Jeremy Statton

Living Better Stories

The Difference Between Expectation and Hope

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What We Expected

When I was an orthopedic surgery resident most nights were long and hard. After showing up at work as early as 5am, we would then spend the entire night at the hospital working.

It was rare that a night was quiet. It was rare that you were able to sleep enough to feel like a human being the next day. But occasionally it did happen. Every once in a while, there were no fires to put out. Every once in a while you didn’t get a phone call. Every once in a while you did not work all night long.

All of us hoped for such a night. Knowing how rare they occurred, we developed a saying.

Expect the worst, hope for the best.

If we expected a quiet night but didn’t get it, the work was that much more painful. The night longer than usual.

The problem wasn’t the actual work. The problem was the psychological obstacles we had to overcome due to the unmet expectation.

photo by Aleera* (Creative Commons license)

photo by Aleera* (Creative Commons license)

What it Means to Expect

In his book The Awakened Heart (Affiliate link), Dr. Gerald May tells us the difference between expectation and hope.

He defines expectation as a “rigid clinging to unreal belief.” Expectation is demanding exactly what we want to happen regardless of what is actually happening.

Expectation is typically fixed and frozen. It is inflexible and rigid. It is unable to give or to bend or to change.

Sadly, expectations are limited to our previous experiences. We are unable to expect something that we haven’t seen before. We cannot expect something better than what we know.

The worst part of expectations is what happens when we hold onto them. They infect and overwhelm us, like a virus. They consume us like the plague. We are unable to give them up. We are unable to let go.

Expectation influences our behavior and attitudes. It affects how we see the world. And then how we respond to it.

What it Means to Hope

Hope on the other hand is much different. While expectation is the assumption that something is actually going to happen, false or not, hope is the wish for something to happen.

Hope is flexible. It is alive. It responds to all situations instead of battling against the ones that appear to be opposite.

Hope admits reality, always acknowledging what is, but never resigning itself to what is.

Hope allows other to grow. It desires good for another, but gives them room to change over time.

Hope is not limited by previous experience. We can hope for more than what we know. We can hope for something better. Our imaginations and dreams influence our hopes.

Since hope admits uncertainty, it does not die when it goes unmet. A hope deferred does not kill the soul. We may need to adjust our hopes, but we can always keep hoping.

Hope helps us to keep moving forward. Hope fills us with life.

Unmet Expectations

What happens when our expectations go unmet?

Expectation is so rigid, we always respond negatively. We become angry. And then we make an attempt to control. We try to force our expectations. We manipulate. We bribe. We shame.

Expectation does not let us accept what we do not want.

If we hold to a false expectation, a belief that others will do and should be different than they are, it will poison our relationships. It will negatively influence how we see people and how we treat them. We will try to change them.

When someone does not live up to our hopes, we can keep hoping for them because hope is flexible. We may adjust our hopes based on what we learned. We may even let go of our hopes realizing they were too unrealistic.

But we can always have hope for them. As May put it, “There is no such thing as a false hope.”

Love is hope.

Are you filled with hope or expectation?

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

About Jeremy Statton

Jeremy is a writer and an orthopedic surgeon. When not ridding the world of pain, he helps you live a better story. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook or Google +.

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  • Lyn

    Thank you for this story just when I needed it. Hope is so much more positive than expectations . Your right about unfilled expectations making you angry and poisonous. Hope is positive, calming, and loving. Thank you for this positive message to help me move forward and to rest more calmly tonight.

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

      I’m certain I always understand the difference between the two, but in some cases I do, and the difference can be huge.

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