As children, for the most part, we learn to expect what we ask for. Birthday presents and Christmas gifts are prime examples. Currently, of course, the focus is on what will appear packaged under the tree. Catalogs are multiplying daily in our mailboxes. Advertisements target our appetites for having things. And children dream of receiving what they ask for. Whether limited in number – some families restrict their children to three requests because that’s the number of gifts brought by the magi to Jesus in the traditional story – or unlimited, whether written to Santa or submitted straight to parents, whether feasible or far-fetched, most children are brought up asking for what they wish to have. Over the years, wishing turns into expecting and gift-givers morph into Amazon fulfillment centers.
But in addition to wishing for things wrapped up as gifts and presents, we walk around with plenty of other hopes and expectations this time of year. Maybe we expect to feel happy, warm and fuzzy throughout the season with memories filling us with joy. But that’s seldom the case 100% of the time. Perhaps we wish for family members to get along and behave respectfully. Yet that rarely happens during the rest of the year and is often intensified by the stress of the holidays. Maybe we expect of ourselves that we will not succumb to others’ expectations of us. But that’s a slipperier slope to navigate than we realize. These and so many more often unspoken and generally unexamined expectations can cloud our experience of the holidays and crowd our hearts with frustration and sadness.
What do we expect? It’s helpful to consider whether we are wishing for or dreaming about or hoping against hope, or actually expecting something of others and ourselves. As a rule, an expectation is formed when a promise is made, or a behavior is repeated so consistently it becomes reliable. For people who hold the attitude that “we’re not promised tomorrow,” another new day is a gift. For children who receive what they ask for year after year, a gift holds no surprise, no wonder, no mystery. Through which lens do we view life? As a wondrous gift filled with mystery or a predictable series of expectations fulfilled?
The winter months are some of the most difficult for many people. Less sunlight. Colder temperatures. Family pressures. Financial strain. Memories of people now absent and time as it once was but will never be again. Unexamined expectations can add to the tension we may experience within us as well as between us and others. It’s a pretty simple question. Considering it honestly could make a world of difference for us. What do we expect?