Last week I wrote about expectations and how Christ is the only One who can live up to what He promises (see my King and my expectations). This week let’s look at another aspect of the same topic – when we are the target of someone else’s expectations.
I am a woman of many titles, as I’m sure most of you reading this are. I’m a wife, mom, daughter, grand-daughter cousin, friend, employee, consumer, and so on, and along with each of those roles comes an unofficial mental list in the minds of others…a list of expectations. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily…These lists are based on past experiences, on history, on tradition, on culture, on what a person wants another person to be. And they follow us everywhere we go.
[pullquote type=”right”]We all feel the pressure of those expectations, whether we know if or not.[/pullquote]We all feel the pressure of those expectations, whether we know if or not. They act as a motivator in a lot of ways, and that is a positive thing – without outside forces and expectations, some of us less driven types may not accomplish much. For instance, I don’t exercise without a coach…not because I can’t do it, but because I lack internal discipline. I need someone to tell me what to do and expect results, and then I will submit and work toward a goal. But the expectations of others can work havoc in us too, if they are not balanced with what our Lord God actually expects from us, and with what we can reasonably live up to.
When I had each of my children, I didn’t realize how much pressure I would feel from the desires and preferences of others – but I did and still do at times. As a wife sometimes I feel helpless in my endeavors to meet my husband’s expectations, and ironically to meet the expectations of other wives. As a friend there have been times when I felt angry because of someone’s expectations of me to maintain the relationship by myself. As a Christian I’ve felt humiliated because I’ve failed to be that perfect cookie-cutter person someone expected me to be. On a social level I feel pressured to live up to an unspoken economic expectation.
How do you react to the expectations of others? My reactions have been pretty “prickly” in the past, but I think when taken to heart we can effectively use expectations to mold us and shape us into better (and definitely more humble) people. How should we respond? Here are seven thoughts that we can use to help us navigate this aspect of our lives:
1. Know your authority.
As satisfying as it sounds to say that God is our final authority in the face of others’ expectations, this is probably the toughest step – to come face to face with what God really wants from you in a particular circumstance. Someone expects you to listen to their gossip? God has your back, but He also has a lofty expectation of how you should lovingly deal with it. Also remember that there are those that He placed in authority over us, other than Himself. Jesus said in Matthew 22:36-39 that the greatest commandments are to love God and love others, and when we respond to expectations we need to do so with the intent of carrying out those two commandments.
2. Know your enemy.
The devil wants to destroy your relationships so that you have no influence. He wants to use you to discourage others. He wants you distracted enough not to be effective for Christ. At the end of the day, despite what is inflicted upon us, we have a choice to obey God or not…The enemy would love nothing more than to give you a “good reason” to justify sin and division between you and someone else. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us that the devil waits to devour us, and if he sees a moment of weakness you can be sure he’ll take full advantage.
3. Know the source.
Expectations come from many sources, but considering that is helpful. Each of us has our own baggage and weakness, and there are things that perhaps we can concede in the name of peace and unity. If someone who has been abandoned in the past is particularly clingy, and expects you to be ever present for them, at the very least you can empathize. The relationship may indeed need boundaries, but with some background knowledge certainly we can deal much more effectively with a person, and perhaps more effectively meet their needs in a way that makes everyone happy. It pleases the Lord when we can live in unity with others (Psalm 133:1), and we as His followers should make every attempt to do so.
4. Be humble, and be coachable!
People who tell us what they want from us or even criticize our actions might have something good to add to who we are. Perhaps the expectations are valid, or perhaps by following through you will grow from fulfilling them. Be quick to listen (James 1:19-20), and don’t discount something just because it wasn’t your idea.
5. Know your limits, and be gracious about laying down the law.
There are times when we reach our limit of what we’re capable of doing, and I usually reach it around the holidays. My family will attest that holidays and birthdays are challenging for us, and I (the only-child and loner at heart) am particularly sensitive to family drama. It’s a sticky thing to cater to every person’s vision for those days. But we’re getting there by trying new things, and by asking each other what might work better. In the past we have made some pretty epic mistakes by dealing harshly, but in truth it never, ever yielded a good result to draw lines in the sand. Be creative, and offer alternatives when you feel that you can’t possibly do any more.
6. Be thankful for the role you have in the lives of others.
My kids expect certain things because I’m their mom; my husband expects certain things because I’m his wife; my boss expects certain things because I’m his employee. These are good roles…Overwhelming at times, but good. If anything, remember that your roles are unique privileges to teach, to minister, and to show others who Christ is.
7. What about the unreasonable?
And what about when people expect from us what they won’t give themselves? What about those who are underserving? The same considerations apply, and with some prayer and honest reflection you’ll probably find that your obligation to these expectations is pretty much the same as it is to those that come from those we consider the most deserving. One of the things I love the most about Jesus is that he openly served the lowest of society. But the difficult reality is that we are now here to be His representatives, swift to serve the lowly and undeserving, so that His story can be told through us. He came to save sinners…the underserving…US!!! (1 Timothy 1:15). In that light, we are equally as underserving as the next sinner. There certainly are expectations that are unreasonable or even abusive, and if that’s where you are right now I’d say proceed with a lot of prayer and godly counsel.
I hope that we can encourage each other through our challenges with expectations. It has been a pervading theme of my own life in the past year or so, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t just me that wrestles with it. Share your stories below so we can praise God for the victories and pray for each other in the struggles.
~Praying for lives changed, Melissa~
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