Relationships are fragile and need to be protected. Although there are many enemies that seek to destroy them, there is one enemy that is probably the greatest killer of relationships and that is expectations. Of course, there are a few expectations that are valid such as faithfulness in a marriage however, other than those few reasonable ones, we tend to have a myriad of other expectations that can ultimately end up robbing us of our joy and peace as well as destroying those relationships.
As I've struggled to be free from unreasonable expectations, I've found that they come in various layers. It's always a challenge to give them up but, until we're able to give up each layer of expectations, we'll never experience the wholeness that God desires for us to have.
We all have dreams and hopes and that's good but they become unhealthy when they become standards that we use to determine how we view ourselves and our success. My granddaughter has always had an artistic bent and she's always loved to color. Even as a young child, she was constantly at work coloring and drawing. Napkins in restaurants were the perfect canvas on which to display her creative genius so, as a result, we went through a lot of napkins during lunch. She would thoroughly enjoy herself until a stray line would cause her to erupt into a flood of tears. Even the smallest mistake was totally unacceptable. No matter how we tried to encourage her, she became inconsolable. We would even point out to her how the stray line could be incorporated into the picture so that it didn't detract from its beauty but it still wasn't good enough and the tears continued to flow. This happened on many occasions and it led to a great deal of frustration and disappointment because she had set standards so high that they were impossible for her to meet.
Even as adults, we often set standards for ourselves that are impossible to meet and when we fail, we sink into self-pity crying, "I can't do anything right!" However, we've got to be realistic and allow ourselves to be human. Because we're human, we'll make mistakes . . . that's a given. Sometimes we'll even make a lot of them but we need to allow ourselves the freedom to make them and to learn from them.
We tend to have a negative view of mistakes but mistakes can actually be beneficial since, when viewed correctly, they provide a way of growth that doesn't happen when everything goes just right. I've heard it said that if we're not making mistakes, it's because we're not taking risks and, when we're not taking risks, we'll never accomplish anything great. So, the key is to allow ourselves to make mistakes, learn from them and then move on.
Another layer of expectations that we have to give up are those expectations that we've place on God. Anyone who's been exposed to any word of faith teaching is probably familiar with the "name it and claim it" teaching. Although this is a very popular "faith" teaching, it puts God in a box. Proponents of this teaching believe that because we pray a certain way and claim specific scriptures, God is obligated to give us what we ask for. Some teachers will even tell us that we have to tell God exactly what we want. For example, if we want a new car, we have to tell him the make and model as well as the color and all of the extras that we want. Otherwise, he can't give us what we want.
So, when the car doesn't arrive exactly as we ordered, our faith in God is shaken. And, when the healing doesn't come that we've prayed for and claimed, then we're accused of not having enough faith to bring it to pass and guilt is laid on us because we're told that our failure to be healed is our fault. However, this teaching is a denial of the fact that God
knows our heart and knows exactly what we need even before we ask for
God isn't a one size fits all God and he doesn't treat us all the same. We've all been uniquely created and he respects our uniqueness so just because he did it for Jabez, doesn't mean that he'll do it for us and just because he did it for you, doesn't mean that he'll do it for me. Instead of it being an understanding that God knows every hair on our head and knows what's best for us, faith has become a way to manipulate him into giving us what we want.
Faith was never meant to be a tool to be used in order to get our selfish wants satisfied but instead it's meant to be the result of a relationship with our loving Father. As we come to know God and realize how much he loves us, our faith grows and we begin to trust that he's watching over us and taking care of us no matter what the circumstances may be. This kind of faith produces peace and contentment even in the midst of troubling circumstances because the focus is no longer on us and what we want but instead it's on his love.
I think Eugene Peterson says it well when he records the words of Jesus in The Message Bible. He says: "What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so
preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving." (Matthew 6)
The third level of expectations that I want to discuss is giving up expectations of others. That in my opinion and in my experience is the hardest one to give up because we tend to believe that our happiness is dependent on the behavior of others. So, we think if only they would change, everything would be okay. However after many years of trying to fix the people in my life, I've come to the conclusion that the only person who controls my happiness is me. I may not like the circumstances of my life but I can choose to be joyful when I'd much rather sulk and wallow in self-pity. Is that easy to do? No, not always but I'm learning to find those moments of joy that I can focus on instead of the things I'd like to change that I have no control over. It's a constant battle to choose joy but I've tried the other and I've decided that I don't want to live miserable anymore.
Humans are independent beings with free wills. God doesn't violate someone's free will and neither should we. I've found that when I try to change someone and they don't change, my tendency is to be disappointed and that leads to complaining. Then, complaining leads to manipulation. It's easy to fall into this pattern especially if the other person gives in to our manipulation. When we get our way, we'll continue to manipulate them to get them to do whatever we want. However, when that becomes a pattern, that relationship has begun to die.
No one likes to be controlled and unreasonable expectations will build a wall between us and those we care about. Each expectation and attempt to manipulate adds another brick to the wall and, if not dealt with, eventually the wall can get so tall that all communication stops and the relationship dies. The only solution is to tear down the wall but that requires a willingness on our part to give up our expectations and allow the other person the freedom to be who they've been created to be.
Learning to give up expectations has not been an easy road for me and I'm still on the journey. However, because I've valued the relationship enough to put it ahead of my unrealistic expectations, I feel like it's been well worth the effort and, as a result, I've experienced greater joy and peace.