There is no doubt: unfulfilled and unspoken expectations can impact our experiences and relationships. This is especially true during the holidays where they are a major contributor to the blues. Have you ever realized you were making expectations of others or yourself? I’m sharing how to surrender your expectations and gain grace, peace and contentment.
What are expectations?
A major contributor to blues around the holidays is unfulfilled expectations. They are too plentiful to count: our expectations of others, others’ expectations of us, our expectations of God, and even our expectations of ourselves. Most expectations are unspoken, which is akin to playing a game but no one knowing the rules.
When my son was younger, he came home from school one day and wanted the family to play a game together. But there was a catch: part of the game was that the players had to figure out the rules without being explicitly told. The only rule we were given at the outset was that we were not allowed to be explicitly told the rules but rather, we had to figure them out as we played. He knew the rules because he had previously played the game with friends. We, on the other hand, had to figure out the rules through trial and error as we played.
Our reactions to this experience were mixed: some of us found the comedy of our errors to be rather humorous, some enjoyed the challenge of using feedback as our clues to determine the unspoken rules, and some found the lack of structure frustrating at best. The same could be said about unspoken expectations.
What does it mean when we say unspoken expectations?
Think about it: at a holiday meal, you may consciously or unconsciously hope that your mother-in-law will compliment your table setting, while she may expect that you will gush about her bringing her “famous” fruit cake (as usual).
You may hold yourself to a high expectation that all the food will come out of the oven at exactly the same time and be picture-perfect and suitable for the cover of Food & Wine magazine.
And what about the expectations you have of God? Perhaps He would bring home your estranged sister, or perhaps stretch your budget to meet the increased holiday expenses, or maybe He would let you attend the holiday festivities with a significant other on your arm (or even that your current significant other would be sober, clean-shaven and not embarrass you in front of your family)?
Creating and trying to live up to these expectations, whether unfilled or unspoken, is exhausting.
Expectations are a subtle form of control. In creating expectations for others, God, and ourselves, we are unconsciously setting the standard that we will only be happy, satisfied, or content if or when such expectations are met. What’s even worse is when our expectations remain unspoken. That’s like asking someone what they want to eat for dinner and hoping you guess right out of the billion possibilities that exist!
We really have two feasible options: to share our unspoken expectations with others so they are known (although this still doesn’t guarantee that our expectations will be met by others) or to forego our desire to control, and release others, God, and ourselves from the tyranny of our expectations.
By not recognizing and acknowledging our expectations, we set ourselves up for disappointment, frustration, and at times even despair. By becoming aware of our spoken stated or unspoken unstated expectations, we can then make a conscious decision regarding what is first reasonable and second necessary in our minds.
Exchange unspoken expectations for peace and contentment
In years past, I found that not recognizing the unspoken expectations I had of others, God, and myself, set me up to feel regretful and forlorn at the end of the holiday season, but not knowing why. I would rationalize to myself that “It was a nice holiday season,” “I enjoyed seeing so-and-so,” and that “I managed to complete everything on my holiday preparation to-do list,” then wonder why I felt disappointed or sad.
Once I realized I was making expectations of others and myself, and that others could not live up to my spoken expectations of them, then I could make the conscious decision to let go and surrender to what would be.
By surrendering, I gave myself and others the freedom to enjoy whatever came our way.
I was more focused on the moment instead of pre-planning the future. By letting others off the hook for my unspoken expectations, I was much more able to give myself grace as well. And with that grace, came peace and contentment.
What expectations have you made for yourself this holiday season? For others? For God? Which of those are you willing to surrender in exchange for His peace?
Mark Your Calendars!
To show my appreciation to my readers and listeners, and as a way to bless you in the New Year, I’m offering three FREE events.
First, we’ll start the New Year with a 7-Day Today is Going to be a Good Day Challenge. Through this challenge, we’ll learn that as we shift our focus from our problems to The Problem Solver and His promises, we’ll experience a change in our thoughts, our attitudes, our perspective, and our focus throughout the day. We’ll reframe our thoughts so that each day can be a good day. This challenge runs from January 2nd to January 9th.
Second, we’re offering a FREE webinar on January 9th called Help for When You’re Feeling Blue. In the aftermath of the holidays, it’s often hard to resume your normal daily activities. Maybe your energy has been transplanted by winter sluggishness. Or, no matter how hard you try, maybe you just can’t find your joy again. If you are struggling, this webinar provides help for when you are feeling blue. Mark your calendar for January 9th.
Our third blessing is an Online Hope Prevails Bible Study that starts on Monday, January 23rd.
More information on these three events will be coming soon. Stay tuned!