Not what I expected

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When someone talks about some item or situation that was “not what I expected,” the person usually means it in a negative way. The movie isn’t as good as advertised, or the trip isn’t as fun as it looked in the brochure, or the thing purchased over the Internet turns out to be cheesy. Stuff like this happens all the time.

Sometimes the disappointment is more serious. Someone studies hard for a career path he or she ends up hating. Another person dates someone who seems nice but after the wedding there are compatibility problems. Someone else suffers a tragedy or loss that seems completely unfair. Whether mundane or monumental, there are things we can all think of that didn’t turn out like we expected.

As a naturally skeptical person I tend to expect the worst. So I guess you could say that if things don’t turn out like I expect, that’s probably what I expect. I know that doesn’t compute, but there you go.

It can be a pain for my wife. “I need to talk to you about something,” Kim will say. I reply, “What? What’s wrong? What happened?” Kim rolls her eyes and shares something harmless. Afterward I tell myself to loosen up and be more optimistic. So the next time Kim has something to tell me, of course, I say, “What? What’s wrong? What happened?”

You’d think it would be hard in my case for things to not turn out like I expect, since I’m always expecting them to not turn out like I expect. Imagine my surprise, then, to realize that a number of events in my life are not unfolding like I foresaw at all. In other words, these things are turning out pretty well.

As the birthdays pile up, for example, I’ve been expecting to get more sour and cranky. That seems to be the cultural convention for aging citizens, even though studies show older folks to be generally happier than younger people. I know plenty of people my age and older who are perfectly happy, but I always counted myself as a likely candidate to become crotchety.

It has been a relief to notice that instead of getting grouchier, I seem to be lightening up. This past weekend, for instance, I had so much work to catch up on I dealt with it by playing tennis and golf. It’s highly unusual for me to put off work in favor of having fun, but I kind of liked it. I may even try it again in a few years.

Along similar lines, I thought by now I’d be pining for the good old days before our culture went down the tubes and all the rock bands got lousy. I had a discussion on this subject during which someone insisted that today’s bands are terrible compared to groups she liked when she was young. This person was 24 years old! That made me giggle.

But it also inspired me to avoid getting set in my ways and to try to stay open to fresh ideas, changing styles and new ways of doing things. Good thing there are a lot of new bands out there that I like. Not that I mind the stuff I listened to in the ‘80s, I just don’t want to go back and live there.

In another turn of events I didn’t expect, I’ve suddenly stopped being critical of celebrity do-gooders. I used to react with a smirk when I read about movie stars attending charity events, adopting third-world children or saving the environment. Phony publicity junkies, I would think. This was, like, a month ago.

Then I had a change of heart. It came from reading the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians about preachers with questionable motives. “What does in matter?” Paul writes. “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached” (1:18).

Ouch! This knocked me out of my critical mindset. What’s the problem if cures are being discovered, destitute people are being rescued and natural resources are being protected with the substantial help of seemingly superficial celebrities? Since I don’t even make as much money as many of these people donate, I am hardly one to judge.

Finally, I’ve been experiencing some personal and spiritual growth in a manner I didn’t expect. That’s because it started to happen at the point I gave up. I had gone through a period of striving and sweating and serving that wore me out. And not only was all the effort not helping, I felt like I was going backwards.

Finally I said, “God, this isn’t working. I really don’t know what to do. But you know. So do it.” And what do you know, God did. Now there is something that didn’t turn out like I expected that I really should have expected.

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