In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict shares his story of recovery. A successful doctor with a dysfunctional home life, his world spiraled downward as his self-prescribing got more and more out of control. Eventually, his situation became so desperate that he was committed into the hospital where he was on staff. Toward the end of his story, he shares some of wisdom he’d picked up over his years in recovery. In one of the most striking passages, the doctor writes about having expectations:

“My serenity level is inversely proportional to my expectations. The higher my expectations . . . the lower is my serenity. I can watch my serenity level rise when I discard my expectations.”

I was always taught that expectations can play a key role in lifeThe first time I read this, I was pulled up short. What did that mean, “discarding expectations”? Every situation results in some sort of outcome; positive or negative, we have to expect that something is going to happen. Besides, I was always taught that expectations can play a key role in life—expect good things, and they’ll happen for you; expect bad things, and they’ll definitely happen to you. How does someone approach life with no expectations at all? And more importantly, what do my expectations have to do with my level of serenity?

I decided not to let arrogance get the best of me and shrug this idea off completely. Considering the fact that, at that point, I was tipping the scales at 250 pounds and could not stop eating or using drugs, maybe the doctor knew something I didn’t.

Even in the Torah, expectations cause trouble. Cain expected G‑d to lavish the same good favor on his offering that G‑d had given Abel. When he got a less-than-favorable response, Cain’s rage impelled him to kill his brother, the first murder in the history of humanity. Much later, the Jewish people expected Moses to return from the top of Mt. Sinai at a specific—and, alas, miscalculated—time. When Moses didn’t show at their appointed hour, the men lost hope and built the Golden Calf to worship. Coming upon them, Moses threw the stone tablets down in disgust, destroying the sacred gift he had brought down for his people, straight from G‑d himself.

Our forefathers, however, seemed to understand the potential damage that expectations can cause, especially Abraham. When we meet Abraham in the Torah portion of Lech Lecha, G‑d tells him to “go forth . . . to the land that I will show you.” That’s it. G‑d doesn’t tell Abraham where he’s going, why he’s going, or what’s going to happen when he gets there. He didn’t even tell him what to bring. He only tells Abraham to go.

And Abraham goes, no questions asked. He demands no information, no itinerary, not even a map. By then, Abraham was already well established where he was living, married and prosperous, and well on in years. It was no simple thing to uproot his life, especially since he had no guarantee that he would enjoy the same level of comfort at his unknown destination. And yet he leaves, simply because G‑d asked him to.

Later on in his journey, G‑d tells Abraham that his descendants will “number the dust of the earth,” and that He would “establish a covenant” with the many generations that followed Abraham, a promise that bears fruit with the birth of Isaac. For thirty-seven years Abraham raises Isaac with G‑d’s promise in mind, until the day when G‑d speaks to him again. This time, He tells Abraham to take his beloved son and offer him as a sacrifice.

It is an arrogant assumption that the only possible outcome is one that I can conjure up myselfCertainly Abraham should have taken issue with this. After everything he’d gone through, the many souls he’s inspired to pursue a spiritual life, the long years he’d waited for a child, and the fact that G‑d promised him that he would be a father of multitudes through Isaac, it was inexplicable that G‑d should demand that he sacrifice the one thing he loved most. Abraham had already passed nine tests of faith previous to this one; surely he could expect a little break, or at least an explanation.

But he didn’t, Instead, Abraham took his beloved Isaac up to the top of Mt. Moriah, fully prepared to offer him as a sacrifice to G‑d. As we know, a last-minute intervention saved Isaac from the knife, but Abraham’s abandon to comply with G‑d’s directions was as spiritually powerful as completing the act itself. In fact, our honored sages even say that the deep level of Abraham and Isaac’s personal sacrifice acted as a kapparah (atonement) for every sin that the nation of Israel ever made and ever will make.

So what does this mean for me?

Expectations are, essentially, a feeling that I deserve a desired result. It also is an arrogant assumption that the only possible outcome is one that I can conjure up myself. When I have an expectation, positive or negative, I am forgetting that G‑d’s plan is much wider in scope than mine, and that He sees the infinite, interconnected consequences of everything. I may expect, for example, that my son will grow up to become a master violinist. G‑d’s plan, however, may be quite different. Perhaps he will prefer the cello or the flute. Perhaps he will have no interest at all in music, and instead pursue a career in medicine. Whatever the outcome, if it is different from my expectations, I am setting myself up for disappointment, resentment and bitterness—which for any human being, especially an addict, is poison. More than that, I lose the opportunity to recognize that everything in G‑d’s world is designed to refine me into the person He created me to be.

This is what Abraham, and the doctor, understood: G‑d knows better than me. I don’t need to have expectations of anything, because nothing happens in G‑d’s world by mistake. Everything in life is guided by divine wisdom and ultimately will result in the best possible outcome.

These days, I don’t eat compulsively or use drugs, and I have a right-sized body. But more importantly, I have chucked my expectations. I hope, I dream, and I strive, but like Abraham, I leave the results up to the One in charge.