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!

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on Unmet Relationship Expectations

  1. Good reminder, Rod. I’m so thankful for it. I have to work through those exact issues often — relying on God, and not expecting my parents to be or do something to fulfill my needs, is the way to go. It’s a hard process, to be sure, but I’m thankful for be going through it, and coming out alive with results.

  2. Rod, I find your spectacular weirdness refreshing. Unexpected initially, but pleasantly so. The suburban protestant church (a landscape I’m very familiar with) is dotted with a mold of pastor that appears so premeditated it weirds me out (not in the good way). This is the expectation that I wish I didn’t have to expect. Thank you for your continual authenticity.

  3. “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.”
    Being in relationship with family and friends requires a willingness to put your “stuff” out there–to be vulnerable because it is exposing in a not-so-comfortable way. If I am feeling needy or there’s an expectation that hasn’t been met, isn’t that an indication that there’s something amiss inside of me? Maybe our expectations for the kind of relationship we have with others should be based on each person’s ability to point us towards God, to challenge our selfishness and reckon with our narrow-mindedness. I really like your blog slogan: truth without love kills, love without truth lies. It seems to speak to the heart of relationship difficulties: We have to be willing to, in essense, step into the fire alongside each other and walk through it together with love and truth abounding. I don’t think we’ll have many people in our lives who will risk that, but hopefully we will have some.

    1. wow, I really appreciate this wisdom, particularly from Rod and Holly…thanks for speaking about something I needed to hear right now.

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