There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started out with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet which fails so regularly, as love.
When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.
-Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life
I once heard this sermon about marriage. The preacher stood on stage holding a box. And in the box were things to represent our expectations of our spouses. He expects her to cook dinner every night like his mama did. She expects him to make enough money so that she can get weekly pedicures. He expects her to clean the house. She expects him to clean the house. He expects her to pay the bills. She expects him…
The bottom line was that no one lives up to another person’s expectations. Sometimes we’ll try. We’ll step into this “If you will, I will” contract. But the contract never really works because someone’s always defaulting. And because a contract it a terrible foundation for a marriage.
I had my own box of expectations on my wedding day. I expected Justin to take out the trash. I expected him to write me love letters every few days. I expected him to mow the grass and give me the biggest closet. I expected him to want to talk. A lot.
The biggest expectation I had of my husband was that he would be perfect. I knew logically it was an unbearable expectation, but he bore it so well. What’s the problem with thinking a person’s perfect if they actually are?
Turns out Justin wasn’t perfect. Still, he knew I expected him to be. So he tried for years to keep up the show. He exhausted himself in his efforts to appear perfect. When the whole charade came crashing down and it became painfully apparent the perfection was fake, I knew it was partly (maybe mostly) my fault.
I knew I had no right to be mad.
But I was.
I had expectations. He didn’t meet them. And I was disappointed.
I’m reading Job right now. I’ve read it before, five or six times probably. It’s heart-breakingly true and beautiful and hard.
Job is this guy who loves God. God is so impressed with Job He brags about him to Satan. Satan says, He just likes you because you give him so much stuff. God says, Go ahead, take away his stuff. And Satan takes away everything: Job’s stuff, Job’s servants, Job’s kids, and Job’s health.
The rest of the book is a compilation of speeches from Job and his friends.
Every time I read them I’m struck by the battle between faith and doubt going on in Job’s heart, not doubt in God’s existence (not ever) but doubt in God’s goodness, his presence and his justice. Job expects one thing from God (based on past experience and common wisdom) but he experiences something else.
The entire book of Job is devoted to this tension: Will Job stick with God even when God doesn’t “live up” to his expectations?
When we’re in a relationship with a person, we may expect them to be perfect, but we know they’re not. And so when a person lets us down, we’re mad and frustrated and disappointed, but we can get over it (if we try) because we know people aren’t perfect.
But what about when God lets us down?
I think about Job’s dilemma when I think about the times I’ve been disappointed with God…
- When I read the book of Esther and see the Jews, God’s people, newly rescued from certain death, turn around and massacre their oppressors—and then throw a party
- When I watch my younger brother’s coffin being pushed into a black hole in a cold marble wall
- When I see church leaders acting like vindictive children
- When I watch a war rage on and on and on in Syria
- When I hear statistics about rape in the American military and statistics about rape in Sudan.
- When I feel like I’m giving God everything and I can’t help but feel like I’m just scraping by
- When what I want to do seems right and good but it doesn’t match up with what God wants me to do
I am disappointed in God, because I have expectations of God. Because I’ve surveyed the landscape and decided this is what God would and should do.
Our culture does this all the time, judging God based on human standards of fairness and love. We decide that if God is truly love He can’t possibly punish the unfaithful. We decide that if God truly cares about us He’ll bless us financially. We look at tornado damage and tsunami wreckage and we say, “A good God wouldn’t allow that.”
But whether we realize it or not, we’re bringing a box of expectations to God. And expecting Him to fit in the box.
The book of Job ends with God pummeling Job with rheotorical questions like, “Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his?”
Job listens (and listens and listens…) and answers, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”
In that sermon, the one with the box, the preacher said we should love our spouses like God loves us—unconditionally, regardless of how they stack up to our set of requirements.
I thought that was wise, and I’ve tried to live it ever since. When my husband messes up or steps outside my expectations, I love him anyway—vocally and actively.
I’m trying to love God that way, too.
No, God doesn’t make mistakes, but He does act in ways that confuse me. He bothers and frustrates and challenges and disappoints me.
Still, I obey Him and trust Him and accept Him. I love Him unconditionally—vocally and actively.
- My brother dies and I say, “I don’t understand this, but I love You anyway.” And I find someone grieving and love them with food or a card or a long, long hug.
- My husband totals his truck one day after we replace the transmission and I say, “This makes absolutely no sense and I can think of twenty better ways to spend that money, but I love you and You’re in control.” And I give on Sunday just as I’d planned before the wreck.
- I confront a command of God’s that I can’t understand and I say, “I don’t want to do this, but if you want me to I will.” And I obey.
- I read another headline or another facebook status or another dismal statistic and I pray, “God, I love You, help.” And I write a post.
Every day I’m seeing and understanding more of God—that’s what happens in love—and I’m aligning my expectations with His character. But in the meantime, while the boxes don’t quite match up, I’ve decided to love Him like He loves me. Unconditionally.