Imagine a little girl, running to the mailbox and pulling out a party invitation. She tears open the pink envelope, and runs to her mom to read out the specifics of the party, but she already knows it’s for her, and it’s gonna be good. The invitation is planted on her bedside table, next to her Cinderella clock. Our chubby-legged blondie spends the next week contemplating the perfect gift, planning her outfit and speculating about the shape of the pinata, the flavor of the birthday cake, and of course the party favor. Party day arrives, and she is too excited to take her afternoon nap, but dresses herself two hours before it’s time to go.
You know how this ends. When mom arrives to pick up her little angel, she finds a droopy, tearstained street urchin instead. The cake was strawberry, not chocolate, and she doesn’t eat strawberry. She clutches one grimy Tootsie Roll, all she was able to retrieve from the “stupid” pinata, and a little card announcing that the party favor is a donation to a pet shelter in each guest’s honor. “No one” was nice to her and the birthday girl liked so-and-so’s gift better than hers. She cries all the way home, won’t eat dinner, and has to go to bed early. Mom dreads the next party invitation... which is sure to come very soon.
For the record, that little girl is me. My mom still shudders at the thought of little Anna with an invitation. No party could ever live up to my expectations; every single one was a crushing disappointment. Mom was never able to figure out why I got so worked up, but until I got my expectations under control, I didn’t have fun at any of those birthday parties. Needless to say, I don’t anticipate parties quite like I used to, but I am still guilty of placing my hope in people and things that invariably disappoint or let me down.
Recently I heard someone speak about things NOT to say to your high school senior (the list was long, and I have already said all of them...) but one that stuck in my mind was this: don’t tell your senior that “college will be the best time of his life.” This sets up your child to idealize the undergraduate experience, when frankly it will at times be lonely, challenging, frustrating and confusing. Unrealistic anticipation always sets us up for disappointment, and sometimes we even confuse this disappointment with failure. You don’t want your child to arrive at college expecting good times and great friends, and then feel like a failure when that expectation doesn’t materialize effortlessly.
The toughest issues with expectations come in relationships. Parents, I think this is very, very hard stuff (but then again, I am the little girl who couldn’t handle birthday parties). But when it comes to my child, I need to accept he is never going to be MY best version of him, and in fact he shouldn’t even try to be. I need to pray he will be God’s best version of himself. This goes deeper than a kid who dresses thrift shop when Mom and Dad are Vineyard Vines. It feels like rejection and stirs up fear when a child steps off the path her parents have hoped for her. Let me be very clear here- I am not saying you don’t have a right to expect certain family rules are observed- you are the boss of your home and your boundaries deserve respect. But if your daughter suddenly quits the piano after ten years of playing beautifully, you may just have to trust God with her. Your hopes, dreams, and expectations for your child may not be his hopes, dreams, or expectations for himself.
There is one safe place for your highest hopes and dearest dreams: Jesus. “Whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 10:11) We can expect Him to be utterly faithful to us and true to His Word. He tells us His ways are higher than our ways, so we need to be careful to know His Word well enough to avoid believing we will receive what He does not promise. He “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20), and so we know we can eagerly expect to be delightfully and wondrously surprised by all He has in store for us.