I was a young mother when I first read the quote:
“Expectations are the death of relationships.”
(Side note: I used to think that transitioning from being a “young mother” or perhaps more aptly, a “mother of young children” to an… old mother? would be gradual, like slowly easing off the clutch. It wasn’t. It was more like my journey in motherhood was being driven by a nervous teen who had never driven a stick before and killed it at an intersection, surrounded by much honking and many censorious comments, including what some have referred to as 20% of a wave from 80% of the fellow drivers. I suddenly discovered one day that I had no need of baby toys, of saving empty chip bags to entertain toddlers on long car rides. I had stumbled upon time to read, found arms that were generally empty, discovered that sleep can last longer than 30 minutes at a time. I liked it… I guess. Maybe I am not done deciding what I think. I knew my job as a mother of young children… I liked that.)
The quote rubbed me wrong at the time. My husband had not yet lost his mind, and I suppose it seemed to me a cynical view of relationships, of marriage in particular. In retrospect, I probably bristled against this idea because we had not yet disappointed each other greatly. Our expectations tended to be about things the other was already doing — we expected love and obedience and affection and submission, and honestly, those things weren’t all that hard. It is complicated to describe our marriage in those first 13 years without sounding like a jerk. We didn’t have a horrible first year — far from it. Our newlywed years are some of the happiest of all the memories of my life (don’t worry — God has balanced the Pollyanna with the Job, so we can still be friends), and so expectations seemed entirely reasonable.
But with madness came the capacity to fail. I don’t speak of my husband — that is his story to tell, not mine. I do not view his mental illness as failure. I speak of my own. As time has moved forward, and we continue to learn and grow –grow stronger, grow more weary perhaps, grow more impatient for glory and the healing of all these wretched wounds– the expectations that were once a delight to me have grown weighty on my soul. I find myself often unable to meet the expectations that come as part and parcel of living with a dissociative spouse. My body fails, my words disappoint, my understanding falls irreparably short. My love fails.
“Expectations are the death of relationships.”
Is it true? If I never expected kindness, would it hurt less when I don’t receive it? If he never expected me to hear words he isn’t saying, would he feel more understood? I don’t have the answer. This, I hope you can see by now, is unusual for me. Not unusual that I don’t have an answer (eh… maybe that too. My husband says he both loves and hates this about me, alternately depending on which husband is out and what the interaction we are having is, that I am quick to respond — that just because I speak fastest doesn’t make me right. That may be true, but we’ll never know because I’ve already moved on to the next argument by the time he brings it up…), but incredibly unusual for me to write about it before I do. I like to know what I think before I say what I think.
And today, I don’t.
But there is one thing that I remember thinking at the time that I still firmly believe today, and it is why I have chosen to do some arbitrary gut spilling today (there really ought to be warnings about this at the top of the post, like at the beginning of the Disney movies in the post-woke era: may contain references to mental illness, fear, sadness, the Author not knowing anything, and tobacco use. I don’t know where the tobacco comes in, but they always seem to have it as part of the warning labels, and I want to be one of the cool kids, so there you go). Whatever else may or may not be true about expectations within human relationships, of this I am certain: we do not expect nearly enough from God.
Read Exodus. Read Psalm 78, then Psalm 106. Absorb the narrative — how many times must God save us out of the impossible, be gentle with our whining, pour food from heaven, not only giving us the basics to sustain us, but literally raining down the meat we had a hankering for until we were up to our necks in it? And yet… worry much? Doubt often? How often do we treat God’s promises as dubious, as unlikely, as something we ought not to expect Him to keep?
You not only may expect God to keep His word… you must. In Christ, all God’s promises are yes and amen.
Expect that when you pray for wisdom, He will give it — because He promised.
Expect that He will be your comfort in grief, your strength in tribulation, and the escape from sin and its curse — because He promised.
Expect that He is working all the things happening in your life (every illness, every betrayal, every pain, every disappointed expectation…) for your good — because He promised.
Expect that He will put every enemy under His feet, that He is reigning now and that He will one day dry every tear (every one of your tears) with His own beautiful, nail-printed hands — because He promised that, too.
Expect that whatever the vicious and persistent sin is that has been snapping at your heels as you read this, sin will not have dominion over you and it will be put down like the rabid dog that it is (John Owen had it right — be killing sin or it will be killing you) — because He promised.
Faith expects. Do not so dishonor your Savior by the unbelief that cultivates a low expectation of Him. Can’t you see that every expectation has already been met? Lazarus, upon stepping out of his sepulcher, did not shrug and murmur that Jesus meant well, but I don’t want to assume that He actually will bring me back from the dead — He already DID IT. So it is with you! The blind see, the lame walk, and you who were dead in your sins are ALIVE.
One last thing — perhaps you feel as I wrote about earlier, that the issue is not that you think your Husband is not meeting your expectations, but that everywhere you look, you see your own failures. You must hear this, if you hear nothing else from this little meander into my soul:
He met the expectations on your side, too.
You cannot fail, for He cannot fail. Your sin, even the relationship-cracking sins of this week (of this morning? Of the last 5 minutes?), has been perfectly atoned for in Christ. Your failures in the Christian walk, your failures in your marriage and your parenting and friendships and your church relationships cannot separate you from this triumphant Savior, who met every expectation — His and yours.
Would your life today change if you believed this… believed HIM?