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?

A Rule of Life

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I feel blah, relishing nothing in the future.  It’s a Friday night, on the cusp of summer and 9 weeks off from school.  My mind thinks about upcoming trips.  I should be excited.  I’ll be with family; there’s even a 5-day cruise in my future.  But nothing stirs.

I finish dinner.  It tasted good! But it’s over.  I briefly ponder the merits of having some chocolate with me tea.  Maybe that’ll make my unhappiness and blah-ness go away.

But I don’t indulge and the next morning I’m glad.  The dessert would not have made me content in the long run.

I go to bed before too long, for even my book doesn’t satisfy.  My husband checks in with me a couple of times, ‘You okay?’  He cares, but I rather not go into it then.  After all, he has his ‘Ecclesiastes Moments’ too, when, as penned by Solomon, nothing under the sun satisfies any more.

The next morning, Saturday, I start my morning with a John Piper archived sermon.  He’s preaching from Isaiah 58: 8-11 about how a certain kind of fasting brightens your day.

“Then shall your light break forth like the dawnand your healing shall spring up speedily; if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”

That’s the kind of light and satisfaction I yearn for!

There’s time for one more sermon as I exercise and I listen to John Piper in a current commencement address at Boyce college talk about ‘Sacred Schizophrenia.  Truth marinates as I finish up my exercise routine.  I settle in with a cup of hot coffee and open up God’s Word to read today’s assigned chapters according to the Chronological Reading Plan Mike and I follow.   

One foray into Scripture leads to another and I come upon Jesus’ harsh words to Peter that seem to reinforce Piper’s call to deal harshly with the unholy self (one of the two selves living in a kind of schizo struggle).  He corrects his outspoken disciple, Peter, admonishing him to move his mind OFF of man-centered priorities and onto what matters to God.  Matthew records what follows like this: 

Then Jesus told his disciples: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Matt 16: 24-25

I’ve always shied away from the idea of denying myself.  After all, I’m an arch hoarder of time, of energy.

But I’m feeling empty….maybe that’s where fencing off daily time and space for myself has gotten me. Bankrupt and unsatisfied.

Turning 60 this year has stimulated a lot of this kind of self-reflection.  In my 20s, 30s and early 40s, I was busy with children and work.  And then our sons left home for college, work and marriage and I had time to think.  A lot.  Mike has gone through this soul reflection as well.  The kind of wondering ‘What’s it all about, Alfie?’.  Looking at others rushing to and fro and asking: ‘What is any of this for, any way?’

But this morning, I see a glimmer.  Piper says that once we have been born again, we have a new self.  But the facts are like this:  our old man is continually at war with our new man until the day we die.  This old man is a liar, as are Satan and the world.  But God doesn’t leave us clueless and alone.  Thankfully, He points us to what will TRULY satisfy, every time.  Speaking through the prophet Isaiah and then in Jesus’ words to His disciples, He instructs:

Only by putting to death the desires prompted by the old man and giving to those who are hungry and oppressed and naked will we find a life, daily, which satisfies.

So what does that look like, practically, when I’m on the cruise this summer, at my mother-in-law’s for a week, at home this summer, in my classroom?

Solomon has the last word and I find the peace that I need from Eccl 2: 24-26

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness,

From Matthew and Isaiah I have already seen what pleases God:  

  • when someone hungry crosses my path, I can offer food in the form of a listening, sympathetic ear, some of God’s Word and a prayer right then and there when appropriate

But it starts with a daily re-commitment to suffer with Christ as necessary, to deny my old worldly self that hoards time and energy and a willingness to travel this day WITH Jesus, depending on Him to guide and supply and protect me.

And that’s not all.  God intends for me to also enjoy the simple pleasures of every day life, eating, drinking and working.  These are, indeed, gifts from God TO me.  When I do them acknowledging His goodness, I bring glory to God.

Later on during the day while we hike, I share with Mike what He has revealed. Already light has dawned.  I HAVE a mandate of how to live, a new rule of life.  I know what to do at each stage, whether now, almost 60 or at age 93 and in assisted living!  The burden and gloom have lifted. I revel in the beauty of the day and how good it feels to move my body and be with the man whom I love.

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