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Paul Hayden

Minding the Expectation Gap

August 30, 2021

Last week, we started a two-part series on what happens when we live our lives or base our success on the following equation: Expectations – Reality = Happiness. So, when the reality of someone's life is more than they had expected, they're happy. But when their reality turns out to be less than their expectations, they're unhappy.

We discovered most people have a sizable gap between where they expected to be in life compared to the reality of where they are currently. They've applied themselves, worked hard, but somehow didn't quite achieve what they believed they would. When this happens, many people either give up or give in to 'un-magnificent' obsessions to medicate the hurt, discouragement, and frustration.

Let me give you an example of what I am addressing. I have been a pastor since 1980 in the Phoenix, Arizona, area. For the last 20 years, I have been pastoring pastors all over the world. The most common issue I address in pastors is their expectations. When the pastor was starting their ministry, they expected to have a church of thousands of people, a large building, and speaking invitations worldwide. But 25 years later, they are pastoring a church with 100 people, with no hope of ever achieving their expectations, and they are exhausted. So, where do you go from there?   

Hopefully, this two-part series will give a realistic perspective to those who never quite reach the fulfillment of their dreams, goals, and desires. So let's discover a new and much more accurate view about success and life. Let’s learn to, as they say in England, “Mind the gap.” If this concept applies to you, please consider the following truths that have the power to un-handcuff you, freeing you up to enjoy and be content with life.   

First, leave the definition of real success to God. Don’t allow our shame-based, performance-driven society to determine the meaning of success that you are basing your happiness on. God's definition of success is to be a person of peace with yourself, your family, and others, whether in business, community, or church. 

Here’s some ancient wisdom about peace and contentment. "But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either." You see, peace brings release. We aren't running a race against others, competing for trivial pursuits and unrealistic dreams. We are running an endurance race against ourselves. At the finish line is the trophy of contentment. Peace with yourself and with God leads to peace with others. Finish strong, not wrong. 

Third, find a shared vision with God and yourself. Don't be afraid to believe or dream again. It’s OK to have big, hairy audacious goals, but don’t let those goals define you. Give it your all but remember, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” Don’t confuse who you are with what you do or have done. Goals give direction, dreams give motivation, but if you don’t reach where you expected to be, that’s OK. Some fulfill their expectations. Some don’t. It's OK to not to be OK, if you tried.

Learn to integrate success with failure. If you back up and take a second look, there are other areas in which you could be successful. Don't let the world (shame, name, fame, or blame) squeeze you into its mold. You are God's workmanship, and God 'don't' make no junk. Don't put a question mark where God put a period. 

Our perspective about happiness and success needs upgrading. Think of life this way. “I was wrong in my definition of happiness; I've tried my hardest, I've lived my life faithfully, and it didn’t turn out as I expected. I’m not going to spend the rest of my life using precious energy asking why, or beating myself or others up because I didn’t reach my expectations. I'm not going to listen to the never-ending audio loop of ‘woulda, shoulda, coulda’ anymore.” Our expectations should come from God’s voice, not ours or our culture’s voice.

Fourth, get back into the game of life. It's one thing to be wounded or lost on the battlefield. It's another to be captured by the enemy or surrendered to the enemy. Realize God’s Hall of Fame was built by faithfulness rather than high attendance, sales figures, or stereotypes. David was a man of small stature. Noah preached for one hundred twenty years and only had seven converts. But they both had peace.

Many times, successful people in the world's eyes paid for it in areas that we don't see and ended up with no peace or contentment. That’s their reality gap—these successful idols would give anything to have the contentment you can have. 

Remember that God does His work and allows us to participate. Life is not our show. It's God's show. Peace with contentment is a deliberate adjustment of our lives to the will of God. All you want to hear when you finish your race is right out of the Bible. "Well done, good and faithful servant, you were faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master."

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Ed Delph is a leader in church-community connections.
Visit Ed Delph's website at www.nationstrategy.com