Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Power of Expectations (3) Of Others

Dear Friends and Family,

This week marked my one year anniversary of going into the hospital. What a year! I and my family remain deeply grateful for the prayers and faithful friendship of so many people. God's goodness has been on tangible display through the actions of his family here on earth.

I have continued to reflect quite a lot on the power of expectations in our lives. As I share some thoughts on expectations of others, I recognize it will only scratch the surface, but I hope it will begin to frame the topic at a basic level.

My thesis is that our expectations of others are often mis-guided because they are self-oriented, not other-centered.

I believe we should rightly have expectations of others: spouses, children, parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, subordinates, bosses, teammates, coaches, etc. As we all know, expectations play a pivotal role in the development of children; they impact the way a team or a business performs; they set the cadence for how relationships work. . .for good and for bad.

Having said that, our expectations are often passive, not deliberate or intentional. They often have a subtle, if not overt, self-orientation to them because we expect others to meet our needs, make our lives easier, do it our way. . .in short, meet OUR expectations. To be sure, when we are in positions of authority or responsibility, we have the right and even the obligation to set clear expectations for those in our charge. However, parents should not set expectations for their children for their own good, but for the sake of the children. We should set expectations of our students or players for their good, not for the teacher's or coach's. Business expectations should be for the good of the business and it's customers, not solely to make the boss look good. You get the basic point.

I think the corner stone in setting expectations for others is the golden rule: "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this sums up the law and the prophets." Matthew 7:12

I don't believe that Jesus was stating that we should assume everyone else has our needs or our preferences, our dreams or our aspirations. No, he is asking us to do the hard work of finding out what their needs, preferences, dreams and goals are and then having expectations of them which are consistent with who they are and who they wish to become. How many counselors' offices are filled weekly with adults whose neuroses are the result of never living up to their parents' mis-guided and overwhelming expectations of their becoming a professional tennis player or a Harvard law school graduate or (fill in the blank)? How many of our inner-city poor continue to be trapped in poverty because no one believes they can do any better, and therefore persistently set low expectations for them or have no expectations of a different or a better life?

I think the apostle Paul re-stated Jesus' golden rule in his letter to the church he planted at Philippi: "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." Philippians 2:3,4

How often are our expectations of others driven by rivalry? The "comparison game" has a large and unhealthy influence on our expecatations of others and ourselves. How often are our expectations born out of conceit? We believe our way is the best way, so we project that on to others.

How would humility influence our expectations of others? By counting others more significant than ourselves, we will be characterized by believing the best about others, giving them the benefit of the doubt in difficult circumstances and always looking out for their good.

Another person's highest good could entail having tough and high expectations for them, like Jesus did of the rich, young man who thought he done everything required of him, but was possessed by his power, position and wealth. Jesus told him the one thing he lacked was to sell everything and give it to the poor. Wow! That's raising the bar . . . but with an eternal perspective, because Jesus knew these worldly things stood in the way of this rich "master of the universe" becoming the person God intended him to be. (see Matthew 19:16-30)

Maybe we need to ask more of others around us for their eternal sake and for the sake of Christ's kingdom here on earth.

Or maybe our expectations of others should change so that we move from demanding justice to showing mercy, or from letting something slide, to holding someone accountable. Jesus did this in John's account of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Jesus called her self-righteous accusers to account by saying "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." This question, and some kind of drawing Jesus made in the ground, made the woman's would-be executioners disperse. To her, he said"Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? She answered "no one, Lord." And Jesus then said "neither do I condemn you; go and from now on sin no more." In a different context, my pastor recently referred to this type of action as "afflicting the comfortable" and "comforting the afflicted". . .in both cases for their good.

A quick diagnostic test we might all do at the end of the day would be to check our areas of disapointment with others and determine the root cause of that disappointment. Is it because of missed expectations? Were those expectations self-focused or other-focused? Were they for our good or the other person's good? God may use this exercise to expose the cold, hard fact that many of our expectations of others are focused on our comfort, our convenience, our needs, our wants, not the other person's highest good, not to mention the furthering of Christ's kingdom here on earth.

I don't know about you, but at times when I take a deep look at my own motives and expectations of others, I am counting on a strong measure of the same mercy Jesus showed the woman caught in sin as told in John 8.

In Christ alone,