“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.” Bruce Lee
It is hard when people disappoint us or let us down- when trust is broken, when they are not there for us in they way that we need or want them to be, when they just don’t understand.
It is painful, especially if it happens repeatedly over a period of time, and especially if we’re constantly trying to act well towards them. It is easy to feel that they owe us something, and for the result to be bitterness and resentment.
But maybe the problem is with our expectations. What if the problem is that we’re just expecting too much of people?
As I go through this year of focussing on surrender, the next area God is speaking to me about is surrendering expectations of other people. (I’m referring particularly to a specific situation which I don’t want to go into detail about here, but I think there’s a general principle to learn too.)
It’s not so much that my expectations are unreasonable, just that they are unrealistic. I long for things to be the way they “should” be in this situation, but the truth is we live in a broken world and nothing is the way it should be. Instead of constantly hoping and expecting that this situation will change and then getting frustrated when it doesn’t, I need to accept things as they are.
I don’t meant that in a pessimistic way. I don’t mean that I plan to give up on this person. I don’t mean that things will never change. I just mean that I need to let go of the expectation that it will. I need to stop focussing on my desires in this situation and surrender these to God.
This also means letting go of the expectations that I have of God. Not my expectations of what he can do, or my expectations that he will work in this situation, but my expectations about how he will do that.
I need a new focus, and the main word God is speaking to me in this situation is “compassion”. There are often reasons why people can’t meet our reasonable expectations. Sometimes they’re trying their best, but the scars from their own difficult life experiences make it hard for them. Sometimes there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface than we realise. Instead of judging or getting angry, I’m challenged to accept and attempt to understand, to pray that God will help me see this person and this situation the way he does.
Where better to look than to the example of Jesus? He reached out in love, without expecting anything in return. He showed kindness without demanding that people earned it. He healed people even when they showed no appreciation.
It’s not an easy way to live. It means making yourself vulnerable. Jesus was let down by the people closest to him: his family didn’t always understand what he was doing, his disciples fell asleep when they were meant to be praying for him in his hour of need, Peter denied knowing him and Judas betrayed him.
Yet, despite all of this, Jesus kept on loving. On the night he was betrayed, he washed his disciples’ feet, even the feet of the one who was already plotting to betray him. As he was nailed to the cross, he prayed forgiveness over those who were hurting him. As he hung there dying, he showed compassion to his mother and to the thief hanging beside him.
He constantly showed love, not because he was expecting people to respond in a particular way, but because of who he is. His identity is love.
And often that love did lead to change, because who isn’t drawn to unconditional love and the freedom it brings?
But Jesus didn’t prescribe that it must happen in a certain way or in a certain time, and even when his love wasn’t well-received, he kept on loving.
I’m convinced that surrendering these expectations will lead to freedom too: freedom to appreciate the good in this relationship instead of only being disappointed by where I wish it was different, freedom to stop trying to control people in the hope that they’ll act in a certain way, freedom to take a step back, hand it over to God and see what he will do, trusting that his ways are far, far better than mine.
“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20)