April 24, 2006

Great Expectations
by Pastor George Van Alstine

Among the novels Charles Dickens wrote about social realities in mid-nineteenth century England was Great Expectations, a story about the life journey of a poor orphan boy named Pip. He fell for a girl whose social class was far above his, but when it was discovered that he had inherited a small fortune, his “expectationsâ€? immediately became far greater, and winning the girl of his dreams became a possibility.

At least six movies have been made of this story, including a modernized version in 1998 and a Masterpiece Theater edition in 2004. Hollywood knows that moviegoers are sure to be fascinated by a story where dreams can become reality, where hopes can be fulfilled, where expectations are unlimited.

Of course, you won’t be surprised to learn that one of America’s most successful on-line dating sites also bears the name “Great Expectations.â€? Check it out. It’s full of testimonials from people who had just about given up hope, when, through this website, they have discovered the love of their life. It would be interesting to read testimonials from all these people ten years down the road. Would they all say, “Then we married and lived happily ever afterâ€??

Often early in pre-marital counseling, I give couples this little formula and ask them to guess what it means:

No one has ever gotten it right, though some have guessed one letter or another. I have to explain that

S is for Satisfaction
R is for Reality
E is for Expectation

So, as any student of algebra will tell you, if a couple’s Reality improves, they will have more Satisfaction. Unless their Expectation is too high, in which case, they will never be Satisfied with any Reality.

I go on to explain to the couple that my job as a pre-marriage counselor is to improve the prospects of their having a Satisfying marriage. Hopefully, my advice during these sessions will improve their Reality somewhat by helping them learn how to treat each other better. But I can have much more effect on their Expectations. I can be brutally frank about the obstacles they will face in communicating, not putting the other first, dealing with personality weaknesses in themselves and their partners. I can knock those Expectations down to near zero. Then, no matter what Reality they experience in marriage, they will be able to find Satisfaction, because their Expectations have been so limited.

This S=R/E formula applies to all areas of our lives; education, career, financial stability, children, life goals, etc. Think of how it works with your much-anticipated summer vacation. The more you plan the details, read the travel brochures, fantasize what each experience will be like, the more you are setting yourself up for a disappointment. You would get more out of visiting Mount Rushmore if you were just casually driving down Highway 244 in South Dakota, turned a corner and there they were—- gigantic carvings of four past American presidents. Zero Expectation; infinite Satisfaction.

Not everyone buys this approach, but it works for me. It’s a pretty good coping mechanism to head off life’s disappointments. If Pip realizes he is hopelessly poor, he doesn’t have to experience the sense of personal rejection in not being able to win the girl.

Ah, but Pip receives a surprise inheritance. That changes everything. All of a sudden, his expectations become great.

And the gospel of Jesus Christ is the same kind of surprise notification for believers—- that in him they are heirs of eternal life. Talk about Great Expectations!