A quick google search of Expectation vs Reality yields countless videos about the hilarity that exists in the space between what we believe will happen or what we will achieve and what actually occurs. According to these videos, action movies, boyfriends, high school, Halloween costumes, and summer break are just a few of the experiences that fail to live up to the high hopes of the teenage girls who seem to love making these videos.
Disappointment is the feeling of unhappiness we experience when something doesn’t fulfill or hope or expectation and teenage girls aren’t the only ones who experience this feeling. Parents often experience this "space between."
I recently read a book called, “Parenting With Presence” by Susan Stiffelman. One of the exercises in the book asks the reader to consider their frustrations with parenting and the hidden expectations (and corresponding disappointments) those frustrations derive from. Stiffelman explains,
“Many times we have trouble being attuned with and present to our child because our vision of raising children doesn’t quite match up to reality. It may even be radically different from what we expected, leaving us disappointed, discourages, or even regretful. None of this means we don’t love our children or that we wish we didn’t have them. It just means that we have feelings we need to face rather than sweeping them under the rug. It is our expectations that get us into trouble.”
This exercise forced me to face some uncomfortable realities of what I expected of myself, my husband and my children. I have been working on discovering and adjusting my expectations. This has been a humbling but rewarding work and has allowed me to practice more grace, mercy and presence with my family and myself.
Even though I’ve been working on improving this area, sometimes my unrealistic expectations still get the better of me. This Sunday I sat in the church foyer with my children as the sacrament was being passed. I was worn out and frustrated by the previous hour which had been spent wrestling church clothes on my two boys. The older one, six years old, had asked me, “Mom, do you know why I’m so slow?” He then answered his own question, “Because I want us to be late for church. I like making you late.”
I sat on the couch thinking about how I expected Sunday morning to proceed: a house filled with soft piano music, delicious pancake and bacon breakfast, children happily getting dressed, and arriving early to sit reverently in our pew. A far cry from the yelling and arguing about the necessity of fresh underpants and how long and boring testimony meeting would be.
Then I started thinking about other, bigger expectations that have gone unfulfilled. Unfair expectations I have about who my children should be and what they should love. Expectations I have for myself, for the church and her members, for my family. I realized with heaviness that the problem with expectations, and why some people say they are the root of all heartache, is that no person or institution is perfect. The experience of mortality is one where, as Paul taught, we all “fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Even our righteousness, he said, is imperfect and leaves us all guilty before God.
Sometime between the bead and the water, while I was feeling this heaviness on my soul, I looked up. On the wall across from me was a picture that will be familiar to anyone who has spent a lot of time in LDS meeting houses. The painting is one of the Savior’s second coming. He is pictured descending in clouds, over a desert, surrounded by trumpet playing angels.
Here was one who could be trusted to fulfill expectations. We were willing to come to this earth, this place of sin, mistakes, sickness, and heartache, because we expected Jesus Christ would keep his promise to save us. We expected him to suffer, die, and rise again for us. I thought of him, in the garden, with the weight of all our stupidity, all our meanness, our sickness and suffering, when he cried out to God to ask if there was any other way. I imagined, too, the weight of our expectations. Were we there, in heaven, holding our breath, waiting, hoping, and praying for him upon whom our salvation depended?
And now we wait for the fulfillment of another expectation, that he will come again. As I looked into his face, with his arms outstretched, my heart ached for that day. I remembered a scripture from the the 62nd Psalm: “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him … Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us.” Here is the one time, the one person, in whom I can safely trust to be true to the expectation of perfect love, mercy, grace, and justice. He will always be there to listen when I call, will always forgive when I stumble, and will always help when I turn to him.