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The Diminishing Power of Expectations

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Building a mature relationship with God.

One sure-fire way to doom a relationship is through inappropriate expectations. Whether shaped by experiences in our family of origin, an idealized television or Hollywood couple, or just our own imagination, if our expectations are unconnected to reality, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and frustration.

This is true in friendships: If you expect your chronically late girlfriend to be punctual at an important event, your expectations will be thwarted. It's not a question of what she should do; it's who she is, for better or worse, and you shouldn't be surprised by it. If your husband told you while dating that he'd rather earn less money and spend more time with the family (a virtue you applauded at the time), you shouldn't expect him to become a millionaire. He was honest about who he is. It's not his fault if you weren't. And likewise, there is no point in expecting a tone-deaf child to become a professional musician. No matter how much you, and perhaps even he, like music.

An honest appraisal of each other's strengths and weaknesses, an honest look at the nature of our relationships frees us from the crippling effect of unrealized expectations.

No where is this more true than in our relationship with the Almighty. We come to Him with so many expectations -- for material well-being, for physical health, for meaning, for satisfying careers, for marriage partners, for children, for grandchildren, for peace on earth.

And if any piece of the puzzle doesn't work out the way we want it to, we rant and rave. We complain. How could He do this to me? He's not doing anything. We just made the mistake of having a list of entitlements.

Frequently we believe there is some tacit deal in existence. If I do this "good deed," then the Almighty will reward me in kind.

God is not a Coke machine.

The Almighty is not a Coke machine. There is no magic equation. These are childish attitudes that lead to bitterness instead of gratitude in our relationship with God.

It's been said that nowadays there is no sense of our Father in Heaven. Instead we think He's our grandfather, ready to indulge our every desire at a moment's notice. But our vision of a grandfather, our desire to put in the quarter (probably about eight quarters these days) and get the drink, our misplaced expectations won't change the reality.

Children have very simplistic views of their relationship with God. As adults we are required to take a more nuanced perspective.

When the Almighty doesn't seem to answer the prayers of children, we reassure them by teaching that He did answer; the answer was in fact no. This is a limited view that also confuses our expectations.

Not only may the answer be "Not now" as opposed to never, but this type of response suggests an isolated relationship between the individual and the Creator. That is not the world we live in. Our needs are not the only ones that count. We are part of a vast tapestry of other people. When evaluating how to answer our supplications, the Almighty takes into account how His response will effect not only us, but our spouses, our children, our parents, our friends, our local community, the American Jewish community, the Jews in the land of Israel... just to name a few!

This delicate balancing act could only be performed by an omnipotent Being. Thus even an expectation that we understand the Almighty's response is likely misplaced.

This may be frustrating. We would like everything clear, black and white. But that is a world for children. In Piaget's studies of child development, he determined that children are unable to understand subtlety until their late teens or early twenties. We show them a black and white world because it is what they are capable of understanding.

But we are not children and we need a more mature grasp of reality. We may prefer the black and white world of the child; it's just not the world the Almighty created.

Our task as adults is to recognize this challenge and to work to free ourselves from naïve expectations and distortions of reality. Only then can we find our way to a mature relationship with our Creator. Only then can we truly trust. Only then can we be at peace.


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