Unmet Expectations and Hope for the New Year

I didn’t expect it to be so hard.

I didn’t expect to feel so lonely.

I didn’t expect to still be struggling with the language.

I didn’t expect it would be so hard to make friends.

I didn’t expect that it would take so long to make/see a tangible difference.

How many of us who have lived abroad have had these thoughts? We went abroad with wide eyes and big hearts filled with the passion and the urgency to bring Christ to the world, only to have the world throw back at us some of the deepest and darkest sorrows and brokenness we’ve ever seen or experienced.

Usually, when we talk about expectations in missions, we are talking about all those expectations that missionaries carry with them to the field along with their filled-to-the-brim suitcases. What I don’t see talked about as much are the expectations that we might have upon returning back to our passport countries and how those expectations, when they go unmet, can be just as surprising and crushing as the ones we had for ourselves while we were abroad.

I’ve been “home” for exactly one year and two weeks now, and I didn’t expect that I’d still be wrestling with all this stuff. I read the books about transitioning home, and I knew I would be a different person, but I didn’t know home would be so different too.

I expected life back here would be easier.

I expected to understand the culture and the motivation behind people’s actions.

I expected not to be misunderstood or caught off guard so much.

I expected people to have, share, and respect the unwritten rules of society.

I expected rules to be more clearly and uniformly implemented.

I expected customer service to be more of a thing.

I expected to have functioning appliances and 24/7 Wi-Fi access.

I expected the grocery store would always have what I needed.

I expected boundaries to be valued and respected.

I expected to never cry at work again.

I don’t know if this is just my story of re-entry or the story of the world these last few years, but this was not what I expected at all.

What about you? Has this past year been everything that you expected? Or have there been a few surprises in there along the way? Were there things that you had hoped for and planned for that never came to pass? Or perhaps there were people you thought you could count on who let you down?

As the New Year begins and much of the world around me is making resolutions and creating new goals, I’m conflicted about what to do. I want to allow myself to look to the future and dream, but I’m also a little nervous.

How are we supposed to handle all these unmet expectations that we may have from the past year as we look forward to a new year? Are we setting ourselves up for failure by having expectations in the first place? Is it better to just live without any thoughts of the future?

I think the trouble for most of us is not the fact that we have and make expectations; it’s that we often make and set expectations about the wrong things. Reflecting on my list of both pre-and post-missionary life expectations, I see that many of my expectations were about how I thought things should be in the world around me (easier, comfortable), about things I thought I deserved (friends, success), and about how I thought others should be treating me (respect, kindness).

The trouble with all of these expectations? I have absolutely zero control over how society/culture has changed while I’ve been gone and absolutely zero control over how people will treat me on a day-to-day basis.

Expectations reveal how we think things should be, and because we often cling to them tightly and rigidly, the weight of expectations feels heavy and our happiness is often very much dependent on whether they are or aren’t met. Expectations that are dependent on mere human beings (myself included) or the fleeting and temporary things of this world are bound to let us down at some point or another.

Expectations that are dependent on an eternal, all-powerful, omnipresent, and good God, on the other hand, are a totally different story. When we place our expectations on Him and who He is, rather than on the specific outcome of a situation, we will never be let down again.

As Christians, we can and should expect God to fulfill the promises that He has made to us and all His people. This is what we call hope. Though we will still have trials and tribulations in this world, “hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5). Hope says we will “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

So this year, rather than expecting things to go smoothly, expecting people to understand me, expecting man-made machines to work 24/7, or expecting to get a raise at work, I am choosing to hope in the Lord and His promises and expectantly wait and look for His presence all around me.

This year I will…

Expect Him to be listening and to hear my prayers (Psalm 66:17-20).

Expect Him to work all things out for my good, even when I can’t see it yet (Romans 8:28).

Expect Him to protect me and guard me from those that seek to destroy (2 Thess. 3:3).

Expect Him to provide all of my needs (Phil. 4:19).

Expect Him to give me strength and rest when I need it (Isaiah 41:10; Matt. 11:28-30).

Expect Him to grant me wisdom and lead me in the path everlasting (James 1:5; Psalm 139:24).

In Him, I know that I am secure. In Him, I know that I am loved, taken care of, protected, fulfilled, whole, and cherished.

Like every human though, I’ll probably still create all sorts of expectations for the New Year without even realizing it and eventually find myself inadvertently sitting motionless underneath a pile of all sorts of unmet expectations.

However, my hope this year is that rather than allowing these unmet expectations to continue to crush me and make me frustrated, depressed, or anxious, I will start to see them sooner for what they really are and instead turn my eyes back to the Lord with the same hope and expectations that I am filled with today as we start off in this brand new year together.

What about you? Who or what are you hoping on this year? Are you expecting anything from the Lord for 2024?

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Anna Glenn

Anna Glenn served as an agricultural missionary with her husband in Liberia, West Africa from 2016-2022. She now works back in her home state of Maryland doing agriculture education and youth development while staying involved with local and international missions. Her writing now focuses on her experiences integrating back into the American culture, reflections on her time in missions, and advocacy for better missionary care and support.

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