560) Reduced Expectations

Stephen Hawking as a brilliant and healthy young man.

In 1963, when he was twenty-one, Hawking was diagnosed with ALS and given just two years to live.  It might be that Hawking’s illness helped him become the noted scientist he is today.  Before the illness, Hawking had been a lazy student.  He still did well because he was so intelligent, but because of the lack of time he spent on his studies he almost failed to get into Cambridge.   “I was bored with life before my illness,” he said.  “There had not seemed to be anything worth doing.”  With the sudden realization that he might not even live long enough to earn his Ph.D., Hawking poured himself into his work and research.

Hawking in 2011.  He is now seventy-two.

Stephen Hawking survived, finished his Ph. D., and went on to become the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, the chair held by Isaac Newton in 1663.  He retired in 2009 after 30 years in that position.  He is regarded as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Einstein.


Stephen Hawking is not a Christian, but his illness taught him somethings about gratitude and expectations that are very consistent with a Biblical approach to life.  He said, “My expectations were reduce to zero when I was 21.  Everything since then has been a bonus.”  Christians believe that all of life is a gift of God.  Each day and everything we have is a free and undeserved bonus.


     When you expect nothing, a tree is gorgeous, and just looking at it is a privilege.  When you can’t even move your hands anymore, even tasting food becomes fantastic.  The sunset, or a butterfly, or anything that God made becomes wonderful.

      One of the reasons many people are depressed is that life so often disappoints us.  We are somehow led to expect 80 years of uninterrupted bliss, and if we receive anything less we feel cheated and that life is unfair.  Our level of expectations for life is so high that nothing in reality can ever measure up to it.

     Instead, we should, like Stephen Hawking, expect nothing; and then say, “Lord, whatever you will give me I will receive with joy and thanksgiving.”

     Instead, we expect a big house, no physical problems, that our children are going to get along without any difficulties, and so on.  We have allowed our level of expectations to color everything we have and do.  The Bible commands gratitude as the antidote to unrealistic expectations.


James 1:16-17a  —  Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…

Philippians 4:11b-13  —  I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Colossians 2:6-7  —  So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.


Grant, Lord God, that in the middle of all the discouragements, difficulties and dangers, distress and darkness of this mortal life, I may depend on your mercy, and on this build my hopes, as on a sure foundation.  Let your infinite mercy in Christ Jesus deliver me from despair, both now and at the hour of death.  Amen.
–Thomas Wilson  (1663-1755)