All of us bring a set of expectations to a new job, a special event, a church service, starting college as a freshman, eating at a new restaurant, going on vacation and all sorts of other experiences. It is part of what makes living exciting!
However, what typically happens to our expectations? Rarely are they exceeded; usually they are met or unfulfilled. I don’t say that because I am a cynic or have a negative attitude about life, it’s just true.
The same is true in relationships, especially in the home. When we are married, we have an idea of how we think it will work based on each person’s differing expectations. When we become parents we also have underlying expectations. This is not wrong, but we must realize that our expectations are limited to our experiences and knowledge.
When we expect a certain result and it doesn’t come to pass the longer we stay at the task it becomes a burden and drudgery. At some point, the disappointment becomes bitterness. This can happen as we serve people. We engage in ministry with a smorgasbord of expectations. When they are not met, the attitude of the one serving goes sour, there is no joy in helping, and at some point, the ministry will cease.
What kind of expectations do you have from your spouse? Your children? Your parents? Your brothers and sisters? Oh, they are there, even if you have never thought about it before. In fact, many of our conflicts are the result of our expectations not being fulfilled. The impact on the family is an emotional distancing from each other. Rather than the home being warm and close, it is cold and distant.
Here is a practical thought that will help you concerning your family as you serve them: a servant fulfills his duty faithfully without an expectation of being rewarded or praised. It is his duty to care for his responsibilities. It is nice to be recognized, but this cannot be our focus. It must be on the consistent discharge of our duties, not the response of the one being served.
This attitude of being loyal to your responsibility rather than expecting praise or reward is taught in the Bible. Jesus gave a parable to illustrate this truth.
“But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him
by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:7-10) The word “trow” (:9) means to “come to a conclusion after careful thinking”.
Expectations can destroy relationships. First of all, they are usually skewed and unrealistic and, second, even when they are appropriate they will not always be met. It is impossible to do because we are sinners and will inevitably disappoint those around us.
Stop for a moment and think deeply on the next few sentences. What do you expect of your spouse? What do you expect of your parents? What do you expect of your children? What do you expect of your brothers and sisters? Are these expectations at the root of conflicts? Have you pulled away from them emotionally because of being disappointed?
Here is my point: whatever those expectations are, if they are not being met it will discourage you from serving your family. I want to encourage you to put the higher expectations on yourself. Guard your jurisdiction of tasks carefully by caring for them and let God work on those whom you serve.
One of the pieces of advice I give to couples in pre-marital counseling is this: don’t marry with the expectation that the other person will change. Of course, I do believe people can change, that is the nature of the gospel. However, you are not to be the agent of that change. You are not their “Holy Spirit”. It is God’s responsibility to work on their heart.
Immediately after Paula and I were married I had the privilege of serving full-time at a wonderful church as the Youth Pastor. About a year later we moved to a house literally just up the street from the church where I served and we attended services.
As a leader I had key responsibilities and needed to arrive early on Sunday mornings to prepare. I have always hated being late, but especially when I have responsibilities. Here is where God taught me a life-long lesson on handling unfulfilled expectations.
I would get dressed for church and be ready to go, but I found myself waiting for Paula to finish. The first time I sat in the living room and pretended to be patient, but was aggravated. The next time I pushed her a bit to hurry and fussed in the car that I needed to be there earlier. The next week I decided to go ahead and walk to church (it wasn’t that far away) and she could come when she was ready. This solved both problems – it gave Paula the time she needed and enabled me to be there early.
I don’t want to give the impression that Paula was extremely late, but it made me anxious with my responsibilities waiting on me at church. My pastor had a lot of wisdom and I had a great idea, “I’ll go and talk to him about what to do. He’ll have some good advice”. And so I did.
We had concluded a meeting going over ministry matters and I asked him, “Preacher, I have a special problem and I need some helpful advice”. I sketched out for him the nature of the situation and how frustrated I was and asked him what he thought I should do. He replied, “Rick, I had the same problem; my wife was often late in getting ready and I would get frustrated at her”.
I got a glimmer of hope because he had not only dealt with the same issue, but had used the phrase “I had the same problem” (past tense), so I knew he was successful in coming up with a solution. I was about to get some wisdom that worked from a man that had been married almost ten years longer than I had. This was going to be good!
Leaning forward, I asked, “What did you do?” His answer at first confused me, then it disappointed me. This was not what I wanted to hear. My pastor said, “I had tried everything and nothing worked and so I left her alone and stopped making an issue about it”. Though my body language didn’t reveal it, in my mind I was thinking, “This is insane; that won’t work. Nothing will change”.
Later at home I considered our conversation and realized that I had tried everything that I had thought of, but I had not tried leaving her alone about it and not making an issue of it. So, that is exactly what I did. My attitude completely changed and I continued to leave a bit early on Sunday mornings and walked to church, but now without the frustration. I left it with the Lord (and with the hope that it might work as it did with my pastor’s wife!).
And it did work. In fact, it was only a couple of weeks and Paula was ready when I was and we went to church together in our car (actually it was a bright gold station wagon!).
Since that time, I have rarely ever had to wait on Paula and she is usually ready before I am. Things go better when you care for your own responsibilities and let God speak to others in your family about theirs.
I must insert here that I don’t want to imply that things that frustrate you about others in your family will clear up as quickly as this issue did for us. The truth is, both of us still have issues that grate at the other sometimes. If we focused on them it would deteriorate the closeness of our relationship. My wife is a good, godly lady and she wasn’t trying to make me miserable or hurt me. It just all came in the package with the marriage.
She has had to do the same in regard to her own expectations for me. If we failed to deal with this area of our marriage, it would have kept us from being close to each other.
One of the most precious attributes of God to me is is His heart of mercy. His patient kindness drives my heart to love Him, to serve Him and to be close to Him. Read these words from the Bible about our Lord and His mercy. (By the way, mercy is when God restrains due punishment).
“The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.” (Psalm 103:8-13)
Here’s a simple solution – and it’s biblical. Stop trying to change your spouse and allow God to do it. That way it will be lasting and your home will be filled with peace and joy – and both of you will be closer. Give your expectations to God.
“My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him.” (Psalm 62:5)