If it weren’t for 94 degrees with a heat index of 98, this would have been a perfect Father’s Day! After church we took my husband out for dinner. We had a great time together as a family. This evening, I thought about my own father, who has been gone for 3 1/2 years. Time flies, but the memories remain. Thank you, God, for the love of a good Dad.
Mind you, although he was a good one, my dad wasn’t perfect. In fact, I attribute many years of counseling to the fact that Dad was a perfectionist. When I got a “B” on a test, he asked why it wasn’t an “A.” If the dishes weren’t cleaned right, the whole shelf of dishes went back into the sink. You get the picture. And when I was a teenager, Dad wasn’t overly expressive of pleasant emotions, pretty much just the disappointed ones. I just wanted to know he was proud of me (which I did find out later in life).
Now that I’ve confessed my dad’s shortcomings, let me say this: I believe that a large degree of our interpersonal conflicts come from the problem of expectations. What you expect of me, what I expect of you, these are all personal ideas that we place on one another. When you don’t react the way I expect you to, I am offended, saddened, or frustrated. But unfortunately, I’ve created a scenario that have I never shared. How can you know how to react if I never tell you what I expect?
Marriages fall apart for this very reason. The wife has ideas and expectations for her Prince Charming: how he will treat her, how they will spend their days, how he will respond to her thoughts. But she hasn’t told him what she expects, and he is a guy who comes from a different family and background, and so he fails on many fronts. Then again, he isn’t innocent. Old Charming has his own list of rules about how he wants Cinderella to treat him, too. He just hasn’t published them so she can fulfill them, and she falls short, as well. Without communication, their relationship is doomed from the beginning, but it doesn’t have to be.
Jesus was the alternate example of such a lack of communication. Remember how, when his followers started to push him to take over, Jesus consistently—sometimes gently, sometimes not—reminded them that His kingdom was not the same as the one they expected. Jesus spoke clearly about what He expected from His followers and what He was willing to bring to the relationship.
If Jesus could express his expectations, why can’t we? Often, we hold back our personal wishes and dreams because we are afraid of rejection. If I tell you what I expect, then you might decide I’m not worth the trouble. So I tuck it inside and then get angry when you break my unwritten rules, not even giving you the opportunity to know what “my rules” were. We set each other up for failure.
You speak to me in a way that hurts my feelings, so I get hurt and angry, but say nothing to you about it. Of course, then the anger festers, and when you do it again, I explode, or worse yet, hold it in even longer.
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over” (Matthew 18:15).
In most cases, while you are sitting and smoldering, the other person doesn’t even realize they have done anything wrong. I cannot hold you responsible for something you didn’t even know about! Communicate!
I finally decide to communicate, but I come with the assumption that you meant to offend me. One of my seminary teachers called these “presuppositions.” I come to the discussion having already decided how we got there and what your intents were. The Bible talks about this, too.
“Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God” (1 Corinthians 4:5).
When we judge one another, even going so far as to “know” their motives, we are taking God’s place; we are professing to be all-knowing. In our conflict, I must first examine my own heart and motives to be sure I’m not unfairly judging you. This isn’t making excuses for the other person, but being honest. Then, when I speak to you, it is in the spirit of mercy and grace that I have received from God myself.
I give and give and give, but you don’t respond the way I want you to. Big issue in counseling, and yet, in most cases, we are the ones being unhealthy. Many women, and men, as well, have this mistaken notion that if we do more, then she will notice, then he will be grateful. Sorry, friends, but that just isn’t so.
“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:7,8). Okay, this passage relates to giving in the church, but the concept is applicable to relationships as well.
Each of us chooses what to give, but when I go beyond what I have been asked to do, I have chosen to give beyond what was expected; therefore, I have no right to be angry if you don’t fall down at my knees and adore me!
When we choose to give out of a heart of love, not for ulterior motives, we find grace. We are rewarded by God, not by others. Therefore, I must examine my own intents or needs that cause me to continually need your approval. Am I giving in this relationship because I truly love you and love God and want the best for you? Or am I giving in this relationship so I can feel better about myself? If this is the case, then I will never be strong enough to feel accepted emotionally by anyone else, and no one will ever be able to please me.
It all comes down to this: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31,32).
Find your value and your purpose in Christ. When I recognize God’s love for me, I am better equipped to love others and to forgive them. So remember, communicate your expectations, confront (in love), don’t judge another’s thoughts and heart, and give as you have decided to freely, not just to earn my acceptance. These simple steps will strengthen our families, our churches, and our community.
Mary Kay Glunt, Pastor
Ebenezer Presbyterian Church
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