“Glory to God in the Highest,” Day 5: Expectation Is a Planned Resentment

December 5, 2016

I recently created a 31-day Advent/Christmas devotional booklet for my church called “Glory to God in the Highest.” I will be posting a devotional from it each day between now and the end of the year. Enjoy!

Scripture: Matthew 2:13, 22-23; Romans 8:28

glory_cover_finalAlcoholics 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.[†]

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.

potterSo 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? How would your life be different if you could be more like Joseph?

David Zahl, “November 22” in The Mockingbird Devotional (Charlottesville, VA: Mockingbird, 2013), 388.

2 Responses to ““Glory to God in the Highest,” Day 5: Expectation Is a Planned Resentment”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    (These devotionals are quite good!) Yes, I can relate, and know of others who become bitter over missed expectations. I don’t think I have fallen to bitter, though, myself. For one thing, I recognize that what I am getting is much better than I “deserve.” Keeping that in mind helps quite a bit. Also, every once in a great while, I see that something I have said or done has actually apparently benefitted some third person, and that helps too.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I can look back on my life now and see the many ways I had been eaten up with bitterness—and it was very much related to the sense that life wasn’t meeting my expectations. God has healed me in this area of my life. I may not be 100 percent healed, but I’m much better than I was, thank God!


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