Waranga Uniting Churches

The blessing of low expectations

By on November 15, 2018

There is an unexpected blessing in low expectations. My parents would not have considered themselves working class, but they were. The most general definition is that the working class includes all those who have nothing to sell but their labour and skills.  So while my father never worked in a factory, as a blacksmith/farrier (like his father and grandfather before him) he was working class.

expectation_quotes08But more than that, my parents loved people who worked with their hands and were suspicious of too much education. They had contempt for academics and pity for white collar workers. My uncles were mostly tradesmen, farmers and truck drivers. The women were homemakers. We children were sent to Technical Schools and my three older bothers left school early to work on the farm.

While I’ve often wished that my parents took a greater interest in my school achievements, I must admit that there were some benefits in their lack of expectations. The farm couldn’t cope with any more sons, and shoeing horses was seen to be a dying occupation as the baker’s and the milkman’s cart disappeared from the suburban streets. In this context my parents’ lack of expectations felt a lot like freedom and if I was prepared to fight (and I was) it was a freedom to do and be whatever I liked.

I’ve always felt sorry for the Royal Family and rich kids. There seemed to be so much expectation and constraints placed upon them. For the royals, their titles and role in society seemed already written. For the children of the rich, the expectation that they would carry on the family business or be highly successful in another career seemed to me like a terrible burden. If they were successful, then their achievement could be downplayed, because they had started from a very advantaged position. If they failed or were only moderately successful then they were seen as a squandering that advantage. How could they ever be happy?  As author Anne Lamott said, “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.”

Over the years I’ve learned to understand the difference between expectations and possibilities. Expectations assume a certain result sometime in the future. They actually narrow our options, limit our imagination, and blind us to possibilities. They create pressure in our life and hold our present sense of well-being hostage to a future that may or may not happen. Expectations create rigidity in our life and cause us to react impulsively to any perceived threat to that future we believe we deserve.

When we are controlled by our expectations, we are living a contingent life; we cannot be free in the present moment. We cannot be happy with a beautiful sunset or with a moment of warmth between ourselves and another; instead, every experience is interpreted in the context of an expected future. In this way expectations enslave us. It would be one thing if in fact we could control the future, but is that not the case.

In contrast to expectations, possibilities are based in the present moment, where we are alive to the mystery of life. Live as fully as you can in the present moment and by all means plan for the future, but do not assume that the future will come to pass. The apostle Paul wrote that “the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Eph 30:20). Expectations are limited by our imagination, living a life that is open to possibilities is more like a request, a prayer, or an act of witnessing our faith in life.

This is the gospel, and it’s good news.

Brian Spencer, Minister