How Your Expectations May Be Subverting Your Relationship With God & Others

#16 UMBC 74 – #1 Virginia 54. The first ever #16 seed to defeat a #1 seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship Tournament happened last week. No one saw that coming. Many sports experts picked Virginia to win it all. UVA was ranked the #1 team in the nation; UMBC ranked #112. Virginia was favored to win this game by 20 1/2 points. They lost by 20. Virginia’s record coming in was 31-2, UMBC: 25-11. Number one seeds in the tournament were 135-0. UMBC scored 74 points, the most allowed by Virginia who played powerhouses like Duke and North Carolina. Honestly, how could a retriever take down a cavalier, anyway. Surprise!

Virginia fans were expecting an easy victory. They were deeply disappointed by a resounding defeat. 

UMBC fans were probably expecting a defeat. They were greatly elated by a resounding victory. 

Lesson: Expectations are not reality. 

Yet, expectations can fool us into thinking they are reality. 

Peter Bregman, leadership “guru,” writes: 

 [It is easy] to mistake our expectations for reality, the past for the present, and our desires for fact….There’s a psychological term for this: confirmation bias. We look for data, behaviors, and evidence that show us that things are the way we believe they should be. In other words, we look to confirm that we’re right. 

How are we fooled by our expectations? Often, it’s due to our expectations coming true, being right. That makes us feel good, safe, and certain. We conclude that our expectations can be trusted. 

But when expectations are wrong, we don’t like to admit it. We’re often blinded by them. We only want our ideas to be confirmed. We struggle with releasing expectations that are not real. We’ll hold to them tenaciously even when it means broken relationships or huge frustrations. 

A couple weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend who was leaving a group I started and that he’d been a part of from its beginning. His expectations had not been met. His idea of what this group was about went unconfirmed. In disappointment, he was leaving. The group hadn’t measured up. I had not measured up. 

I’m a master at disappointing people. But, it’s not always my fault. Their expectations don’t match reality. And, they can’t see it. 

I’m told that Alcoholics Anonymous says of expectations: “expectations are the seeds of resentment” or “expectations are just future resentments waiting to happen.” Seems there’s a lot of good insight there.

Apply that to relationships with people and to God and you can see how important it is to deal with our expectations. If bitterness, cynicism, anger, or malice take hold because our expectations are not met, we’ve stymied ourselves in a web of sin. 

Expectations and God

The Jews were expecting a different kind of Messiah than Jesus presented to them. Goliath was expecting an easy victory over a lowly shepherd boy. The Egyptians expected to destroy the Israelites until God, through Moses, split open the waters of the Red Sea. Paul expected to fulfill his mission of persecuting the Christian sect until God intervened. 

God can do the unexpected very well. We like that kind of God when it works in our favor. But what about when He doesn’t perform as we expect? In those times He’s probably trying to break out of the little box of expectations we have Him in.  

It’s also possible to expect too much of God. We fabricate scenarios of how He should act, call it faith, then expect Him to do what we want. Like the genie out fo the bottle, we expect Him to make our wishes come true. 

The Apostle Peter is on the housetop praying. With his stomach growling, he has a vision of a sheet containing all kinds of “unclean” animals. A heavenly voice tells him to rise, kill them and eat them. He refuses since he’s never done that before and doesn’t believe it should be done that way. This command did not meet his expectations so he refuses to go along. This happens three times. 

Thankfully, Peter did receive the message and became open to sharing the gospel with Gentiles as well as Jews. If he had not been trapped by his expectations, perhaps he’d have received the message sooner. 

Dealing with Expectations 

How can we avoid the trap of being fooled by expectations? 

1. Do the opposite of what got you trapped. 

  • Expect things to be different rather than the same. 
  • Seek evidence that shakes up your perspectives.
  • Expect to be wrong instead of wanting to be right. 

This is not easy to do. We’d rather be right than wrong. Ironically, the more you look to be wrong, the more likely you’ll end up right. (These thoughts adopted from Bregman)

When you look at your spouse, ask yourself what’s changed? Instead of focusing on what he/she is doing wrong, find something he/she does right you never noticed before. Do this with your boss, children, neighbor and co-workers. See what a difference it makes to your expectations. 

  • When others disagree with you, listen instead of arguing. 
  • Ask, what do I not want to hear?

2. Move towards having fewer or no expectations of others including God.

Is it possible to have no expectations? If it is, that’s how I want to live. Simply accept what’s in front of me as reality and live into it as deeply as possible.

Expectations mimic control. And when we seek to control others and God, we get ourselves in trouble. 

Besides, my expectations are not reality, not truth, so better to give them up.

A life of no expectations is not a life without hopes or goals. It’s a life of striving towards these goals while acknowledging there is more we don’t know than we know. Restraining our ego, recognizing our limited viewpoint, admitting our ignorance,  trusting God more fully, not judging others, and keeping silence will go far in helping us reach our goals. 

There is One Truth, however. He is Reality. If most of life is lived in our own ideas, thoughts, imaginations, and feelings, most of which are not reality, then we need Him to consume us and rid us of our own expectations. 

Could this be what Jesus was getting at when He taught: “Do not be anxious for your life…?” God provides. Period. If He can take care of the birds, he can take care of humans. Do birds have expectations? I doubt it.They just live in the present moment in reliance on God. 

Do your expectations include awakening in the morning, living until you’re 90, having godly children and a happy marriage, succeeding in business, or overeating and not gaining weight? Do you expect God to heal you physically, always protect you from harm, give you what you want, or repeat Pentecost for you? If so, you’re setting yourself up for a world of hurt. He probably has other plans for you than meeting your expectations. 

3. Focus on developing humility and thankfulness. 

The antidotes for any kind of expectation are humility and thankfulness.Think back on the last time you got frustrated because your expectations were not met. Were you thankful for what was happening? Was your ego being confronted and you didn’t like it? 

Humility gives you the freedom to be wrong, release control, and esteem others rather than looking for your own desires to be met and trying to control outcomes.

Thankfulness allows you to accept everything with joy and a gentle spirit knowing everything is for your good, even that which might look bad. 

4. Stay in constant communion with the Trinity.  

When the heart is in sync with God’s heart, there is peace, joy, satisfaction, and goodness. I doubt God gets frustrated over unmet expectations. I wonder if He even has expectations. Certainly they wouldn’t be like our human ones.

I know from personal experience, when my expectations go unfulfilled I’m not at peace, feeling joyful, satisfied, or particularly good. Other negative emotions are usually in control. My heart is far from God. 

Bible Support

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore, humble yourselves…casting all your care on Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5.5-7). Live in God in such a way that humility results.  

“whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think on these things” (Philippians 4.8). These are not the things we think about when expectations are unmet. 

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4.6-7).  These verses say it all yet they are almost impossible to practice. Only living deeply in Jesus Christ makes this doable. 

I hope this post gets you thinking about your expectations and where God fits into them. 

Share your thoughts about your own struggles with expectations and what has helped you. 

Dr. K 

15 Truths No One Will Tell You About Being a Christian

I’ve been trying to figure out God since I was a little kid. I messed around with Christian “stuff” until confronted with my selfish ways during my teens. That’s when I began to be serious about God. Now, 47 years later, He’s become an obsession of mine. I’m thankful for this journey and for what I’ve learned. Today, I share a few insights about this Christian adventure.  

For newbies or veterans, these truths will help you navigate your way. 

1. The Christian life is a mystery.

When it comes to knowing God, don’t be surprised that you can’t figure Him out. How God saves us, transforms us, relates to us, and lives in us is experienced over a life-time. None of this can understood by pure intellect. Resist the temptation to put God in a box of your own making or in the box of some theological system. 

2. The Bible is a means to know God. 

It’s important to know the Bible. But, it is not an end in itself. Acquiring a lot of Bible information does not guarantee that you’ll know God. Approach the scriptures with a heart and mind to experience God through them. 

3. Being a Christian involves becoming humble. 

Getting the right information or feeling the right emotions might be how some Christians understand Christianity. Jesus wants you to come to Him and learn humility and restful faith as you learn to relate to the Father as He does. 

4. Christians can be mean as well as supportive.

There’s no excuse for behaving unkindly when kindness is to be a Christian trait. But many do not act like Christ or value Christlikeness for themselves. Keep your eyes on Jesus who will never let you down. 

5. Salvation is more than getting to heaven.

You may have had a conversion experience. But, in actuality, you will have many conversion experiences and opportunities to become someone who is saved. Salvation is about life in Christ and Christ’s life in you. Learn what that’s all about for now and all eternity. 

6. Being a Christian is difficult but fulfilling. 

It’s not easy to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. Yet, fullness is found only in Jesus Christ. There are joys and struggles on your Christian journey. The Triune God is with you every step of the way filling you with His mercy. 

7. Your church leaders often care more about their agenda than your soul and your relationship with God. 

Unfortunately, well-intended Christian leaders can get sidetracked from their main calling of shepherding souls. Often, their own soul is malnourished. Ministry success is a dangerous and subtle demon. So, be cautious about who you follow and hunger for Jesus Christ above all. 

8. Community is good but has limitations.

Keep your expectations in check. People cannot meet the needs that are designed to be met by God alone. 

9. Being a Christian is about union with the Trinity, about participation in the life of the Trinity.

You won’t hear this from too many people except Jesus, the Apostle Paul, St. Peter, all of the NT writers, and most traditional Christian thinkers/writers before the Reformation. There are huge implications to this simple statement. Take the rest of your life to explore those implications.   

10. Being a Christian means continual repentance. 

Living in repentance is a good thing since it means you’re dealing seriously with your ongoing sin and finding forgiveness with God. You are able to turn from your sin and to Christ at all times. Repentance is a regular activity for the Christian. 

11. Being a Christian is an invitation to be like Christ.

Sadly, modern Christianity makes being a Christian about morality, political stances, believing certain doctrines, supporting some cause, or being accepting of everyone. Who Jesus is and what He asks of us is easily forgotten. Don’t forget: you are about Jesus Christ. 

12. Learn to commune with God. 

You are now in a relationship with the Triune God. Relationships take time to develop. Spend time with God. Get to know Him. See how He operates in various situations of your life. Don’t do all the talking but be quiet when you’re with Him. Be attentive to His will. 

13. Finding a Christian group to belong to can be troubling. 

What group should you belong to? Charismatic, Fundamentalist, Adventist, Calvinist, Methodists, Roman Catholic, Church of Christ, Church of God, Church of the Holy Spirit, Non-denominational, Baptist (which kind?), Anglican, Missionary Alliance, Episcopalian, or some home group? They all claim to be based on the Bible and yet differ in so many ways. Don’t settle. Be wise, teachable, and always exploring. 

14. Being a Christian is like walking a journey (or dancing down the street) rather than standing at a destination.

You have not arrived yet. Not only are you a Christian, you’re becoming one. Talk to a person who’s been married one year and a person who’s been married 50 years. Who knows more about being married? Learning to be a Christian is a life-long adventure. 

15. Being a Christian is about BEING as well as doing.

Be Christlike. Be loving to God and neighbor. Be like God. Be filled with the Holy Spirit. Be at peace with God, people, and yourself. You’ll be told to get active, get involved, get busy, and use your “time, talents, and treasure.” However, strive to bring about both being and doing. Think of your doing as an expression of your being. It’s not “either/or” but “both/and.” 

I hope these truths will help you on your way. Enjoy your travels with God. 

Dr. K 

Can The Possibility of Dementia Be Motivation For Developing Inner Prayer?

A Brief Exploration into Prayer of the Heart & Brain Function

My grandfather spent the last few years of his life confined to a bed seemingly oblivious to the world around him. I wonder what he experienced lying there all day. He died at 90.
My father experienced the last few years of his life lost in the darkness of dementia unable to function as he had most of his life. Over the span of 5-6 years, his memory, along with thinking and communication skills, gradually diminished. He died at 86 (due to heart issues).
I have every reason to believe that I will also spend the last years of my life with greatly diminished brain function. OK. I can hear you laughing. It’s probably already happening, I’ll admit. 

What can I do now that will actually help me when this happens? Puzzles? Memory games? Medications? Healthy eating? Exercise? How about learn interior prayer? Huh? 
This may sound weird, but the real prospect of developing dementia is one practical reason why I’m trying to develop an ability to commune with God from my heart verses thinking about God with my brain. I want to know God in and from my heart so that when my brain ceases to function properly, I can still have a vibrant, deepening relationship with God. Does that make sense? 
This kind of treatment for dementia would include a united heart, mind, and soul in unity with the Trinity. When the brain no longer “works,” communion with God can continue. There is no cure for dementia. However, this may be the way for Christians to keep experiencing God no matter their physical and cognitive limitations. 
Explore this in light of what St. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4.16-17: So we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and temporary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs our troubles. 
In other words, outward afflictions manufacture inner flourishing in God’s grace. Place loss of brain function as an outward affliction (it is when compared to the soul/heart), and you can see where motivation to develop inner communion with God comes from. Constant inner renewal produces unending splendor now and forever. The brain can’t stop that from happening. 
Dementia 
Dementia is described not as a specific disease, but as a group of conditions characterized by impairment of at least two brain functions, such as memory loss and judgment.
Symptoms include forgetfulness, limited social skills, and thinking abilities so impaired that it interferes with daily functioning.
The Alzheimer’s Association website reports…
While symptoms of dementia can vary greatly, at least two of the following core mental functions must be significantly impaired to be considered dementia:
  • Memory
  • Communication and language
  • Ability to focus and pay attention
  • Reasoning and judgment
  • Visual perception

People with dementia may have problems with short-term memory, keeping track of a purse or wallet, paying bills, planning and preparing meals, remembering appointments or traveling out of the neighborhood.

Many dementias are progressive, meaning symptoms start out slowly and gradually get worse.

Treatment of dementia depends on its cause. In the case of most progressive dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease, there is no cure and no treatment that slows or stops its progression.

A Spiritual Treatment 
Since there is no physical cure or treatment that stops the progression of dementia, an alternative approach needs to be explored. How about a spiritual one?
Would it be possible to spiritually circumvent the brain allowing our heart to control our life?
Could we ever come to the point where our mind and heart are so united that we could function well even though our cognitive faculties are diminished? 
Here’s what I’m thinking (while I can 😉): Let the prospect of dementia work in your favor – learn to know God from your inner being not your brain. Know God not as an idea you think about but as a person with whom you relate, heart to heart. Learn to relate in silence and quiet since that’s probably where you’re headed. Learn to commune with God from within your heart. 

Training for Inner Communion

St. Paul encourages his son Timothy to train himself in godliness because godliness, compared to physical exercise, is good for now AND eternity (1 Timothy 4.7-8). Godliness is not primarily a thinking process. It is possessing the heart of God. And, surprisingly, our interior being only develops through intentional, bodily training. 

In C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, Uncle Screwtape chides his understudy demon, Wormwood, for allowing his “patient” to become a Christian. But take heart, he says, “There is no need to despair; hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojourn in the enemy’s camp and are now with us. All the habits of the patient, both mental and bodily, are still in our favour.” Screwtape knows that if a convert’s habits remain the same they will experience little of life in Christ. 

Later, Screwtape advises Wormwood how to effect the prayers of his “patient” by keeping them spontaneous, informal, unregularized and definitely without using the body. “At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.” 

That’s what I’m talking about….training the heart, soul, and spirit to be like God so when the brain malfunctions, we can still flourish in knowing God. (According to Jesus, this “knowing” is actually “eternal life”  – a God-life we can live now and forever; see John 17.3). 
What bodily exercises are good for your spiritual being? Start with the basics and let them teach you about God and yourself. (Here’s what’s fun: You can do these even with limited brain function.) 
Prayer – learn to commune with God 1) in silence: with a quiet mind and attentive heart and 2) liturgical prayer: as Jesus taught his disciples and as has been practiced by Christians for 2000+ years. 
The Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” is a time-tested way to commune with God at all times. I’m training myself to continually say this prayer so that it becomes the prayer of my heart. It will then be the primary means of communing with God when I have dementia. Thanks be to God! 
Fasting – learn to commune with God by pulling away from activities that distract your heart so that you grow in experiencing God’s love with your whole heart, mind, and spirit. 
Almsgiving – learn to commune with God by dispossessing your stuff, including money, and giving to those in need. With actions of sacrificial giving you develop a heart like Jesus who always lived like this. 
Sometimes during my father’s last years on earth, we would sit together on a small bench outside his apartment. There he’d commune with God in creation watching birds fly and feeling breezes blow. He’d notice these same things every time and comment on them as if he’d experienced them for the first time. In sweet childlikeness, he simply experienced God. I wanted more for him and, to my shame, from him. Yet, he was content. God was enough. 
I am not happily looking forward to years of living with dementia. I’m actually not going to have much say in the matter. Yet, I never want to stop experientially knowing God no matter how fuzzy my brain becomes. I don’t even know if what I’m writing about will “work” then. It doesn’t really matter. It’s working now. I’ll just plan on it working later as well
What do you think about my proposal? Share your thoughts below. 
Dr. K 
 
P.S. The best book I know to introduce yourself to this kind of praying is Prayer of the Heart by George Maloney. It’s pure inspiration for the serious inquirer.

A Look at Faith: Beautifully Destitute & Pleasing to God

Would You Know Genuine Faith If It Was Different From Your Faith?

The best Christian you’ll ever meet might be the homeless guy you ignore and despise at Exit #8 on your way to work. She might be the down syndrome child that irritates you with her guttural outbursts during the sermon. He might be the tatted, long-haired, artsy-fartsy moron neighbor who drinks too much. When it comes to recognizing people of faith, we’re probably clueless, though we may think we’re keenly insightful. 

Euphrosynos was a disrespected, simple monastery cook. One night, the monastery’s abbot had a dream of heavenly paradise. Surprisingly, there he met Euphrosynos who gave him three beautiful apples from a tree. Upon awakening he found three apples lying on his pillow much to his amazement. He located Euphrosynos and asked him where he’d been last night. He responded, “Where you were, Father.” The abbot was astonished. How is it possible that this despised yet humble cook could actually be a saint? 

Reading scripture and the lives of saints in church history, I’m beginning to see that holy people are formed out of struggle. They step into the unknown and deal with the challenges of uncertainty and conflict. They persevere in their fears and pain as they experience God. Knowing God seems to be enough to carry them as they advance through carnage and battle inner demons. 

These warriors are described in Hebrews 11: 

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (v. 1). (Be careful not to interpret “assurance” and “conviction” as what you think should happen.) 

And without faith it is impossible to please [God}, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (v. 6). 

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.…But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one (vv. 13-16).  

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world is not worthy — wandering in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect (vv. 35-40). 

The miracle was not God getting them out of their suffering/affliction/mistreatment but God being present with them no matter how long or how deep the pain. Many were never rescued. Yet, they knew God, becoming aware of Him, even when God seemed nowhere to be found. Knowing God was their reward.  

Where did we get the idea that real faith means we believe God will always rescue us, take us out of trouble, free us from pain, heal our physical ailments, and make our lives better? 

Modern Person of Faith

I don’t know what this kind of Hebrews 11 person would actually look like today. But I have a sneaking suspicion our modern Christian sensibilities would find him/her off-putting. Our family faith album is filled with smiling, clean-cut, healthy-looking people who don’t seem to have a care in the world. God forbid a photobomb by a destitute and tortured grandchild. 

Though held up as great examples of the faith, these kinds of people wouldn’t make it past the greeter at your church. By the look of things, they would not be considered Christians at all – odd clothing, destitute, beat down, tormented, plagued, disorderly, foul-smelling, sick. It doesn’t look like they have any faith in God at all or they wouldn’t be in their particular predicament, right? 

Some churches don’t allow children into their morning service let alone someone like this. I’ve heard of ushers not allowing an autistic child into a service because he would be too disruptive. 

What kind of screwed-up understanding of a person’s faith is this? 

Imagine a Christian guy’s response to news of stage four colon cancer. On Facebook he writes, “Yesterday I got the news that I have colon cancer. But, I’m trusting God. Nothing is a surprise to him. It’s all OK. God’s got this! No worries! God is good all the time!” His friends might respond, “What incredible faith!”

But, doesn’t this actually come off as a form of denial? “Folks, it’s not really bad news because I have a rock-solid belief in God.” Sounds to me like his faith is in his faith. 

What if he’d written: “Yesterday I got the news I have stage four colon cancer. I’m devastated and not handling this well. I’m emotionally and physically spent and yet this cancer journey has just begun. I don’t know how I’m going to make it. I need God now more than ever. Without His mercy and help I have no hope. I’m pitiful. But God is able.”

This sounds more like genuine faith in God. “Folks, I don’t have what it takes in this situation, but God does.”   

Struggle On…

Take an honest look at Hebrews 11 and compare the kind of faith these folks have to your own. Do you see how destitute you really are and how badly you need God’s mercy? 

The Christian life is the journey into a more genuine faith in God. The struggle to believe God is a good struggle. Don’t be discouraged if you think your faith is small. The amount of faith you have is not the issue. The source and object of faith is the issue. 

Keep looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of the faith (Hebrews 12.2).

Without faith we cannot please God. (Hebrews 11.6)

If whatever we do is not in faith, we sin. (Romans 14.23)

I believe. Help my unbelief. (Mark 9.24)

Looking at these scriptural reminders, we’ve got a long ways to go on this journey.

Trust God now…then now…then now. Each moment of every second. No matter what’s happening to you, around you, or in you.

It may not be all that impresive, but at least it’s real. 

Dr. K