I think perhaps the reason why I like watching cheesy Christmas movies so much is because they always end up tied in a perfect bow. The star-crossed lovers fall in love, the family reunites, the workaholic realizes what’s important, the greedy man gives to the poor, etc, etc. You know the formula–it’s basically the exact same each time. This world of holiday idealism is attractive and comforting and appealing all the way around.
My holiday romanticism extends beyond December 25th to birthdays and anniversaries and every other annual holiday, like Easter, the 4th of July, and Thanksgiving. I think about the celebrations I’ve seen in movies, read in books, imagined through others’ social media posts…and I long for them. All these glossy celebrations compounded with my own personal expectations, and I’m often left disappointed.
Even the expectations that I consider realistic and reasonable often go unmet. Just a few weeks ago, I celebrated my birthday. I expected a few people whom I always call on their birthdays to call me on mine, even for just a few minutes, and when they didn’t, I was left wondering whether my disappointment was founded or unfounded, which spurred me to write this post.
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. -Albert Einstein
I am a planner, and thus, I am a builder-upper. My favorite day of the year has long been Christmas Eve because the anticipation of Christmas Day feels more exhilarating and fun than the day itself. There have been many times when I’ve enjoyed planning an event or trip more than actually attending it/traveling. I am certain that half of my readers are nodding yes with zeal, and the other half are scratching their heads in confusion. You’re either a planner and builder-upper or you’re not.
My husband is not. He thinks about upcoming events and trips about 98 percent less than I do. Because he doesn’t ruminate on what’s to come, he doesn’t plan and build up expectations. We often joke that he sees the world through rose-colored glasses because he looks back on nearly every experience with total fondness, whereas I process experiences by picking them apart and deciding what was great, what could’ve been better, what was terrible, what I would change the next time, and so on.
But when I take this aspect of my personality and hold it against people, events, holidays, and trips that are mostly or completely out of my control, I wind up hurt and disappointed. Even when my expectations feel founded. Even when, for all intents and purposes, most people would agree that they are founded. Can you relate?
Maybe it’s time to lay our expectations down.
Even the “founded” ones. You can’t control anyone else’s words or actions, full stop. You can’t. You can only choose to tame your own tongue and act with compassion and kindness. That’s it! When you breathe that in and accept it, you become free.
Free from the expectation of words that should be spoken, but aren’t. Free from hurtful comments or actions. Free from expecting something to be different, someone to be different, a dynamic or situation to be different.
Of course, I am not urging anyone to remain in a relationship or situation that is abusive; if you are in an abusive situation, please seek help. I am, however, urging all of us to lay down our expectations for the holidays for the purpose of actually enjoying them instead of choosing to walk into a cycle of disappointment.
This is so, so, so hard. I know it. I went through months of intensive counseling in 2014 and 2015, and much of my therapy centered around healing from unmet expectations and learning how to effectively manage my expectations moving forward. It’s gritty and challenging, but the time and effort is worth the reward.
Let go of the “shoulds” this Christmas.
Because a teenaged, unwed mother “should” not have been chosen as the mother of Jesus. She “should” not have had to give birth amidst filthy animals in a stable. God “should” not have come to earth as a helpless infant. There’s no “should” that God can’t conquer.
So, if your family’s messy, or your holidays always fall short of your expectations, or you are expecting kind words from someone who is harsh and insecure, let it go. It’s okay. Your choice to speak words of love, to act in compassionate, empathetic, kind ways–those are the only expectations you can realistically hang on a holiday, other than the expectation that Jesus will show up. He’ll show up in the thick of it and love your heart and speak truth to your achy soul and remind you that you are a beloved son or daughter, you have worth and value, and your most important job is to love the Lord and love people.
Let the mess be messy, let the tough relationships be tough, let the uncomfortable be uncomfortable, and don’t expect it to be different when you know it won’t change–at least, it won’t change in the next four days. Instead, let the light of Jesus into your heart and watch how it casts out the dark gunk and makes you feel alive and joyous again.
Let’s manage our expectations this Christmas. Then, let’s watch as God’s extravagant love dances through our souls and wildly exceeds every expectation we have for redemption, peace, and joy. Instead of holding everything and everyone to our realistic or unrealistic expectations, let’s choose to be individuals who love others, treat situations with gentleness and grace, and let the rest rest.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. -Isaiah 9:6
// How do you effectively manage your holiday expectations?
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