Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hope for the best- expect the. . .BEST

As a children's choir director for several years, I learned quite quickly the power of expecting the best. I would often start the class with "I know y'all are going to do so well today!" and somehow starting off with a positive expectation set the pace for the entire practice. "I can't wait to see how much y'all have practiced!" or "I know y'all are excited about singing today!" uncannily seemed to always lift them to a higher level. And most every time, my efforts paid off and they rose to meet my expectations.

We've heard it said "hope for the best, but expect the worst." I believe this is for the faint of heart, and it is our feeble attempt to prepare ourselves for the worst. But then we become a people who are going around anticipating negative outcomes. If a negative outcome is at hand, wouldn't we rather live fully up to that moment- at least imagining a positive outcome? I would. Not to say I always have that fortitude of mind. But I sure want to.

I heard a story once that supports the same idea of expecting the best- primarily regarding how we respond to others.
(I apologize for not being able to remember the author. I believe it was on a radio show). Here goes. . .

As the school year began and teachers and students hurried in and out of classrooms the first few weeks, one young teacher was particularly energized about his schedule. Each morning, first thing, he taught a group of gifted students that daily amazed him with their attentiveness and exceptional test scores. With this one class, he spoke to them differently, emphasizing their giftedness and telling them how proud he was to have them as students. Their score continued to soar and their attitudes were delightful. His other classes remained mediocre with a mixture of potential and effort- nothing to get excited over. 
One morning a few weeks into the semester, while in the teachers lounge, the young teacher commented to a few other dedicated educators "Man! I am so excited about my first period class this year! They finally gave me a gifted class, and they are awesome! They do their homework, they pay attention in class. It is wonderful! After all these years, I'm so glad to finally teach such gifted students!" The other teachers glanced at each other in confusion and continued listening to the young teacher brag on his first period students. Some of the older teachers smiled in wisdom, understanding slowly. Another young teacher finally broke in and spoke up. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said to him, "They haven't offered gifted classes in years. That class you have first period is no different- no smarter- than all your other classes."
He had been led to believe that his class was gifted. He treated them as gifted. And they performed as gifted. His attitude toward them had affected their attitude toward him, toward their work, and had set them a step above the rest. Just his attitude alone and the expectations he had of them directly affected their performance.
I often use this story when counseling couples- or even when talking with individuals who want to see change in others- someone they love or someone they can't stand! Sometimes even when we want to see change in someone, the most difficult part is allowing that change to occur- much less expecting and anticipating that change.

I call it "giving some slack"- giving a person "room to grow and change". So often, we try to hold people in an old pattern. I noticed this early in my private practice when I would ask a wife "Do you believe he can make this change you're asking for?" and I would be given a "Yes, but" response. I didn't buy it. There is no "Yes, but" (which is typically followed by "he'll probably try for a while and go back to the old way" or "He says he wants to here, but when we get home. . ." you get the picture). And it can be so frustrating! Both people want change, both people are willing to change, but neither is willing to ALLOW the other to change. It is hard to take a risk and expect something better- something new- with the potential of being let down again. It is hard- but it is necessary.

If we see people as God sees them- full of potential to grow and change- we can then treat them as the person we hope they can become. This is true for children, for our spouses, even in friendships. This is how we expect the best. When they try and fail, we choose to avoid statements such as "I knew you would go back to your old ways" or "You ALWAYS are going to be this way." YUCK! Give him/her some slack! Give the person you love room to be their best and help them see that as a possibility too by the way you choose to respond to them. "That wasn't like what I know you've said you want to be, and you look frustrated at yourself. I forgive you. . ."

I have watched it work. I believe what God's word says is true. We are to think on things that are pure, lovely, true, of good report. We are to choose to focus on the positive. When we give each other slack and begin to treat each other with gentleness and positive anticipation, we will see changes. Change is not the hardest part. Letting change happen and developing new norms is much more difficult. So I ask my clients if they are willing to do that- to really trust and get into a new system- new patterns. It may mean being let down a few times- even after the other person commits to the change too. But it will also mean experiencing, giving, and receiving grace in a whole new way.

Sometimes the people closest to us strangle us the most and keep us from moving forward by trapping us in our old ways and reacting to us within pre-set stereotypes. "Suzy is always late." Sure she's going to be late every time if no one expects her to be on time anyway and even worse if they react with joking and sarcasm if she arrives early "for a change." That is no fun. "Sam never cleans his room." Well, he'll never choose to clean it if you keep telling him he's lazy and then clean it for him. Again, you get the picture.

So, I challenge you to try it. Begin putting a word in your husband's ear that lets him know you respect and admire him. "I sure am thankful you always take care of our vehicles so I don't have to. I love not having to worry about getting my oil changed" or "I loved when you took me to the movies. That's one of my favorite things to do." Expecting and reinforcing the positive (sometimes with hints and sometimes just coming right out and saying it) gives the other person insight into what he can do to make you happy more often. Even "I knew you would ace that test" gives a child the idea that you were expecting his best all along, creating an environment for growth and achievement.

I could go on and on and on and on and on on this subject. But I won't. I'm going to assume the best- that you are still reading at this point- and reinforce you to come back and read again- by stopping myself at this point! Thanks for listening! And have a good day today!


Phil 4:6-8
 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. 

2 Cor 9:8
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.


  1. You always exceed my expectations:). I'm sharing this with the teachers I work with. Love you!

  2. I SO needed this. Tomorrow morning, I will be greeting my students with great expectations!