This past Sunday, one of our Elders shared something during communion that has kept me thinking for a few days now. She talked about the difference between expectation and expectancy and how that relates to the season of Advent.
Expectation brings with it an anticipated outcome. When I have an expectation, I have an idea how things should turn out, or how I’d like things to turn out. I used to work for a pastor who would ask engaged couples to write down their top 10 expectations of the marriage – anything to do with, money, household chores, sex, children, family, anything. He said that without fail both people were shocked at the other person’s list. Most conflict of any kind stems from unmet expectations. I expect friends or family to respond a certain way to something that has happened in my life, or in theirs. I expect my manager at work to respond a certain way when there’s an issue with another department. When people behave differently than I would like or think they should, there are hurt feelings, anger and conflict.
Expectation also on some level has with it a lack of trust. When I have an expectation of someone who is close to me, that means I don’t trust that they care enough about me to respond in a loving way, or rather, I feel like I know the only loving way they should respond. I think I know what’s better for me than God does and so I expect God to make certain provisions for me.
Expectancy is a different thing. Expectancy is open, trusting and available to all possibilities. When we approach Advent (and life) with a spirit of expectancy, we are able to do as the writer of Isaiah 40 encourages us to do: Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Expectations clutter our path, but expectancy leaves it free and open for God to send us what we’ve been waiting for without even knowing it.
“To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life. So is to trust that something will happen to us that is far beyond our imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear. The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control.” – Henri Nouwen