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Expectation Is a Planned Resentment

Alcoholics Anonymous has a popular saying: “Expectation is a planned resentment.” One Christian thinker puts it like this:

We expect to get the promotion at work, and when we don’t, we are resentful. We expect our fellow motorists to follow traffic laws (and common sense), and when they cut us off, we are resentful. We expect our spouse to meet all our needs, and when they don’t, we are resentful. We expect the church to be a functional, loving institution, and when it isn’t, we are resentful. Yet resentment is useless, like a weapon aimed at a target that always, somehow, boomerangs back at the shooter. And over time, resentment can turn into bitterness, or worse, hate. 1

Think of how this plays out in in the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life. Mr. Potter, George Bailey’s business rival and archenemy, offers him a well-paying job with many perks, including frequent trips to Europe.

George, you’ll recall, always wanted to see the world. But “seeing the world” was one of many dreams that George sacrificed when his father died, and he inherited his father’s Savings and Loan. He also sacrificed his dream of going to college, becoming an architect, and “building things.” Instead, he watched his classmates and his brother achieve the fame and glory that, he believed, should have been his.

So when Potter offers George the job, Potter’s underlying message to George is, “You deserve better than what you’ve received. It’s time to get what’s yours.”

To his credit, George decides not to make a deal with the devil. But the devil in this case wasn’t wrong: George is filled with resentment because, time and again, his life hasn’t lived up to his expectations. Remember: Expectation is a planned resentment.

Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus, could have easily shared George’s resentment: He never expected his fiancée to become pregnant by the Holy Spirit. He never expected that King Herod would plot to kill this child. He never expected to flee with his family to Egypt and live as a refugee. He never expected to be unable to return to his hometown.

To say the least, Joseph’s life, like George’s, did not meet his expectations.

But was Joseph filled with resentment? No. Because he understood that the only expectation to which he was entitled was the following: that God loved him, that God had a plan for his life, and that God was working through all circumstances for his own good and the good of the world.

Can you relate to the saying, “Expectation is a planned resentment”? How has this been true for you? In the Lord’s Prayer, when you pray, “thy will be done”—as opposed to my will be done—do you mean it? How would your life be different if you could be more like Joseph?

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