In an earlier post I suggested that it is often more rewarding to look forward to something than to actually get it. Now, building on that, I’m thinking that anticipation, or keen expectation, may have value in its own right—never mind that it often fails to pan out.
For example, there may be a joy that comes from looking forward to a game of 3-on-3, even when the actual game doesn’t transpire as planned. And it might be a good idea to savor the expectation for all it’s worth, even if it “dead ends.”
Why? Because our best desires, even (or especially) when they fail to be realized, can create a bittersweet thread of longing that leads us heavenward. As C.S. Lewis recognized, it was the piercing inadequacy of his greatest desires that led him to discover a Sehnsucht longing for heaven—achingly sweet, but better than all manner of blasé, sure-fire pleasures.
I definitely agree with Lewis here. But I’m almost afraid to apply this discovery to my life.
Where my hopes are concerned, I am sometimes reluctant to indulge in anticipation with abandon because of the fear of what may really happen. I’ve been burned too many times to get pumped up over something as unreliable as ________, I think. Fill in the blank. Be it a jumpshot, a significant other, a vacation, a book, even a first-rate college hoops team, they’ll all let you down.
Nothing material can consistently bear the weight of expectation, but some of us have found a way to defray the all-too-predictable disappointment: Lower your expectations to a manageable level.
- Tomorrow when I play basketball, I may sprain my ankle—or it might rain. But hey, it’s all good.
- I’ve heard this author is excellent. Once I get past his unoriginal plot and stock character, there will probably be a few good paragraphs.
- It’s good to be back in school. Of course, this isn’t Oxford, so I won’t be holding my breath, waiting for Ravi Zacharias to walk up to the white board.
But wait, my experienced self says. Look how I was so happy, thought I had the world at my fingertips, and then I took another step and everything fell apart. It hurt.
True, my hopeful self says. There’s no denying the spectacular nature of that disaster. But maybe the disappointment was the point. And the longing you felt to be extremely happy was good, even though it wasn’t realized.
My longing was a thread that led somewhere. I lost sight of its destination when disillusionment hid it from view. “Inconsolable longings,” says Lewis, are tied to something invisible but very real.
So where expectations are concerned, maybe I should climb in for the thrill ride, never mind that the experience itself may fall short. One day, the desires that my present life reflect dimly will materialize, fully formed. For now, these keen desires for approaching good will remind me that there’s a heaven and that I haven't reached it yet.
Related post: Nagging Happiness - The Inadequacy of Ordinary Looking-Forward-To