I’ve been kind-of invisible lately; not really, but just laying low. I’ve needed some time to ruminate on what God is doing in me and time to slowly wake up into a new way of relating to people. Since we lasted visited, God knocked my socks off – or some shame off, really. It is very, very personal, however, so I will not be naming it here. This much I can tell you, however: the one thing I could not for a moment believe that I could see in any different way whatsoever, the thing that was so clearly black-and-white and unfixable, THAT thing got a whole new name, reason, function and perspective. It no longer has me.
There are things about our lives that we can explain, things that are there because of very specific reasons and reasons that cannot be willed away or be treated any more admirably than we have. They are things we cannot change, things that seem to more-or-less define us. They shame us, at least in the deep, dark places where maybe nobody else sees. They haunt us with the echo of past failures that seem so obviously still present upon our lives. They hang onto us in ways we cannot shake, cannot hide, cannot forget. They cripple us.
God re-defined one for me. He connected it to this soul-surgery He has been performing, this being connected to, controlled by, afraid of the expectations, needs and wants of others. I had no idea this would be connected – how could I? We cannot know the depths of our being and we do not have God’s perspective until He gives it to us. But once He does (and He never does until we are absolutely ready to be transformed by it), we will NEVER be the same. In every singularly momentous event with God in my life, He took some understanding or belief that was arguably concrete – and turned it upside-down and backwards until it no longer meant the same thing in my life. It lost its life-stealing grip and somehow became a life-giving understanding of freedom and redemption.
Our is a God who gives life – in every way that we can imagine and so many more ways that we simply cannot – He gives life. LIFE! And He steals death’s grip on all the various parts of our personality, history and being. While this most recent resurrection and triumph will not be named here, it was powerfully connected to this grip of others’ needs, wants and demands. It seems easy to say we will refuse to be controlled by others’ needs, wants and demands. But how about their expectations? How do you ever feel good about knowing that you disappoint some people? I have learned better and better boundaries, although I am realizing I have much more to learn! But expectations, disappointments, what to do with these? How could I avoid feeling sad, or vaguely guilty, or whatever by the disappointment people clearly communicate to me?
You see many different people have many different views on who I am, what I should do, and with whom I should do it. I’ve known for a long while that I cannot keep up with that. But how to live with the disappointment? How easy is it to let people down who you care about, people whose opinion matters, people who you really, deeply love? What happens when there is just not enough of you to go around? Not in the ways in which some want it? Now I know. I know how to be free of this.
I am only responsible for the expectations and needs of the few individuals I have made a commitment to: my husband, my children, a few close (and well-defined) friends, and my ministry commitments. My husband and boys have the most rights to me. In other words, I am only truly responsible for those expectations I have AGREED to be responsible for. In ministry, our church has a reasonable expectation of reasonable behaviors. If I commit to a speaking engagement, they have a right to some reasonable expectations, hopefully well-defined. And then there are a few women with whom I have made a commitment of sorts, a defined friendship that is mutually committed, and they have a right to expect certain things from me. Perhaps there will be another category or two I have not named here, but you get the idea. Just because a person wants something from me, or expects me to respond, behave or give in the way they desire does NOT mean I have any commitment to do so.
What this means is that God has unhitched me from others’ wants, needs, expectations and demands. Those belong to them – the individuals – and not to me. I have no obligation whatsoever to meet those. If I give, if I reach out and serve, and love, it is a gift from me, not an obligation. This means that if I fail to perform in the way that they should desire, their disappointment is their own – not mine. I have not failed in any way – they have set themselves up for that disappointment. If I dance to applause and cater to every hurting heart that clutches at me, I will drown. Their needs may be legitimate – but I am not the answer to those needs, not the savior they desire. If God invites me in to serve, to love, to minister, then YES!! Absolutely I give unreservedly out of response to my God. But the expectations belong to the expectant one, not to me. And the disappointment belongs to them as well.
I was released from shame and guilt before God eight years ago when I came to understand that God never expected sinless perfection of me – I just thought He did. Ephesians 1:4-5 “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” (NLT) He always planned to send Jesus BECAUSE HE KNEW we’d never live sinlessly. It was always the plan. God never expected of me what I thought He’d expected of me. He loves me, knowing every sin, flaw and failure I’d commit – and He still wants me.
I am released from shame and guilt before people as I understand that their expectations belong to them, not me. And as such, their disappointment belongs to them and not me. My shoulders are much too small to carry around all that others would want from me. I can only be myself and do what God asks me to do. He is the only One allowed to define for me who I should be, which things to which I should say “yes” and which things to which I must say “no”. He is allowed to set my borders and boundaries and He alone gives me my assignments. I am learning to live in a new way, and it is strange and unfamiliar. It is awkward still and I will be clumsy in my initial attempts. But I am learning.