Surprises are great, but anticipating the event is half the fun.
Last year, my parents flew halfway across the world to spend the holidays with me. I was proud of my seventy-something mom and dad, bravely enduring long flights, navigating connections in foreign lands, and facing jet lag head on. When they purchased their tickets, anticipation began its work inside of me. The excitement about being able to spend Christmas with some family, the list of places I wanted to take them, the joy of being able to linger long over morning coffee…all of it fanned the flame inside of me, making me a bundle of anticipation. I didn’t want them to have to navigate travel within my host country alone, so I hopped on a plane from my city to the capital city to pick them up and officially enter the role of tour guide.
I’ll never forget that feeling while wading through the sea of people in the airport that night. One thought was lodged in my head: my parents are in the same building that I am in. The long-anticipated event had finally come.
And so began two and a half weeks where the good times rolled. Of course, not everything went as planned (does it ever?). We didn’t get to do everything I had hoped or talk out everything we wanted to, but it was a wonderful time of my two worlds colliding. They met my people, ate my food, walked my streets, lived my life. And in the meantime, we caught up on life in the past two years, reconnected at a soul level, and rediscovered a dormant rhythm of walking side-by-side. And all too soon, the day came when I was once more standing in an airport with them, this time sending them off on their long journey back home.
Anticipation is a funny thing. Sometimes we speak of it in a dreaded way, but most often it is layered in joy and hope. An anticipation of the good that is to come.
Anticipation leads to another funny thing: expectation.
Expectations. Without them, we live as hopeless creatures. But far too often, our expectations set us up for a faceplant when reality hits. This is a common thread to global workers. My pre-field training carved out spaces of time to discuss healthy expectations, helping prepare us to enter our new assignments with appropriately placed hopes.
Because here’s the thing about expectations: frequently, they lead to disappointment, when the reality of our post-Genesis 3 world collides with the hope in our eternal souls.
Failed expectations can sting like a bee, leaving us bitter, hurt, cynical. They can lead us to hard, dark places in our lives (see the book Expectations and Burnout for an eye-opening study on their power).
This week, we enter Advent, the season of waiting. The season of expectant waiting. If you’re like me, and life has knocked you down a few too many times when you set your expectations too high, you might be a bit cynical about that word expectant.
Life has taught us to lower our expectations of ourselves and others. Not to drop it to the level of nothing, but to keep it healthy, doable, and grace-filled. Life has taught us not to put all of our eggs in one basket, that relying all of our hopes on one thing is short-sighted and, more often than not, leads to disappointment.
But here’s the truth that Advent teaches us: we can hang all of our hopes on that baby in the manger. He holds them all. We can put all of our chips on the table, go all in, for this baby is the actual jackpot. We don’t need to have a conversation about healthy levels of expectation on what hopes and longings the Messiah will fulfill, for he will perfectly fill all of them.
He might not do it in the way we expect him to, but we can know this: he will do it perfectly.
Placing too high expectations on people puts them to a point of breaking, of setting them up to fail. But Advent tells us that placing all of our expectant hope upon Jesus brings Him great glory. It’s what He wants us to do, because He knows that He alone can fill it.
This Advent season, let’s purpose to live in expectant hope that is not colored by the cynicism that comes with years of failed expectations. Let’s renew our minds in what this means: that Jesus really does perfectly fulfil our hopes and longings; He actually, truly, completely does.
We really can put all of our eggs in one basket.
Oh Jesus, we wait for you in expectant hope. Knowing you, in your perfect time and perfect way, will bring all we need to pass.
How will you cultivate expectant hope in your heart this Advent?