In two months, our family leaves for Disney World. It will be my first trip to the “happiest place on earth.” Between the Disney characters, rides, and sites, I’m afraid Tiffani will be parenting myself and our two boys.
Like most families, especially those with small children, we’re planning our trip ahead of time. After consulting friends and searching Google, one piece of advice was fairly consistent.
If you’re traveling with small kids, only plan one activity per day. Everything else is icing on the cake. Lowering the bar will help you enjoy the overall experience.
Lower the bar?
First, you advise me to buy a fanny pack. Now, you’re telling me to lower the bar? This is ‘Merica. We don’t lower bars. I want my boys to see everything. Okay, maybe I want to see everything. But they’ll be with me. So, whatever.
This is the problem with the current state of things. The bar is too high. It has been raised to impossible heights. We want to visit Disney World one time and see every character, watch every musical, and experience every ride.
Something about the way we’re wired longs for the next big thing. It’s the reason we spend $20 to watch a movie even though we know the outcome. It’s why we buy a new car when the one in our driveway runs fine. It’s why we leave our spouse for someone else.
We’re searching for the perfect life, the one we watch in a theater where the couple lives happily ever after. The one we see on TV where a new car brings the family together. The one we create in our mind where a new love brings us the peace and excitement we can’t find with our spouse.
But that life is a pipe dream. It’s a fairy tale land where Skittles and donuts don’t make you fat, everyone looks like a model, and no one frowns. Ever.
I’ve believed (and taught) for years that Christ is the only answer to the void in your heart. He’s the answer to all your problems. Well, I have a confession. I’ve been a Christian for over 8 years, and the void is still there.
Here’s why. I’ve asked Jesus to answer a question he never asked. “How do you find the good life on earth?” I’ve tried to rebuild Eden. I’ve bought the lie that says something or someone can accomplish now what God will accomplish later, a perfect life.
My wife will never complete me. My job will never give me worth. My bank account will never provide total security. And all the friends in the world won’t end my struggle with validation.
We’ve placed impossible expectations on people, relationships, jobs, and circumstances. And it’s created a world where disappointment is the air we breathe and contentment is a rare material.
If you’re exhausted from breathing in disappointment, hoping the next big thing will bring the life you always wanted, I want to propose a solution.
Lower your expectations.
That’s right, lower your expectations. Lower than that. Even lower. Like “the time you ‘walked in’ on your parents” low.
I’m not asking you to embrace a “doom and gloom” life. I’m also not asking you to lower your standards. I’m asking you to pop the utopian bubble and embrace reality.
Impossible expectations destroy your self-worth.
There’s a self-worth problem in our culture. The photoshopped models and social media feeds have destroyed our confidence and self-worth. Every picture screams, “I’m perfect. Who cares if I took the same picture 30 times and ran it through 20 filters. I look good.”
It’s not real, yet we allow filtered photos to say we’re not good enough. We’ve allowed social media and magazine covers to create an impossible bar for acceptance and contentment. So, we starve ourselves. Gorge ourselves. Marry the gym. And divorce our real life. All in the hopes that we’ll measure up to a fake world.
What’s worse, when we allow unrealistic standards to destroy our self-worth, we become incapable of healthy relationships with others. As Jesus said, love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Impossible expectations diminish your capacity for compassion.
We struggle to love others because we’re constantly disappointed in them. Whether it’s the President or the homeless guy, we expect everyone to respond a certain way, our way. When they don’t (and they rarely do), we become frustrated. And continued disappointment leads to cynicism.
Rather than accepting people for who they are, we feel the need to change them. Rather than understanding everyone has flaws and loving them as humans, we believe others must conform to a certain standard before being accepted. The bar is too high. Our expectations (realistic or not) won’t change anyone. Not your spouse. Not the homeless guy on the corner.
The only way to love people, and grow in compassion, is to accept them as they are.
Impossible expectations destroy the joy of marriage.
The impossibly high expectations placed on marriage have destroyed more relationships than any affair or financial misuse. It’s not all our fault, though. Every romantic movie basically tells the same destructive lie.
“When someone knocks you off your feet, you will inevitably experience conflict. But eventually you will move past the hard times and live happily ever after.”
For years, we’ve poured time and money into watching this message. Sugar and popcorn in hand, we pile into uncomfortable seats, watch an unrealistic portrayal of romantic love, and leave dreaming of the day when our happily ever after comes.
Only, it never does.
We expect marriage to end our loneliness, complete in us what’s lacking, and cure cancer.
No wonder the first year of marriage is so hard. Years of Hollywood flicks. Late night conversations. Fairy tale dreams. When their powers combine, you get the perfect scenario for an epic letdown. Usually within the first week, you realize the hero you married is just a human. Your knight in shiny armor (or fairy tale princess) doesn’t solve your problems. They burp, yell, and act selfishly. And there’s no happily ever after.
Impossible expectations paint God as an angry Master.
Maybe you’re like me, and you expected God to fix your life. I wouldn’t say that, but I express it every time conflict showed up at my door. I expected Go to end my problems and create a perfect life on earth.
Unfortunately, even the church has contributed to the false utopia. A God who makes everything better is appealing. He also attracts large crowds. So, many churches place numbers on the altar and tell the real God to take a permanent vacation.
Here’s the truth.
Following Jesus won’t make your life better, at least not in fairy tale terms. If you become a Christian today, it will be the best decision you ever make…but you will still encounter conflict, heartache, and loss.
“Frank, that sounds like a terrible decision.”
But it’s not. There’s a reason all of us long for the next big thing. We long for wholeness and completion, for utopia. Millions have spent their entire lives trying to find it and failed. That life isn’t possible on this earth. But eventually all of those who love God will experience a world beyond our wildest dreams. This is our hope through suffering, pain, and loss. We know something better than a fairy tale awaits.
Here’s what I’m starting to realize.
When you stop expecting perfection from yourself, you enjoy looking in the mirror a little more. When you no longer expect people to make the right decision or act a certain way, you’re free to love them for who they are. When you stop expecting another human to complete you, marriage becomes a beautiful picture of grace and love. And, when you stop expecting God to make your life better, you see him as a loving Father instead of an angry Master.
Maybe expecting less from people, situations, and circumstances will help us enjoy them for who (or what) they are. Maybe waking up every day, being grateful for the present moment (good, bad, or otherwise) will allow us to enjoy life rather than expecting a perfect one.
Maybe the fanny pack parents were right. Lowering your expectations will help you enjoy the overall experience.
I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!