Expectations are the enemy of contentment. On face value, this seems like a harmless platitude: Manage your expectations, and you’ll more readily avoid being disappointed. Or perhaps a more nihilistic interpretation: Don’t expect anything to be good, and you will never be disappointed.
Either way, I have found this statement to be both unhelpful and untrue, if for no other reason than that expectations are unavoidable. We’re bombarded with information designed to build our expectations: the trailer released before the movie; the single released ahead of the album; the advice freely proffered before high school, college, a new job, or the birth of a child. All these suggestions of what truth is make it impossible not to project our own vision of what truth is.
Even if we can’t avoid expectations, they may still harm our ability to be satisfied with our reality. But I have often found my expectations being met in a different way than just sheer disappointment. Usually I’ve found that my expectations run alongside a reality that is neither a complete contrast nor a direct match: bad in ways I hoped it would not be but also good in ways I had not even thought to hope for.
As a recent college graduate, this has been especially true. I have spent a lot of time over the last few months looking back and realizing the ways in which the last four years did not bring about everything I had anticipated while also bringing more than I could have hoped for. Around every corner of my college experience lie unfilled expectations about who I might be or what I might do that are quickly replaced by something I did not know to want but would not now trade away.
It is in these times—not wholly disappointing but not quite fully satisfying times—that I think we see a fuller version of truth. I think it speaks to who we are as people and who God is as God. It is in our nature to expect and yearn for things, just as it is in our nature to be wrong about such expectations and yearnings; it is in God’s nature to be all around us—all of creation pointing to divine truth.
Lately I’ve been finding God’s grace in being wrong in ways that feel all right: watching a new Star Wars movie that offers little new in terms of plot but a plethora of potential in new character conventions; listening to a new album from the pop artist Lorde that doesn’t sound how I expected but reveals itself to me in new ways with each listen; or any other time I find myself thinking, “This isn’t what I thought it would be, but wow, this is awesome.” In those times when I would not wish away my incorrect expectations or the differing outcome—those are the times I witness the reality of a truth that is already here and the promise of a truth that is still yet to come.
Jordan Petersen is a recent graduate of Calvin College. He works as an auditor at Crowe Horwath LLP’s Grand Rapids office and worships at Sherman Street Church in Grand Rapids.