Dealing with Unmet Expectations

Disappointed ManRecently, a friend shared with me that a colleague of his did not respond at all to something he had done for the colleague. He was amazed at the fact that this person did not show any gratitude for what he had done. Not even a simple thank you. When my friend asked me if he was asking for too much, I responded, “Your expectation of that person is greater than what the person is able to give!”

How often have I had certain expectations of people, only to discover that what I thought an individual was capable of is just not in them? That can be a rude awakening, but it has been my experience more often than I can discuss here. Unfortunately, we make the assumption that the people we have relationships with “get it” (whatever it is). We assume that they understand life the way we understand life, even if opinions vary. But all it takes is one simple thing to upset your world and learn that what you thought about, or expected from, an individual is absolutely not the truth! I have been there.

I am more than sure that this happens in many contexts, but when it happens in the context of church it seems to have a different impact. Maybe it’s because we’ve read and believed that, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” This is God’s Word and it is true, but clearly all of us have not arrived. As disappointing as it may be to learn that what you expected of a person is much more than they are capable of, the reality is our expectations may be the issue and not so much the other person.

We have great expectations for our children. We have great expectations for our parishioners and our students. I believe this is right and good on some levels, but what do you do when your children, parishioners, or students don’t live up to your expectations?

By nature, I attempt to give people room to be who they are and to give the benefit of the doubt. But Maya Angelou taught me something else, “When people show you who they are believe them.” Don’t get stuck at what you expected. Instead remember that “all have come short . . . .” People will disappoint you, but then I’m sure you and I have disappointed someone along the way. Ask yourself if you have lived up to what is expected of you. It may help with your expectations of others. I won’t speak for you, but I would like to have the same grace required of me, come back to me when I fall short.

Dr. Sabrina J. Ellis

Dr. Sabrina J. Ellis was awarded a B.A. Degree from Notre Dame College in Cleveland, Ohio. She received her Master of Divinity Degree from Ashland Theological Seminary of Ashland, Ohio, with a concentration in Clinical Pastoral Counseling and Theology. She received her Doctor of Ministry Degree from Ashland Theological Seminary in 2011. Dr. Ellis is the founder of Living in Victory Ministries and serves as Executive Pastor of the Pentecostal Church of Christ along side her husband, Bishop J. Delano Ellis, II. She is the author of the book entitled And the Women Came First and the editor of a book of women’s testimonies entitled And They Overcame.


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