Happiness is Not Found on a Clothesline

Verla--head onNearly 900 college-bound students received a much-anticipated letter this week announcing they were accepted for admission into UCLA. It was a mistake.

The school’s response? Oops. Sorry.

For the school it was a PR nightmare. They promised to keep the students wait-listed…for now. But, for the crushed applicants, expectations of being UCLA-bound were dashed.

Whether we’re aware of it or not, dozens of times a day expectations affect our lives. We expect our car to start tomorrow morning when we leave for work, because we take good care of it. We expect our friends to keep in touch with us, because we try to keep in touch with them. We expect doctors to deliver an accurate diagnosis, because they appeared on a list somewhere of Best Doctors.

Think of it like a long clothesline, on which we hang all those things we consciously or unconsciously believe we need to have happen to make us feel happy and safe.

Add to it all the outside expectations pinned on our happiness clothesline. For example, the media breathlessly try to tie our happiness to what they say to expect in election outcomes, health scares, economic forecasts, weather, gas prices and the housing market.

When they’re wrong? Oops. Sorry.

The cumulative weight of all those expectations–especially the ones that disappoint–can break our clothesline, theoretically taking our happiness down with it.

Motivational speakers say the answer is to think positively. Positive expectations create positive outcomes. I’ve attended more than one seminar where the mantra was some variation of “YOU can make it happen!” Change your attitude, they say, and the universe will bow at your feet. Believe good things and good things will come to you. It sounds wonderful…but, sorry, I’m not drinking the Kool-aid.

Yes, attitude matters. Hope matters. But the reality is that we live in a fallen world with fallen people who, on their best day, won’t always make wise choices, act justly, and treat us with love and compassion. I’ve been in three major car crashes at the hands of drunk or addicted drivers. They apparently never got the memo that I expected to be safe on the road. To tie our happiness and hopes and dreams to a benevolent universe and a smiley face is magic-think.

There’s a better option. It involves God and, where God is involved, we usually have a role to play.

According to Peter Scazzero in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, first we need to look at how we may be partially responsible for our disillusionment and  disappointment, because some of our expectations are flawed:

1) Unconscious expectations–ones we don’t realize we have until someone lets us down.

2) Unrealistic expectations–illusions we have about others, about how they should act or treat us or see us.

3) Unspoken expectations–which we’ve never verbalized to a friend or spouse or boss, but which crush us when not met.

4) Un-agreed-upon expectations–where we have our own idea of what is expected in a relationship, but it was never agreed upon by the other person. (It isn’t a valid expectation if it was never mutually agreed upon.)

Beyond setting more realistic expectations, it involves anchoring them in Someone worthy of holding our most cherished hopes. Unlike the world around us and the broken people in it, God is more reliable…and he really wants the job! Whether we’re at work or fighting the flu, getting a haircut or balancing the checkbook; whether we lose a child or lose a job, God will never walk away.

Not only is that enough, but, if you reorient your life around it, it’s life-changing.

It gave stuttering Moses–a murderer hiding out as a shepherd–the courage to stand up to Pharoah and lead two million people out of Egypt. It gave shy David the confidence to fight a giant with seven stones and the will to keep going when King Saul sent armies to kill him. It gave the apostle Paul–slandered, beaten, imprisoned and shipwrecked–a rallying cry that trumps the “You can make it happen” mantra every time.

Paul wrote triumphantly, If God is for us, who can be against us? … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? …  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors.”

Conquerors don’t need clotheslines.

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