expectations/disappointment is a subject of conversation that has come up several times now with a friend of mine, and i really would like to explore it more--how it affects our lives and our faith. i would really hope for this to be a conversation as well, so any comments would be greatly appreciated.

i've heard depression described as "shattered expectations." does that perhaps give us some sort of insight into why depression is so rampant in our culture these days? maybe the problem is not that we just have so many bad things happening to us (as people who are in many third world countries are generally happier than americans), but that we have all given into a false expectation of what we are supposed to expect out of life--out of our relationships, our possessions, our actions.

where does this come from? does it come from our overly scientific approach to reality? that there should be a simple cause/effect relationship between what we do and what happens. and then life doesn't follow those rules. or is it that we are so saturated with marketing that tells us our toothbrush will make our lives more happy? that we expect every product to deliver some piece of what we are missing. is it our churches? that tell us the Lord will bless you and will work out everything to your good (with a narrow interpretation on what "blessings" are).

the reasons are rampant. i'm sure there are many more. through the mix of them all it is apparent that this is pervasive across most if not all of the american subcultures. we've all bought into these expectations no matter our economic/social class, religion, race, location. we all think that life owes us something. and that we deserve the best. or if not the best at least something that is on a level with what everyone else seems to have (which is a very high level).

some of us have different beliefs as to how we get there, but getting there is always the goal. and when we fall short of it for one reason or another (our fault or another's), we experience strong disappointment. and God seems to make his way in the mix:

"American evangelicals believe there is a crisis afoot over whether God is good enough for Americans to believe in him. Jesus demonstrated the goodness of God by including the outcasts and accepting the last, lost, least and overlooked. Evangelicals want God to make their life great…now."
--from internetmonk

we all operate on a rewards-based system. if we do what God wants then he will bless me, he will make my life good. everything else is rewards-based. if you work hard you'll get good grades, a good job, a great family, etc. it all just takes some good 'ole fashion protestant work-ethic grit. we put our money in the machine and we'll get what we pay for. and we'll get it right away. it's reliability. and often God doesn't seem so reliable.

we expect guarantees, even when we really have no promise and we just assume we know how the "machine" works. this leads to massive disappointment and shattered expectations--along with indignant reactions.

but perhaps life is a little more like a seed. if you plant it perhaps it will grow. many factors go into it, and it requires great care and patience. and sometimes it just doesn't grow. sometimes the soil is bad, or other factors we can't explain. you don't necessarily expect the seed to grow. you believe it will. you hope it will. but it's not in your control. unless you have perfected the science of farming and controlled all the external factors through massive expensive machinery--but that only reinforces the point, that we believe we can control all those factors in our own lives.

control is a big part of it. that's what's nice about rewards-based systems--you know how it works and you just have to live up to your end of the bargain.

the thing is, God doesn't really work on that system. and neither does love. huh, funny how those two go together. the fact is we don't always get what we deserve, especially from God. and more often than not that is probably a good thing. besides what good things we think we deserve would probably rarely be due to us even if there was a system.

of course i operate under all these assumptions myself, even if i seem to identify them now. disappointment is something i can't help but struggle with. or can i help it? we all have expectations for our lives, things we would like to see happen, ways we thought it would always play out--at least to some extent. i think part of my problem is that i believe that these expectations are what is best for me, when really i can't be certain of that at all.

but what is the answer? should you just simply lower your expectations? then you won't be disappointed so much. but then it seems as if your life is in some way muted. you can't fully enjoy the good things that actually do happen.

i've read some spiritual writings that talk about detachment--not in a stoic entirely removed way, but not attaching your desires to your fulfillment and joy. i'm not sure what i think about this; i am still wrestling with it. part of me thinks it sounds so removed, without real hope, disingenuous, and not very like Jesus. but then again maybe it is. maybe you have to live this way, seeing detachment as a form of surrender of your life to God--making your emotions no longer the judge. i still don't really understand it though.

so are we doomed to go through life suffering disappointment and letdown? that's life. is it? we learn to heal and we learn to cope. we lose our youthful idealism and optimism. and as you get older and older you have taken enough hits that you are ready to be done with it all, ready to be spared any more of it? is there another way to live? can we truly ever come to the place of taking ourselves out of the center of our own experience?

thoughts? please chime in here anytime.


  1. this reminds me of Max Weber's classic "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism"--we should wear our expectations like a "light cloak"; however, at least in America, we let them become a "iron cage," hoping to reach some stasis of wealth and retirement and happiness. My view is that happiness cannot ultimately be calculated, as many statistical fiddlesticks as we throw in our heads. Happiness is joy's joke. God always surprises us if we simply obey His Word and stick with these three fundementals: faith, love, and hope.


  2. Conclusion: when we are weak, then we are truly strong. We simply have to keep getting back up again and again--no feeling is final.


  3. while i don't think we can remove ourselves from our own experience, i do think that we can relinquish the center. if our lives are no longer our own, then i think we must view our own experience from the edges, somewhat akin to looking out a car window. you can see where you're going but you're not the one driving. and i think there's peace in that. excitement in the unknown, but perhaps without expectation. can you really know where you'll end up? does it matter? i mean, you're riding in a car with Jesus who cares!

  4. hmm. I think it is important to allow yourself to get attached to things to become passionate about them and trust that God has your best interest in mind. Then when a door gets shut or something completely changes you just channel those emotions in a new direction. It's okay to grieve (I think I'm speaking from current experience, ha) but there is no reason to live in the past with our preconceived ideas of how life is supposed to work out for us.

  5. Great post, Luke. Crazy timing--I was definitely thinking many of those thoughts. Especially about guarantees. And expectations.

    I think it is hard for us to wrap our minds around the possibility of the "other" --for while we may see the ridiculous indulgence of our lifestyle, somehow, this is still safer. Or we trick ourselves into thinking so.

    It's easier to succumb to this dizzying American life because that is what we know. And at the root of it, we are afraid to question it because then we may feel compelled to break the mold. And then...well, that's just it. We don't know what would follow. And we like security. Or at least its pretense.

    (And when I say "we"...I mean "me"...)

  6. disappointment. i think the word itself can give light to our thoughts.

    a dis-appointment, something veering from our concept of what should be. this next part i looked up here. dis-, having the function of conveying a removal of, and undoing, or straying from...(that's my definition)

    which leaves 'appointment'.

    the immediate question i thought of is, "by whom?"

    how we answer that question shows our true colors.

    questions to ponder:
    is our desire for control a means for its own end?

    if not, what is that end?

  7. well you can just throw yourself into an uncomfortable experience and let Him hollow you out. its not too fun a lot and its real tiring. but im finding hope in the transformation, in the loss of self, in the need for Him increasing, for the loss of control, and more importantly the loss of desire to control. its a slow process, but He´s doing it.

    He just keeps telling me to be grateful...no matter what. to let gratitude well up in the face of disappointment and fear and despair.

    its coming