True confession: I’m a recovering expectations junkie. Give me a standard, and I’ll try to meet it. Show me how to earn a gold star, and I’ll go for it. This tendency has its perks. It pushes me to get a lot done, for example. But it also has a dark side. No matter how hard I try, it’s impossible to meet every expectation. Can you relate?
God is gently teaching me a new way to live: not trying to meet demands but embracing grace, not reaching but receiving, not striving but letting myself be loved. As my heart is getting freer, my relationships are unexpectedly getting better too.
On a recent episode of the More Than Small Talk podcast, I shared how my favorite song, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, has unexpectedly been part of helping me think differently about expectations.
First, when I listen to it, I hear a musical, modern version of Paul’s words in Romans 8 that nothing can separate us from God’s love — no mountain high enough, no valley low enough, no river wide enough.
This song also reflects how I want to show up in the world for my people. The singer talks about the day he set the person he loves free. I tell my co-hosts Jennifer and Suzie, “When I listen to that, it reminds me to set my people free from the expectations I have for them.”
I want to be free from expectations, yet I still create them for others. We are all expectation factories. I expect things from you. You expect things from me. But this tendency is out of alignment with God’s design. God is calling us only and always to help each other become more of who He created us to be and to live out the calling He has for our lives.
I say to Jennifer and Suzie, “There are two kinds of expectations: We can expect from the people in our lives, or we can expect for the people in our lives.”
Expecting from means I have standards I want you to live up to, even though I may never say them out loud. Expecting from sounds like:
I think you should . . .
I thought you would . . .
Why didn’t you . . . ?
When our expectations aren’t met, we get disappointed or even disillusioned with the people in our lives.
Expecting for means I am setting you free from what I want from you and instead wholeheartedly cheering for you as you become who God made you to be. Expecting for sounds like:
I’m so excited to see what God has in store for you.
I like how you’re different than me.
How can I love and support you right now?
Sometimes we justify our expectations of others by telling ourselves being hard on those we love is just a way to help them improve. But it turns out that isn’t true.
Psychologists have discovered something called “The Michelangelo Effect.” Legend goes that when someone asked Michelangelo how he brought forth his famous David statue from an ordinary block of rock, he responded that he simply chipped away everything that wasn’t David. In the Michelangelo Effect, having people (especially those closest to us) consistently believe in us, cheer us on, and find the good in us actually transforms us.
Professor Aaron Ben Ze’ev says, “Just as Michelangelo saw his process of sculpting as releasing the ideal forms hidden in the marble, close partners sculpt one another to bring each individual nearer to the ideal self, thus bringing out the best in each other. In such relationships, we see personal growth and flourishing reflected in statements like: ‘I’m a better person when I’m with her.'”
Expecting for instead of from means we offer encouragement instead of criticism, cheers instead of nagging, belief instead of disappointment.
How do we live this out? The next time we find ourselves about to criticize someone in our lives, we can pause and pray, “God, help me see this person as You do.” The heart of God can show us the “David” in the moments our human eyes can only see an ordinary block of rock.
Sometimes the person we most need to see differently is ourselves (especially if you’re a recovering expectations junkie like me). Rather than focusing on our flaws, God reminds us we’re welcome as we are right now. Instead of placing demands on us, He invites us into intimacy with Him. In place of expectations, He’s ready and willing to give us abundant grace.
There still ain’t no mountain high enough, no valley low enough, no river wide enough to keep His love from getting to us — and He’ll help us pass it on to each other too.
Listen to more encouragement from Holley through her weekly podcast, More Than Small Talk, that has almost one million downloads.