheep is not sought and the prodigal cannot return home. I will not be the judge of the intentions of others, but when it is happening to you it is hard to feel that it is not intentional.

It is a bit tricky to recognize when my expectations are mine alone and not related to a larger scheme. In my first illustration regarding the phone call I received in reply to my letter, this is the case. I had no right to expect this person to respond in the manner that I thought s/he should. The hurt and anger were of my own making because I set myself up to expect one reply and received another. I still do not like the response, but it did not necessarily violate a dearly held set of values.

However, the second illustration is, I think, an example of a person acting contrary to his/her stated standards. Instead of “safety,” and all the other things contained within his/her writing, I found coldness, disinterest, lack of concern, distance, and a refusal to engage. I will leave it to God to judge whether these were blind spots or blatant contradictions, but contradictions they clearly are. It is here where my expectations of certain behavior based on ones proclaimed position and his/her actual behavior contradicted each other. I expected him/her to act like a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ and he/she did not. That is the contradiction that most disillusions and disappoints me.

What can I do about this conflict between beliefs and behavior? As I stated last week, I can …

  • Shield myself from all pain and become emotionally unattached to my own feelings and the feelings of others.
  • Become a cynic or skeptic and not believe in myself or others, or in God’s ability to give one enough grace to live consistent with his/her beliefs. This is not an expectation of perfection, but an expectation of reliability and dependability.
  • Believe in God and in people.

I choose to believe. I choose to believe that God’s grace is sufficient to redeem and change people and provide them with the will and desire to live free of blatant contradictions and respond quickly to blind spots when discovered. I choose to believe that people, although fallible and imperfect, want to live consistently and adhere faithfully to their system of beliefs. When my expectations are not met and there is just and clear evidence of contradictions, I will still choose to believe. As a result of believing in people to be what they profess they are, I will continue to have my expectations of myself and others unmet at times. Because people intentionally or unintentionally fall short of their professed belief system – I include myself here – there will be contradictions between profession and practice. I choose to believe in people anyway.

As a Christian I am called to love others. The  greatest commandment is to love God and the second is to love others. This is the core of the Christian faith. It is precisely this call to love others that results in my disappointment and disillusionment, but I choose to love others as unconditionally as I am capable. The risk of pain pales in importance to the belief in and love of God and others.

CONTRADICTIONS

Image result for cartoon character scratching headThere has been a question that has haunted me for the past eight months, “Why do people disappoint me?” “Why am I hurt by the words and actions of others?” I have come to the conclusion that disappointment and hurt are the result of my expectations of others. Am I wrong to have expectations of others?

As a former counselor, my clients had an expectation that I would keep their confidences. Nearly every session I informed them that everything they said was confidential with the exceptions of voiced desire to harm themselves or others, confession of juvenile abuse or molestation or elder abuse, or if the courts demanded disclosure (which is extremely rare). I held that trust inviolate. Whether in the role of pastor or counselor, to me the pastoral/mental health/substance abuse counseling office was as sacrosanct as the confessional. Once I was asked to disclose to appropriate staff and faculty the content of my counseling with college students if said counseling revealed violation of school rules or codes. I strongly objected and flatly refused to do it. And I never did. In whatever setting, clients have the right to expect that their counselors will keep their confidences.

Other types of businesses and relationships have their own set of ethical and moral expectations to which we expect adherence. The same is true of my Christian walk. If I tell you that I am a practicing disciple of Jesus Christ and if you tell me the same, it comes with an implied set of spiritual, moral, and behavioral standards. When my attitudes, actions, and words contradict my profession of faith, I should expect you to be disappointed in me. And, if you fall short, you should expect me to be disappointed in you. These I call – contradictions.

Contradictions come from a variety of sources. There is/are . . .

  • Accidental and unaware contradictions. Inevitably it happens that you and I will say one thing at one time and another thing at another time and not even be conscious of your or my contradiction.
  • Rethought positions. A sincerely held position at one point in time may not last the microscope of learning and revelation. St. Augustine of Hippo lived long enough to write, “Retractions.” A work from his mature years of life that “retracted” some of his ideas recorded earlier in his youth. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, revised his journals and other writings with margin notations that expressed his current understanding. Oh, that we all would live long enough and have such a sense of responsibility to truth and accuracy to do the same to our proclamations, speeches, and writings.
  • Immature thinking on a subject. It is the evolution of thought where what was spoken at the beginning of your understanding changes with the maturing of your study. As a first time and very young pastor, I used my college class notes to lead a Wednesday night Bible study on the book of Revelation. While preparing for and teaching each lesson, I became aware that I was disagreeing with what I had learned and was now teaching. I finished the series, but never used those notes again. Over the years, my thinking on the subject has matured and is far from what I taught and began to question over 35 years ago.
  • Blind spots. These are areas that are unknown to us and unintentional. The Johari relationship window has four panes: 1) known to us and others, 2) known to us, but not others, 3) known to others, but unknown to us, and 4) neither known to us nor others. The third pane is my meaning here. It represents places in our lives that need to be confessed and corrected. They may be clear to others, but as of yet unclear to us.
  • Blatant contradictions. It is when you say or do something that you know contradicts your belief system. About three dozen years ago I was a passenger in the car of a minister who was throwing trash out onto the side of the road. The next day his sermon was about our responsibility to God’s creation. In my eyes, he spoke without much credibility on the subject.

It is this last category that causes me the most irritation. Because of my personal failures there have been some in the Christian community who have turned their backs on me. It hurts when I send a letter seeking reconciliation that gets no reply or one that is very formal. I feel anger rise when I confess and beg forgiveness for my sins, faults, and failings to another only to hear them become sanctimonious and “holier-than-thou.” One person spent our entire conversation without taking any responsibility for his/her actions, instead s/he justified them.  When I see the names and faces of people within the Christian community who have blocked me on Facebook, ignored my friend requests, or made it impossible for me to send them a friend request, I feel pain.

One author wrote, we who fail should “embrace the (Christian) community as a safe place to grow. Within holy community, we have a freedom to fall and get back up again. We shouldn’t leave when we fail!” That has not been my experience. Instead of a forgiving “embrace,” I found rejection. Instead of “safety,” hostility. Instead of a “place to grow,” a toxic and unhealthy environment. Instead of “freedom to fall and get back up again,” condemnation and ostracization. Ronald Reagan once said, “I did not leave the Democrat party, it left me.” I feel the same about many in my “family” of Christian friends, I did not leave my church family, they left me. Here I stand repentant with wounded arms reaching out for help, but many are they who pass by on the other side. (I thank God for those who did welcome me, allowed me to minister in the ways I could, and who demonstrated confidence in and acceptance of me.)

The author of the above statement is one who passed me by. Is this a blatant contradiction or a blind spot on his part? “Christian community could have given (a fallen person) an opportunity to flourish in faith and life,” he says. Does he think that statement includes me? Unfortunately, I have found it best to hide my failures from the Christian community and make them known to God and a very few confidants alone. The risk of rejection and condemnation is too great to disclose to the Church. This “haven of rest” for the redeemed Christian can become an anchorage of death for the fallen. Therefore, I stay silent. It robs me of an opportunity to share what God’s grace can do and has done, and it robs them of the joy in rejoicing with a lost son who has returned home.

I know the cause of my woundedness – expectations – yet the question goes beyond the cause. It is not enough to identify the why, I need to determine the next step. In my estimation, there are three possibilities. I can . . .

  • Shield myself from all pain. Although that sounds reasonable, pain actually serves a valuable purpose in our lives. If I ignore the pain, I risk greater injury, not less. If I harden myself to my feelings and emotions, I leave myself without empathy. Star Trek’s Spock is an example of this brand of Stoicism. He is presented as a praiseworthy character, but he is stunted in the department of relationships and pleasure. By suppressing the painful lows, he also loses the pleasant and exhilarating highs. My personal pain has taught me too much and afforded me too many opportunities to help others to give it up.
  • Become a cynic or skeptic. A cynic is one who distrusts the motives of others, and a skeptic is one who distrusts belief systems. The cynic questions whether you have God in your life, while the skeptic questions whether there is a God. If I cannot believe that people are who they represent themselves to be, then I must logically question the same in myself. As a Christian, it leaves me without assurance of my standing with God and without confidence that God can truly change you or me. It is only a small leap from there to question if God is really active in our world today or is He distant and uninvolved. Ultimately, it leads to questioning the very existence of God. I believe in redemption – the power of God to change people from the chains of sinfulness to appropriated and actual righteousness.
  • Choose to believe redeemed people are who they say they are. I choose to believe the grace of God can change people. I choose to pray for those who intentionally or unintentionally cause me pain. When I am hurt, disappointed, or disillusioned; I choose to believe in God. For I have found that God is always good, faithful, true, and trustworthy.

Will I be hurt again? Most definitely. I will be frustrated. I will be annoyed. I will be offended. But I choose to embrace all the negative risks that come with loving and believing in people.

Our LORD be with you.