Expectancy, Not Expectation in Prayer

May 11, 2015

When I began praying in color, I did it out of desperation. I was praying for almost a dozen people  in my life with terrible cancers and I was left wordless in prayer. Doodling, sitting dumbstruck, and just releasing my friends into God’s care were the only things I could do. After a dozen years of praying this way and with a retrospective eye, I see this way of praying as “being expectant” rather than “having expectations.”

Prayer, for me, has often meant a list of specific requests and the expectation of specific results: “Heal John.” “Make my kids do what I think they should do.” “Make me a nice person.” “Tell me exactly where to live and what to do with my life.” My prayers for healing and direction will be answered. Isn’t that the promise? “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7 (NIV) I don’t always–maybe not even often–get the direct, specific response I want.

Advent, my favorite season of the year, has taught me to be “expectant” rather than to have “expectations.” Though the roots of the words are the same, the first feels like an attitude of wide-eyed openness and humility rather than a sense of entitlement and arrogance that the second implies. “An expectation is a premeditated resentment” says the daily reader The Courage to Change on p.153. If I “expect” to get what I want, I may not just be bitterly disappointed, but also resentful. And when I expect specific results in prayer and don’t get what I ask, I resent God and sometimes even conclude that God does not exist. “Expectancy” helps me to honor the possibilities beyond my wants and my imagination. It bows before the wisdom and creativity of a Power way bigger than my puny, often self-focused mindset.

So when I doodle in prayer I try to let go of my expectations and trust God. “Here’s what I think I want, God; now it’s yours.” God knows the real needs and has marvelous things in mind for my friends and for me. “Healing always takes place,” says my priest friend Merry. “It just may look and feel different than we ever imagined.”

Expectancy resized