Advent: Reorienting Expectations

Advent is the season of waiting and expecting.

Candles on Christmas. Photos by Evan Schneider.

And I realize I’ve written a lot about expectations on this blog.  Inspired by a post on Zen Habits and shaken by a professional disappointment, in China I wrote about the freedom that comes with tossing one’s expectations into the ocean.  Then, a year later in the midst of culture shock and making a new life in this country, I wrote about the sense of hope that comes from being a forward people and being able to rest in a God who promises more than we can possible imagine…or expect.

Lately in preparation for the courses I’m teaching on Cross-Cultural Family Systems, I’ve been reading a lot about lowering one’s expectations when it comes to dealing with difficult family members.  Such a directive doesn’t seem to jibe with the orientation I want to take to humanity and family, which is more along the lines of investing in people, and sharing real struggles in order to reach a place of deep communion and better communication.

As this dissonance swirled in my mind, it also brought up the varying engagements with expectations that I’ve been pondering and writing about–tossing, lowering, and raising–and I wondered what this range says about theology, consistency, myself, or God?!

Boats on Plymouth Harbor.

At present, I’m drawn to the conclusion that not only are tossing one’s expectations into the ocean, lowering one’s expectations, and expecting everything perhaps relevant to different life seasons, but they all clearly involve a reorienting of expectations, in which we hopefully allow God to return to the center of our lives.  To explain, are not tossing one’s expectations into the ocean, lowering one’s expectations when it comes to family members satisfying all our needs, or expecting faithfulness and promise from God all deep acts of faith that recognize God’s supremacy and our humanity?  

It’s funny, because taken from this angle, lowering expectations, when it comes to family (which is particularly relevant during this season!), is perhaps neither glib nor maudlin, but rather a recognition that our tendency to attribute our failures or unhappiness to others is our problem, not theirs.  Investment in our friends and family, then, becomes the radical practice of sharing, not because we expect others to fix problems for us or fix themselves, but simply because we love and trust that relationship itself is life-giving.

Our bonzai Christmas tree in China, decorated for the holidays.

So this Advent, whatever your expectations may be, whether you’ve tossed them, lowered them, or raised them, may God be your guide and your center.  May God be at the helm of your reorienting and may we all be powerfully changed by a God who is wholly and holy relational, and with whom, we find both radical hope and freedom this season to love those in our midst.

Amen.

P.s.  This great little post on five advent reflections may have gotten buried in a previous post.  There’s so much about God’s reorienting work in these reflections- enjoy.

P.p.s.  Gretchen Rubin’s tips for getting along during the holidays!

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