The damage done to relationships by expectations

Why do so many marriages end in divorce? One common factor is that couples enter marriage with high expectations, and when expectations aren’t met, that’s when the relationship starts to crumble.

In one marriage, for instance, the wife expected her husband to provide her with a better life than she had as a child. In another the husband expected his wife to be sexy at all times. When those expectations weren’t met, the wife punished her husband by refusing sex, and the husband punished his wife by comparing her to other women.

And think of the damage done to children too, by the high expectations of their parents and teachers. At Graduation, for instance, it’s clear to anyone watching that the awards and the loudest applause are given to the top students in academics, sports and community service. Engrained into every child’s head by age eighteen, therefore, is the clear message that your value as a person is directly connected to how well you do.

So where does this nonsense come from? It comes from a culture of magazines and talk shows that bully us into thinking we’re never quite good enough in what we look like, or how we eat, think, play and live. The expectations they put on us are enormous, and the standards they set are unattainable by ordinary mortals, but we expect our mates and children to live up to them anyway because, we’ve been led to believe, only the brightest and the best are truly happy.

Is it any surprise, then, that young people are depressed, many of them to the point of wanting to end it all, because the pressure to be perfect by parents, teachers, coaches and peers is overwhelming? And is it any surprise that forty per cent of marriages collapse, because neither partner feels valued for who they simply are?

But what if a child or a mate knows they’re loved no matter what?

I love the story of one married couple that proved you could ignore cultural pressure and still be happy. They played in bridge tournaments as partners. At one major tournament the wife made a stupid mistake in the first round and blew the game for them, but they were so at ease in their relationship together that they went on to win the tournament despite the rocky start.

The secret? Neither of them based their relationship on never making mistakes. So even if they’d lost the tournament they could still drive home happily together. No angry blaming, no stony silence, no demand for apologies, and no damage done to their relationship because of expectations not met.

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Feeling discouraged

For me, it’s horribly discouraging when there’s so little interest in the Christian message, or when things keep going wrong, or when people just leave the church without saying anything. Or when nobody takes any interest in what’s happening in your life, and it’s all one-way conversations as they talk a mile a minute about themselves but never ask about you.

You can get to thinking, “What’s the point?” or “Why bother?” I can imagine Jesus thinking that too, when most people only took an interest in him when he did miracles. When he preached the Christian message most people cleared off and didn’t want anything more to do with him. His very own hand-picked disciples often didn’t care much for what he said and did either. They often misunderstood him, and saw him mainly as a leg up for themselves in the kingdom. The religious authorities wanted him dead, despite the obvious evidence that Jesus was fulfilling many of the Old Testament prophecies that they knew by heart. The general public never let him get a moment’s rest, in their endlessly self-centred quest to get a healing or a demon removed. And when Jesus needed people the most, they either fell asleep, ran away, reported him to the authorities or denied ever knowing him. And at the last, just before he died, he felt utterly deserted.

So Jesus knows all about being discouraged. He sorrowed unto death at one point. I imagine him wondering, then, why on earth his Father had sent him in the first place when most people weren’t the least bit interested in his message, and the few people who could have been a great support to him, like the the religious leaders, scoffed at him and told lies about him. Clearly, there was no one Jesus could fully trust to understand him, be sensitive to his needs, or try to grasp what he was really saying.

And it’s a bit of a shock when that dawns on us too, isn’t it? That really most people are incapable of knowing our needs or taking an interest in what makes us tick, including our closest friends, our parents and even our spouses. But maybe that’s exactly what we need, to realize there isn’t a human being alive (or dead) who can satisfy our deepest longings and desires.

At which point, the Father appears through the mist of our tears and discouragement, just as he promised. He comforts those who mourn, because without his comforting arm round our shoulder, there isn’t any other help strong enough and concerned enough for us. But we always have him. Our Father.

Why can’t we do the good we so desperately want to do?

What frustrated Paul so much was not being able to do what he so desperately wanted to do – and isn’t that the problem that frustrates all of us? In our inner beings we’d love to do good and make our world a better place. Barack Obama’s stirring call “Yes, we can!” struck a real chord, because “Yes,” we’d love to make a difference.

We see it in our huge drive of late to “go green.” We’d love to band together to save the planet, reduce pollution, end our dependence on fossil fuels, and make the Earth beautiful, livable and able to renew itself – but – our efforts are constantly being hampered by the self-interests of governments, large corporations and people who put their own lusts ahead of the right thing to do. It’s so frustrating. We want to end poverty and disease, make cities safe, see girls get the same opportunity as boys, but there’s always something holding us back, be it weird religion, stifling tradition, power-hungry maniacs who care for no one but themselves – and our own personal excuses, too.  

Our experience as humans tells us so clearly we have a problem: We want to do good but we just can’t do it. Paul discovered the same thing happening in himself, too: “In my mind I’m a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin,” Romans 7:25. In his mind he desperately wanted to do good, but there was this other power inside him constantly working against him making the good he wanted to do so difficult. It was always an uphill battle, just as it is today trying to get anything good going that would improve life on this planet.

If only the entire world realized, then, that “Yes, we can” do the good we so desperately want to do because God sent Jesus to make it possible. How? By dying for us, first of all, because his death “condemned sin in sinful man,” Romans 8:3, literally knocking the legs out from under our sinful nature, releasing us from its grip. He also gave us his Spirit – and it’s this marvellous “Spirit of Christ” (verse 9) that “gives life to your mortal bodies” (verse 11).

What gives life to our desire to do good and make it possible is Christ’s Spirit living in us, because “by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body,” verse 13. It’s the Spirit in us that keeps the legs of our sinful nature knocked out, so that finally, at last, “Yes, we can” do the good we so desperately want to do.