Replacing horizontal expectations with a vertical hope, Part 1

I recently chatted with a dear friend who is about to move overseas to do mission work full-time. As part of the training she undergoes beforehand, she takes an inventory of her expectations in practically every area. Just hearing about it overwhelmed me, so I cannot imagine what she is feeling about having to do it.

The idea got me thinking about expectations. This is an area that the Lord has really been cleansing in my own heart through trial by fire in recent years, I feel. In a lot of ways, I’ve felt more peace and joy be letting go of horizontal expectations, as best I can. Ideals and plans can be helpful, but I’ve just about decided that horizontal expectations are simply not helpful. Let’s consider it.

Define expectation: a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.

Define unmet: not achieved or fulfilled.

Unmet Expectations.

They tend to get us in a bit of trouble, don’t they? Because if we’re honest, almost daily we experience unmet expectations, and how we handle and view expectations reflects our worldview and how we move through life.

Either it’s biblical, or it’s not.

So let’s start with our response to unmet expectations. Even if we are expecting good things that we see in scripture, when our focus primarily becomes expecting something from the horizontal relationships around us, we are often tempted to engage in a list of sins that we see in Ephesians.

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (Ephesians 4: 31, ESV).

If I reflect on times I’ve been on the receiving end of unmet expectations, this verse pretty accurately describes my reaction. It’s not hard to picture what this looks like, for example, in our families.

Bitterness? I would imagine that the best of us Christian women can pretty easily slip into passive aggressively “serving” our husbands and children in a way that makes sure they recognize how ill-worthy of it they are.

Wrath? Of course we want our families to feel our wrath at an injustice – after all, it’s an injustice!

Anger? Couple this with the injustice. We have a right to be angry, right?! Right?!

Clamor? Ever stomped around, or slammed cabinets and doors? Ever spouted off words of hurt, intending to inflict pain because of unmet expectations? Ever added to the “noise” of sin (and possibly doubled or tripled it) with your own fit about the crime committed against you?

Slander? Ever “asked for prayer” regarding something that really just was your chance to throw someone else (yes, even your husband and children) under the bus and accumulate heaps of self-pity and sympathy from others regarding how wronged you were?

Let’s return to Ephesians 4:31. What command are we given regarding these sins? “Let all […] be put away from you.”

Here’s where we as fallen humans like to come in and create conditions. Surely I have a right to be angry when someone else sins, or there is an injustice in the world around me.

But again, let’s return to scripture. Let’s take care not to add conditions to the Lord’s commands. Does the passage say that we are to put away these sins unless we’ve been wronged? Go ahead and read it yourself. Read the entire chapter. Read the entire book. Read the entire Bible.

Nope. You won’t find it. We are commanded to put it away. There isn’t room for this in the life of a Christ-follower. We are not to live this way. Instead, we have another command.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

This should characterize our walk as Christ-followers. Again, how often do we neglect the traits in verse 32 because of conditions we create around our love for others? How often do we decide to withhold kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness because we are basing our generosity of these acts on how someone else has or has not treated us?

I think this happens more subtly than we know.

Let’s return to the topic of expectations. Is it wrong to expect our children to be respectful? Is it wrong to want our husbands to be considerate? Is it wrong to expect a friend to be intentional to pray for me and ask how I’m doing?

Well, again, I think it’s good for us to return to scripture for an accurate understanding of human flesh for determining what our expectations should be.

If we are looking at our human relationships, it really is funny that we place so many expectations on others. What is humanity?

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5).

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3).

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

“As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10-11).

And there are many more passages. We are fallen creatures, with a bent toward sin. Although the Christ-follower is already justified because of Jesus, we are in the process of becoming more and more like Christ and therefore are not perfect this side of eternity. We will make mistakes. We are weak. We will fail. We are tempted. We do have limits and we are insufficient.

And yet we go on heaping expectations on each other. And these expectations often go unmet, and we respond with shock, bitterness, anger, etc. about practically everything.

Why do we do this? I think the answer can be seen in two main areas.

1.) We don’t understand the severity of our own sin. It’s much easier to look at the sin of those around us than to deal with the habitual and/or hidden sin in our own hearts.

2.) Our expectations are misplaced. This is a result of selfishness. We are so focused with the temporary surrounding us that we have misplaced our expectations that should only be directed vertically.

So what do we do?

We need to replace our expectations in horizontal relationships with a biblical hope in our vertical relationship with Christ alone.

And that’s what we’ll discuss in Part 2 of this post.

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