It’s hard not to have expectations when there’s something you’re really looking forward to. By definition, anticipation is “pleasurable expectation”; it’s the hope that what you have imagined will come to pass in the way you envision.
My expectations get me in trouble, though. A lot.
In our marriage, it’s understood that most of my frustration usually stems from unspoken expectations about anything and everything in our relationship. For example, I look forward to date night, excitedly imagining meaningful connection with my husband, an evening full of deep conversation, romantic moments, and lots of loving exchanges between us. No matter how sweet our time is together, though, it rarely lives up to the dream I have created in my mind. And disappointment sets in. This illustration plays itself out in countless other areas of my life: unmet expectations steal my joy.
Our family has been given an incredible gift over the next couple months: time. My husband’s job provides for a three-month long sabbatical, an opportunity to rest, renew spiritually, acquire new skills, and even just to play. It only happens every five years—our kids will be in school before it happens again. And so, I have joyfully anticipated what this time would look like for months, praying and hoping that not a precious moment would be wasted. You might say I had some expectations about making the most of our time.
The thing is, even the most well-meaning expectations have the danger of apprehending you, holding you captive to the way you thought things should go. Freedom comes from releasing the way you thought life would be and resolving to be present wherever you are.
To be present is a gift. To be present releases the pressure to meet expectations. To be present removes the burden of performing to achieve a frequently unspoken, often impossible standard. To be present allows others to be themselves, real and honest and vulnerable. To be present cultivates a heart attitude of gratefulness. To be present opens us up to encounter the Divine. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters, “the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.”
So here I am, choosing to release my husband from the pressure of living up to my expectations about what–ahem–his sabbatical (that is, not mine) would look like. Because it turns out that what he needs is actually different from what I thought he needed. And what each day holds is always a mystery, but one that brings peace in remaining unsolved. Especially when you know the One who sees the whole picture, Who knows what your soul needs to come alive, and Who will stop at nothing to redeem every seemingly wasted moment.
I’m learning to let Corey rest the way he needs to rest, pursue God the way he encounters Him most meaningfully, unwind the way his mind can check out completely, and free him from explaining to me how he chooses to spend his days. I’m choosing to allow Corey to be the man God created him to be, completely different from the woman I’m created to be. And in releasing control, I am finding freedom to be present, to lose the sense of urgency that hurries me through my days and blinds me to the gifts of each moment.
I am learning to be thankful for right now. A couple of hours to myself to drink coffee and put thoughts to paper. An early run in the glory of morning light. The sheer delight of my daughter chasing tennis balls while Corey and I play together. Baby babble communicating joy without words. Two giggling kids blowing slobbery raspberries on my belly and all over each other. Time, time, sweet time together. The list goes on and on and on—so I’ve finally started trying to write these things down to remind myself to be thankful for each gift. Being present is allowing me to see that there is more to be thankful for than I could ever even name, but by trying I am changed.
I’m learning to trust that a heart surrendered to the Giver of Life is exponentially better than the fulfillment of any of my expectations. When my deepest desire is to know God instead of just to get what I think I want, that’s when I find the truest meaning of life. And in knowing Him I am released from the futility of trying to control a life that is beyond my control anyway. My heart is finally able to stop striving and rest in the present and in His Presence.