Hope or Expectation

What is the difference between hope and expectation? Is there one? Just wondering. It seems to me that hope is the belief that things will turn out for the best, whereas expectation is the belief that things will turn out as we want them to. Slight, but significant difference. Hope doesn’t know the outcome, but trusts anyway. Expectation thinks the ideal outcome will happen… expects it, hence the word…expectation. Expectation is not a bad thing necessarily. When you are looking forward and anticipating something, it can be exciting. However, what if the expectation is not met…what if it doesn’t look like you think it should? Then what? I don’t know about you but my attitude plummets and self-pity follows. It seems that I put my hope in the expectations. Probably not the best investment of my heart, since expectations are determined by circumstances, which change frequently and are dependent on outside sources.
Then there is this verse in Proverbs: Hope deferred makes the heart sick. My version: The feeling that events will turn out for the best, when postponed, makes my heart sick. I know this verse well. Anybody else been heartsick? Anybody else question the hope or wonder if somehow you’ve had it wrong all this time? How is it that the older I get, the more confused I become? Hope is supposed to be a good thing right? So when it is crushed, when you cannot believe that things will turn out for the best anymore, what then?
It has occurred to me that maybe hope isn’t what I think it is. That maybe I am treating hope and expectations as one and the same when in fact, they are quite different from one another. Expectations are no good when battling cancer. You expect a good report and get a bad one. You expect treatment to go smoothly and it never does. Hope, however, is essential no matter the outcome. Expectations are a pipe dream when facing financial uncertainty. You expect the economy to turn around and it doesn’t. You expect to be able to have what you need, but it is not within your control. Yet, hope is critical that despite possible ruin, all will be well. Expectations only add to the burden of depression. You expect to be able to get out of bed, but the energy does not come. You expect to be able to hold a job, but find yourself unable. Hope is the only way out. What that looks like, how it works, is unknown. As teachers, we expect for our students to pass the test or master the lesson. But even if they don’t, we hope that we have imparted the belief that they are valuable and have something to offer anyway.
We start out thinking our love will last forever, our children will grow up to be perfect, our careers will make a difference in the world, we will walk our faith in a way that will please God and all will be smooth sailing. Those are our expectations. Then life happens. Things do not go as expected. Everyone has their own trials, despite our attempts not to. Cancer steals life. Divorce kills love. Rebellion rips off trust. Work destroys passion. Depression suffocates and paralyzes existence. Relationships fall apart. Children go their own way. Bankruptcy on all levels. Strife. Struggle. Loneliness. The list goes on and on…not very hopeful. So the subtle difference between expectations and hope isn’t so subtle anymore is it? Seems as clear as the difference between life and death. My take on it is this: Expectations snuff out hope.
So is it possible to let go of expectations? I cannot even comprehend that really. To me they are goals, and dreams…even the desires of my heart. Giving them up isn’t the issue, I think the trick is not putting my hope in them. My life verse is one on which I fall back. Jeremiah 29:11…we all know that one. “ For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I wonder what in the world that means. If we keep reading then we see a bit more clearly. “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” I don’t know about you, but if all my expectations were met I don’t think I would be calling upon him, or seeking him, or listening to him. I wouldn’t need him. I wouldn’t be lonely enough, or frustrated enough to talk to him. I would be self-sufficient and paying him lip service, but my heart would be far from him. The fact that he has to say to me “I know the plans”…means I probably do not know them. “To give you hope”…not to meet your circumstantial expectations. Hope is bigger.
Colossians says it is the “mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed… which is Christ IN you, the HOPE of glory.” Much better than expectations that we put upon ourselves, don’t you think? HOPE is solid, because it is HIM. We spend our lifetime learning to trust in that hope, many times without sight. We feel it rise up in hardship. Short of it, we are lost and constantly disappointed in unmet expectations. Hope is the beginning. A small thing…but beyond reason and understanding. Sometimes it is the only thing we have to hold on to. One spark of it changes attitude, vision, perspective…everything. The spark of hope, when fanned, bursts into the flame of faith, which produces a life lived fully. For me, a life lived fully is something to hope for.

One thought on “Hope or Expectation

  1. Hope is the last thing that dies in man, and though it can be excedingly deceitful, yet it is of this good use
    to us, that while we are traveling through life it conducts us in an easier and more pleasant way to our journey’s end.(De La Rochefoucauld)

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