I was in church the other day, and the pastor was talking about the expectations that the Jewish people had regarding the Messiah. During the time of Jesus, the Jewish people were oppressed by the Roman Empire. The expectation was that the Messiah would be a military leader and king who would free the Jewish people and re-establish their nation and land.
Jesus was not what they expected. He wasn’t a military leader. Instead of attacking and leading a revolt, Jesus taught them to turn the other cheek. Instead of riding into Jerusalem on a war horse, Jesus chose a donkey. Instead of defending himself, Jesus told Peter to put away his sword and healed the man Peter injured. Instead of defeating the Roman Empire, Jesus died on a cross.
I imagine that Jesus dying on a cross would have been the final blow to the Jewish people’s hopes. Indeed, the Gospel of Luke records two men talking about everything that had happened. “He [Jesus] was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:20-21).
We had hoped.
The Jewish people had a set of expectations for who they wanted Jesus to be, and their expectations weren’t met. But here’s what I started to think about as I listened to the sermon: Maybe it was a problem that the Jewish people were so locked into their expectations. They had a specific idea of what the Messiah would be like, and Jesus didn’t fit the bill. But their expectations closed them down. They weren’t open to the possibility that Jesus might be the Messiah, but in a new and different way. So a lot of them missed it.
I wonder in our own lives, how much are we locked into our expectations? We might have a very specific idea about the way a job or relationship will turn out, and we struggle when our expectations aren’t met. We might have a particular idea about how God should respond to a prayer, and we struggle when God answers in a different way. But when our expectations aren’t met, we tend to close down and shut ourselves off from new possibilities. We aren’t open to the possibility that God might have something different in store for us.
The next time you are experiencing disappointment because an important expectation wasn’t met, try engaging in these three steps:
- Sit with the disappointment. Disappointment and sadness are important emotions. Don’t try to rush through the feelings too quickly. It’s okay to feel sad when things don’t work out as you hoped. This is normal, and it’s okay to feel this way.
- Bring your disappointment into relationship. It’s hard to deal with disappointment and sadness on your own. It can be a very lonely place to be. Instead, bring your disappointment into relationship. Share how you are doing with a trusted friend or family member. If you are a spiritual person, bring your disappointment to God in prayer.
- Be curious. In general, negative emotions tend to close us down and narrow our thoughts. This can shut us off from being open to new possibilities. Instead, take a curious stance. What new thing might God have for you? Is there anything new and different that you could do now, even though it wasn’t what you had expected? Is there anything you could learn from your experience? How are you growing or changing as a result of what happened?
I don’t want to miss out on anything that God might have for me. But when my expectations are too strong, I get locked into one way of thinking. When things don’t turn out like I think they should, I can feel sad and disappointed. It’s okay to feel this way, but sometimes I close myself off from something good.
Discussion: What is one thing you are feeling sad or disappointed about? What was your expectation? What actually happened? Try sitting with your disappointment, bringing your disappointment into relationship, and being curious about what God might have for you now.