Tag Archives: expectations

Thoughts on Unmet Relationship Expectations

But to the one who had told him this, Jesus* replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are
my brothers?’And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’ Matthew 12:48-50

A lot of commentators have a lot of reasons why Jesus appears to be so cold to his family when they show up outside the house where he is teaching. But let’s be honest, the main reason for this awkward scene is that Jesus is a very difficult child and a puzzling brother. Like so many of our loved ones, Jesus does the unexpected – or he keeps doing what we have come to expect and we still don’t like it. Like I had to quit in the middle of that last sentence because Nat, in the next room, started having his predictable one-year-old issues – predictable, but still not what I had in mind.

I just spent the weekend with a house full of my children and their children and three grandchildren have come home with me; so I know what I am talking about. During our nice time together, we were all kind of difficult in our own way, because we are all kind of difficult in our own way. According to my siblings, I was  a spectacularly weird part of their family (and I get the idea that they are being kind to talk about things in the past tense).

So let me reiterate what I think Jesus was getting at, as he was being difficult: If you are looking to your relationships, even your blood relationships, to get you through, you are probably in trouble. If you are going to spend your whole life waiting for loved ones to do what is expected or to fulfill what you need, you will be waiting a long time. Mary’s son and her children’s brother was God-with-us and they could not rely on him to fulfill their expectations! If you are looking to your friends and family to sustain you, you are probably disappointed right now. Who knows? Maybe we are friends and I am disappointing you as I write this sentence!

Even your dear friends and family need to get their worth from God, same as you, if
the relationships are going to be sustainable. Their worth cannot be in the quality of the relationship. Their value cannot be merely in what they mean to you. No matter how many times the movies tell us that all we need is family and friends to get by, we don’t get by that well even when we have the family and friends. Someone is always in the next room complaining about what they aren’t getting as quickly or as completely as they think they need.

My lesson: If I desire wonderful relationships (and I do) I need to keep my eyes on my primary relationship with Jesus. My desires, my neediness, my unfinished stuff, my general weirdness clutters up my relationships until all they feel like is inadequate. And the same thing is happening on the other side of each relationship! Being a brother to Jesus, is my deepest hope for my other relationships, as well.

When Jesus asks, “Who is my family?” I intend to say, “Me!” That is my first step in
realigning myself with God. If any other unaligned pieces are to come into place, like all those wonderful relationships I cherish, answering “Me!” daily is my best hope of making that happen.

That seems very simple, until the baby starts crying, or the spouse starts complaining, or the friend moves away. Jesus can end up in the middle of our “house,” where everyone is clamoring after what they need or what they think should happen and end up wondering out loud, “Who are my mother and brothers?” He is difficult like that, thank God!

Emptiness as a Friendly Place

Emptiness, yearning, incompleteness: these unpleasant words hold a hope for incomprehensible beauty. It is precisely in the seemingly abhorrent qualities of ourselves — qualities that we spend most of our time trying to fix or deny — that the very thing we most long for can be found: hope for the human spirit, freedom for love.

This is a secret known by those who have had the courage to face their own emptiness. The secret of being in love, of falling in love with life as it is meant to be, is to befriend our yearning instead of avoiding it, to live into our longing rather than trying to resolve it, to enter the spaciousness of our emptiness instead of trying to fill it up. — Gerald May in the Awakened Heart.

Fear of emptiness

It is hard to see emptiness as a friendly place. Our whole quest as a society is going the exact opposite direction — filling up our houses and storage units with stuff and our schedules with activities. I think a lot of us have sex in a vain attempt to fill and be filled. Gerald May is talking about something with which we are not very familiar.

I was struck with my own fear of that empty place in me when I reflected on our meetings last Saturday. At the monthly training I was surrounded by 50-plus loving people; then at the Leadership Team meeting I was with dear comrades, among whom are some of my closest friends. Yet I still came away feeling distant and fearful of my emptiness. I expected something from the meetings I did not get. I wanted to leave with joy, motivation and faith. There was so much joy, motivation and faith in the room, one would think it was hard to resist! I’m not saying I did completely resist. But the meetings did not satisfy my yearning. In fact, they seemed to heighten it.

I thought it might be helpful to name what we often feel in the middle of the sea of goodness and grace in which we swim.

Impossible expectations

As I said at the meetings, I seemed to meet a series of seriously empty people looking for fullness last week. They were making careful assessment of Circle of Hope (and me!) to see if we were likely candidates to meet their need. I resented being assessed like that. And I was sure I did not meet the test, which made me feel inadequate and guilty. But I relate to the search. I feel sorry for the seekers like I feel sorry for myself. When you’ve been hollowed out by drugs or other addictions, when you went to your parents and found them wanting or neglectful, when your mate broke your heart, the emptiness can feel desperate. We certainly don’t want to look somewhere that is going to injure us again! Our insides make definite demands, even if we don’t want them to!

I am often in a quandary as to what to do with myself. Much more do I wonder how to talk to someone else who appears at the door empty and ravenous and yet picky about the food served, even resistant to being fed. If we do not lose ourselves to find ourselves in Jesus, we are just full of it — that is, we are full of impossible expectation. I don’t always have a good solution for people who haven’t gotten to the end of thinking they can fill themselves up, or that they will be filled up if they just hook up with the right person, if they find the right community, of if they get a few friends. It will not all be better.

I know my life is not better until I enter the spaciousness of my emptiness and meet God there. The wide plain of our loneliness is the homeland of the Holy Spirit. Let’s be kind to ourselves as we realize this. As obvious as the thought might seem, the reality of moving that direction is excruciating. Rather than being merely irritated with the hungry packs sniffing the air around us for connection or running away from the fear of lack of it, let’s stay near each other and help one another with the terrors of life in the Spirit.