there’s this really amazing scene in 500 Days of Summer, where Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character attends the party of his ex, hoping to reconcile with her and believing that she wants the same. She never really says anything that would concretely lead him to that conclusion, but he’s obsessed with her and in love with the idea of her and mistaking it for a love of her. But what makes the scene amazing isn’t so much the plot as it is the side-by-side depiction of expectations versus reality. JGL goes to this party with these high expectations, of which actual reality falls woefully short.
It’s such a perfect example of what happens to us all the time, right? I mean, how often do we get this idea that we understand things, that we understand people? We think we know what someone else is thinking. We color our outlook with the crayons of one-too-many scripted scenes where he-finally-realizes or she-comes-back-to-him or he-apologizes-for-how-terrible-he’s-been or two-best-friends-realize-they’re-in-love or yadda, yadda, yadda and we’re screwed.
I have this dichotomous relationship with what I expect in people. I have low expectations in relationships, probably to avoid the pain of failure in relationships, but I also have a tendency to want to believe the best in people.
I give the benefit of the doubt until fully proven wrong. I wanted to believe Lance Armstrong was telling the truth. (It might be more of a character flaw of mine than a gracious virtue.)
I want to believe that the jerks aren’t really jerks, that people are misunderstood, even by themselves at times, and they’re messy and that’s why they can’t see past themselves to others. I want to believe that, given the chance and the appropriate skills, they’d be able to understand and grasp the concept that other-people-exist.
But messy or not, benefit of the doubt or not, some people will not live up to my reality, even if they did manage to grasp the concept. Some people are not ready to or able to risk even the slightest discomfort of their own, for the benefit of another. Some people honestly just don’t care. Some people honestly just can’t, for whatever reason. Some people don’t realize it.
And that’s where we fall into our own, everyday, scene of expectation versus reality. We hope for something different, we believe in change and epiphany and people responding to you in the ways you respond to them.
I think that the people in my life are inherently good, otherwise I wouldn’t have them in my life to begin with. And so I want to believe this when they’re messing up. I want to believe that a time will come when I’ll be proven successful by my method of patience and understanding.
And maybe they will be, but it might not look the way I want it too.
The Israelites didn’t believe Jesus was the messiah because he was kind of lackluster. He didn’t have the pomp of a King Solomon like they assumed the messiah would. He came in on a donkey and then mostly just walked. He did miracles but quietly. A lot of times telling people to keep it quiet. And so because he didn’t look big and important, they didn’t believe that he was big or important. Some did, after they adjusted their expectations a little.
And that’s what I, and probably most of us, might need to do sometimes.
Adjust our expectations.
Stop hoping in our expectations.
Because our expectations are not what’s real. What’s real is what is right in front of us, interacting with us. What’s real are the people in front of us, with limitations, and our hopes falling short of our reality and truth.
Because that’s the only thing that doesn’t fall short of reality — truth.
Truth may look different from our reality, but I wonder if that’s not owing more to the fact that our reality falls short of truth’s reality, as opposed to the other way around.
I think we may know what we want or need with such certainty but it’s not always really what we want or what we need. Like when we’re kids and we desperately want to touch the stove, or move the shifter in the car when your mom runs into the post office because you like to touch buttons, whatever, same diff. We want those things but they are not good for us.
So what am I even talking about? I don’t really all the way know.
I think just that we live in a constant state of conflict, every day, between our expectations and our realities. What we hope for, or what we expect, is not always what we get.
Sometimes we need to adjust our expectations and turn our lens outward. Trust not in our own perceptions, or hopes, or whatever, and honestly fight to hold tight to truth. Truth that tells us that we are, now, exactly where we’re supposed to be. And in those unmet expectations, those moments of doubt, and frustration, and hurt–those moments are where we grow.
Lewis said, “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”
So I guess my thesis in this jounal-y blog post is to not try to devalue the unmet expectations, but rather press into them. Stand firmly and confusedly in the gap between what you were hoping for and what happened and look for truth there. Because I’m finding myself more and more certain that, much like colored eggs on an Easter Sunday’s lawn, it’s everywhere in that gap.