Why do I keep expecting people to act a certain way?

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You will cry for help, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you remove the yoke from your midst, …. Isaiah 58:9 NASB

Christmas Eve and we were returning home from having shared a lovely Louisiana gumbo supper with some friends after the service.  In our warm and cozy truck, I mentioned to Mike that the previous night our bedroom has been too hot to sleep well. I suggested, “How about we just turn off the heat in the house, so the bedroom will be nice and cold?”  He nixed that idea, countering with, “just open the window a crack.” Annoyed because I didn’t think that alone would be enough to cool down the room, I said to myself, “He ‘should’ know how important sleep is to me!”

There it was, an expectation that I had projected on Mike. Only, I didn’t realize that was what I had done.  But God’s perceptive eye didn’t miss it.

As the Holy Spirit would have it, our readings for Christmas Day included Isaiah 58 about the kind of fast the Lord wants his children to celebrate.  The prophet puts it bluntly: we should not fast religiously or selfishly, simply to check it off our list, but enter into a fast with a heart set on worshipping our creator, sustainer and holy God.

As I worked through the first part of verse 9, I felt comforted by God’s promise to respond promptly to my cries for help with a “I’m here!”.

But then my eyes moved on to that ‘yoke business’ mentioned toward the end of that same verse.  I wrote in my journal, “Father, have I placed a yoke on anyone?  Am I expecting others to act a certain way?”

Last night’s conversation quickly came to mind. I DO have and I HAVE formulated expectations of Mike and other family members, and friends, as well. Do these precious people FEEL my dissatisfaction when they don’t ‘meet my standards’?

Yikes! That unarticulated but very real pressure must feel burdensome, especially on those who live with me, like Mike.  Others might feel the sting of my occasional disappointment, but Mike surely notices the ‘yoke of expectation’ that I hang on him.

We fragile human beings can never satisfy the impossibly high criteria OTHERS use to evaluate us.  I should know NOT to engage in that practice, since I have suffered the pain (and shame) of family members’, friends’ and bosses’ pointed dissatisfaction with me.

What is the solution?

Well, I can’t control what others think of me, but God has given me Holy Spirit power to change my thinking.  He commands Christians to renovate their minds, their way of thinking and concluding through a a changing heart, one saturated by his word. And what Jesus commands, he makes possible.

Since Christmas Day, I keep reading scripture that reenforces this message. We are to hope in God, not people. ‘Hope’ can be translated in both Hebrew and Greek as ‘to expect or wait for someone to act’.

Psalm 118:8 NKJV says: It is better to trust in the LORD, than to put confidence in man.

Even Jesus didn’t trust people, because he knew them: But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, because He knew all peopleJohn 2:24 NASB

John Piper, in a recent devotional reflected on 1 John 3:23: This is His commandment, that we believe [with personal faith and confident trust] in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and [that we unselfishly] love and seek the best for one another, just as He commanded us. NASB

He distilled John’s teaching to something I am meditating on throughout the day:  Trust Jesus, Love people.

God is the only person in the universe who deserves our trust and won’t disappoint me.  Shouldn’t that fact free us up to release our unfair and unverbalized expectations of people that we hold in our hearts?

What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?

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And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 1 John 3:23 ESV

I lead a weekly ESL conversation class on Zoom. Typically, four of us meet for an hour.  The two women are Mexican and our one gentleman lives in Argentina.  They are strong intermediate-level speakers.  We have come to know each other and enjoy this mid-week hour as friends.  And I know they appreciate being able to practice their English.

As a language coach, I propose the weekly topic. Yesterday’s question or theme is the title of this blog.  ‘What do you want people to remember about you and how you lived your life?’ I wasn’t sure if my three friends felt put-off or startled when I sent them via What’s App the question to consider. They approached the subject with enthusiasm and we ended up learning a lot about each other’s cultures and approaches to death.

What’s interesting about this topic is that one of my sons is currently reading a leadership book for Christian men about creating a vision for oneself as well as for one’s family. He mentioned one of the suggestions was to do this very thing, to start with the end in mind. Just how DO you hope people will assess your life once you have died?

Happily, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel as Christians. The Bible provides many possibilities that are pleasing to God. The verse at the beginning of this post is one that continues to linger in my daily thoughts.

The way the apostle John condenses and communicates Jesus’ commands struck me about 2 weeks ago as a wonderful life purpose.  What pleases God is for us to rely on Jesus and love people as our Lord did while on earth.

Actually, the first part, ‘trusting Jesus’, is the main command. I am to depend on him for power to love people well.  Active love, how I treat people, is costly because it involves investing resources such as time, energy and money.  Added to that is my attitude, how I bring patient, studied attentiveness to someone in order to understand their needs and the manner in which they feel respected and valued.  I can’t do any of that in my own strength. That is why relying on Jesus is paramount.

I wish I had paid attention to John’s exhortation when I endured ongoing bitter attacks from a student at my last school. I tried to respond with love and patience, but out of my own reservoir. It got to me.  Many days I headed to school absolutely dreading French class with this gal. Her animosity and her dad’s displeasure with me lasted a year and a half before she graduated from the middle school. 

Five years later, I feel clear now on just who is my power source to obey. And in fact, I got to put my money where my pen is.  Yesterday, I realized that my mother-in-law who lives so far from us needs some TLC. At 93, she has been hit with one medical situation after another.  She said to me yesterday over the phone, ‘Maria, why is all this happening to me now?’  Thank you, Father, that your Spirit got my attention.  I booked a flight this morning for next week.

Wrapping up, what is it that I want on my tombstone?  ‘She relied on Jesus and loved her friends and family well.’  No, that doesn’t include ‘neighbors’ like my former student.  But I think that if I can mature in believing and depending on Jesus to love those who make up my family and my circle of friends, the spillover effect will extend to others the Lord places in my life.  That is my hope and my prayer.  

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