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  • Writer's pictureJohn Coleman

Expectations and Disappointment

Genesis 48:18–20 (RSVCE): Not so, my father; for this one is the first-born; put your right hand upon his head.” 19 But his father refused, and said, “I know, my son, I know; he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; nevertheless his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.” 20 So he blessed them that day, saying, “By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying, ‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh’ ”; and thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh

An expectation is a planned disappointment. I am unsure who originally said this, but it has always stuck with me. Don't get me wrong, we all have expectations and need them in life to accomplish things, strive for excellence, and make plans. But, our expectations often do not pan out quite how we envision. And this can cause disappointment, bitterness, and even paralysis if we let it.


I remember our first trip to Disney World when our children were young. I had these images of how magical the trip would be. Children (ours) frolicking among dancing characters, music floating through the air, and those same children skipping up to their parents (Mary and me) and thanking them for such a glorious experience. Well...that didn't happen. We hit the park with a map and an exact plan of what we wanted to do and where we would go first to get a jump on the lines. Shortly after we were there, one of our kids saw a Captain Hook costume and decided they had to have it. I calmly (at least in my memory, although it was likely less calm than my recollection) informed the child that costume shopping was not a part of our scheduled plan and that we would look for it later in the day. Tantrums from all, including the parents, ensued. Of course, if you are a parent you know how the story ends. The whole crew set out in search of a costume and determined to do what we could along the way. The day didn't turn out quite as expected, but we still had fun. We even got to see most of the attractions on our list.


The Disney story could have had a very different ending. The parents could have dug in their heels, resulting in the kids digging in theirs. Everyone would have cried and gnashed teeth. The day would have been marred by hurt feelings and an hour or more stuck in the same place in the park fighting all because a basic free day on vacation didn't turn out quite the way we expected.


The story of Jacob's end-of-life blessing of his grandsons has me thinking about expectations and how we try to force ours on others. Jacob put his right hand, the preferred hand of blessing in the ancient world, on Joseph's second son, Ephraim, and not Manasseh, the first-born son. If Jacob had adhered to all the "rules" and "expectations," he would have put the right-hand blessing on Manasseh; Joseph even tried to force his hand in that direction. But Jacob would have none of it. Joseph and Manasseh could have allowed this to define the future of the oldest child. This could avert made them bitter over what is and what could have been, paralyzing a future of blessing. Expectations and what has always been done would not dictate what Jacob knew in his heart.


There are times in life when we have to let go of the way we expect of the way we think things should be in the world. If we open to this, we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit and the redeeming power of God. It is good discipline to trust that God can redeem all situations.

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