expectations vs reality and the discipline of contentment

This is a scene from 500 Days of Summer in which Tom, still madly in love with his ex, gets invited to a party at her house.

As an optimist with a particularly over-active imagination, I can relate to poor Tom. Haven’t we all been in this situation before? Whether it’s in love, friendships, work, etc… we build and we build and we build up our hopes for a reality that turns out to be a big fat letdown.

This Expectations-vs-Reality comparison is dangerous business. Even an optimist like me can find herself depressed and deflated after a few too many of these incongruences.

Lately I’ve been reminded of a few simple truths I learned a little over a year ago, at the height of my insomnia, struggling with plans for the future, comparing myself to my peers and feeling like my reality frame was lamer than my expectations frame.

The first I learned is this: Contentment isn’t contingent on circumstances. This is why some of the richest people are often some of the most miserable. I repeat: Contentment is not a result of our circumstances, rather it is a choice we make in spite of them.

So if contentment is my choice, how do I simply choose it?

Here is Kelsey’s two-step recipe for Godly contentment:

  1. Be thankful for reality. Reality is what DID happen. Not what should have happened or what could have happened if only we’d done something differently. Those are alternate universes that we WILL NEVER SEE. So instead, look at the reality frame, accept it, and thank God for it. When you start looking, you’d be surprised at how many great little things you can find to be thankful for in it. Even if all you can think of is sunshine and the fact that the poop you stepped in washed off of your shoe pretty easily. Those are positives, yes? Give thanks for those.
  2. Edit your expectations. This is key. We can’t edit reality. We can’t control the results of our work, the reactions of other people, or the unexpected turbulence that jostles us about. Stuff just happens. (You may have heard that before. Or something like it.) But we can edit our expectations. Instead of dwelling on an ideal scenario, let’s refocus:

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter  1:13, ESV

So rather than putting our hope in people (who often don’t even know the expectations we have placed on them or the duties of friendship we hope they will perform) or on other things that fail, let us refocus our expectations on God’s grace, which is able to fill every crack and salve every wound our silly expectations have inflicted. Grace, which is offered to us without measure or limit. Grace which is consistent among all other inconsistencies. That’s how you fill your expectations frame.

. . . And that’s it!

The result of these disciplines is a great one: you stop comparing. The two frames cease to be a one-against-the-other scenario. You instead begin to see that when you expect big things from God, you start to see them already in place in your life. And when you acknowledge those blessings in your life, you float back over to your expectations-God-frame and you thank him for it. To the thankful and Christ-centered, faith feeds reality and reality reinforces faith. Not that we walk in a dream-land, wearing rose colored glasses, resting on good feelings—rather that we stand on the knowledge that God’s grace wins, and we’re siding with the winner.


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