Fair Expectations

by Angie Washington on April 22, 2013

We sat in the booth at a sandwich shop. By divine serendipity our paths crossed on “home” soil. She was back from Africa and I was up from South America. As we picked at our oversize, overpriced deliciousness stories poured out.

“Things are so rough in the village. The ladies tell me I need to hit my children. At any time of the day on the street someone was physically beating the kids. When they hit my own kids I didn’t know what to do,” my friend shared as she lifted her hands in exasperation.

We talked of culture, poverty, sickness, and all the other hot topics missionaries share. We cried. We nodded our heads. We even laughed together. Oh, what a hot mess it is when expectations meet reality.

Expectations are unavoidable. Our brains are hard wired to create shortcuts. We read cues and make judgements based on past experiences and learned responses. It’s natural. So we head into new cultural situations and our pea brains can’t compute how to process things that do not meet our expectations.

Horses? In the middle of the city? Yep.

Then comes the real labor of reworking our hard wired synapses and electronic circuiting. We try to readjust expectations. We try to adapt to a new normal.

As a black and white thinker the grays and I have had a hard time getting to know each other. The miscues and confusion started to cause the concept of truth to blur in my heart and mind.

I began to ask: Where is the truth in all this?

As I began to manage the tension of truth vs. perception I began to ask a new set of  questions: Might truth be more fluid like a river and not so rigid like an ice cube? Am I forsaking truth if I adapt to cultural understandings of concepts I once thought were rock solid? Can I put on a new set of lenses without losing my core identity?

My son with a great find from the market. “This is a grapefruit!?” Yep.

I know I am not the only one who has wrestled with the expectations factor as a foreigner.

Let’s talk about this.

Which of your expectations have been challenged? What ways have you found to cope when you realized your expectations were unrealistic? How do we keep from falling over into hopelessness, cynicism, or hardness of heart when we adjust our expectations?


– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie work blog: House of Dreams Orphanage

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About Angie Washington

Co-Founder, Editor of this collaborative blog site: A Life Overseas
  • This- yes–

    Might truth be more fluid like a river and not so rigid like an ice cube?

    I heard a friend once say that “Expectations are premeditated resentments.” Ouch. Not sure I agree totally, but I think most often it sure plays out like that.

    Welcome back to Bolivia, friend! Hope the trip was good. Take it easy for a bit on yourself. 🙂

    • i agree – “expectations are premeditated resentments” – definitely some of the time, and particularly in a negative sense (i.e. i expect someone to disagree or respond negatively; i expect God’s answer to be no or not yet or wait). and in that case, expectations can easily lead to bitterness when they are met. expectations really can be quite insidious when I let them direct or control me.

      yep… ouch!!!! maybe i should write it in all caps!

  • Dalaina May

    I think I saw myself making the close, tight friendships in the tribal group that we work in. After four years, I have realized that there will never been a closeness in the way that I expected or hoped with any of my village friends. Quite simply, my context (growing up in the “modern world”) is so completely un-knowable that I can never be fully known. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have relationships in our community or people that I love who love me back, but there is an element that will always be missing and it’s disappointing and lonely sometimes.

    • Adriatic Heart

      Don’t give up! It often takes much more time. In cultural adaptation, four years is really still a beginning stage. The first two we spend simply trying to survive. The next few we begin to accept. Then we start to understand with our head, and gradually with our heart.
      We work in a western culture and it still took MANY years before deep relationships formed. My culture {mentality, habits, way of feeling} had to be worked out to make room for the new. But now, after many many years, I am seen in every way as a national (except for my light hair and blue eyes!) And perhaps more importantly, I see myself that way too. Now it’s the other ways which seem strange to me! And I would probably have a hard time making friends in my original country; they’re strange!

  • Adriatic Heart

    Expectations are probably the biggest problem for new {and sometimes not so new} missionaries because they cause us to compare. In comparisons something always seems inferior, when in reality is probably just different. We have found that a sense of humor helps in dealing with cultural differences. Early on we were given the advice that there were two things we could do about it. Either laugh or cry. Crying often turned into a pity party. Laughing has helped us keep our sanity!

  • Hope

    I’m struggling with this right now. Mostly within the ministry that we are trying to get started. I EXPECTED we would be further than we are are now. No one else expects this of us, our stated, written goals were to spend this year preparing, learning language, and building relationship. There was a part of me, however, that EXPECTED God to move so powerfully that the people we are here to minister to would come, literally, knocking at our door and we would have no other choice but to start immediately. Totally unrealistic. Now, 8 months in, I feel ready and impatient. I struggle with this: How do we expect great things from God, things that blow away our EXPECTATIONS without imagining what those things will be? Truth, fluid like a river…. hmmm. I just pray He will keep working on me and I will be able to walk in his grace. I pray that his truth will speak louder in my ears than my unrealistic dreams. My dreams are given to me by him, but somehow when the begin to take shape, I know they will look nothing like they did inside my brain. Thank you Angle. Great post!

    • “How do we expect great things from God, things that blow away our EXPECTATIONS without imagining what those things will be?”

      i’d love to hear how others handle that. my temptation is just not to have expectations at all – to hide behind the statement that i don’t want to tempt God… and yet the other side is we have not because we don’t ask…

      great question… now hoping others chime in!

  • i’m trying to teach my kids to hold their expectations loosely with an open hand (i just wish i’d figured out a simple 1-2-3 formula for how to do so. :-). i don’t think we can (or should) avoid them because God wired us to have them. but i do think we can choose how we react/respond to exceeded/met/unmet/trampled in the ground expectations.

    additionally, sometimes our expectations are way off base – if i had come here expecting to be bffs with one of the village women in that first year.. or able to handle the heat without ever complaining or getting discouraged, i would consider those an unrealistic expectations. on the other hand some expectations are not met because of man’s sinfulness – i.e all that we read about tcks who’ve been abused by colleagues on the field. in my experience, most expectations result from ignorance, assumptions and naiveté – and i think that sometimes those are the ones that wear us down the most.. grace, laughter and thankfulness have been my best tools for keeping sanity when it comes to this battle of the expectations.

    the statement that “might truth be more fluid like a river” is a very discomforting one for me. i’m a good baptistic sort of gal who likes to believe in absolutes, even while i accept and agree that there probably aren’t as many of them as i was taught to believe growing up.

    i don’t think truth is fluid – but perhaps its manifestation in different situations (or in the missions context – cultures) looks so different that it makes us wonder if we are talking about the same absolute. God is love… life is a precious gift from God… God created and sustains this world… – those are, IMHO, absolutes… or truth. their manifestations, however, might be fluid. I know I’ve experienced times when God’s love feels raging like mountain river during spring thaw or other times when it is the tranquility of a calm float on a sunny summer day. i’m thinking back to the first time i began to be challenged with that idea – reading a book, Heaven’s Wager (by Ted Dekker – a tck, by the way). have any of you read that book?

  • I am a very punctual person and have had to adjust to the fact that I must run on African time. They don’t have watches. The two o’clock sun can turn into two-thirty or even three before a lesson gets started. It’s been almost two years and thus far none of my expectations of what our ministry would look like has happened nor do I think it ever will. I have to just keep seeking the Lord and trusting Him.

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