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Relationships! They seem almost impossible to avoid these days. They find their way into our work and leisure activities. They follow us into our hobbies. They even get in the way of our spiritual life. You just can't seem to avoid relationships no matter how hard you try.

You would think that since relationships are practically impossible to avoid, that they would be easy. You would think that since relationships are everywhere we look, they would be as mindless as breathing. 

But relationships, whether friendly, working, romantic, or spiritual take work. Lots of work. Perhaps that excites you. Perhaps that fills you with joy and wonder. If so, that's awesome. But that's not me. For me, that work can occasionally sound fun, but mostly sounds excruciating.

Why are relationships so hard?

If I had a definitive answer to that question, I could probably make a lot of money. My best guess, based on my experience, relationships are hard because relationships involve people. 

What's wrong with people?

People are messy. People have a past. People hold grudges. People don't communicate well. People are hurting. People are broken.

So when you have broken people trying to build positive relationships with broken people, what can you expect? Broken relationships.

The smart thing would be to just avoid relationships, right? We should all just crawl into a cave and watch Netflix, right?

As wonderful as that sounds, that's not the right answer. And while I think having alone time is important, it can't be how we live our lives.

God created us to be in relationship. In fact, he created us so that we could be in relationship with him. And when we rejected him and built a barrier of sin between him and us, he broke down that barrier so that we could live for eternity in perfect relationship with him. Our God, the God that created the universe, loves us so much that he continually, and relentlessly pursues a relationship with each of us.

What's the catch? He must want something in return, right?

Matthew 22:37-39

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Basically, God says, "I'm going to love you with everything I've got, no matter what, and it would be awesome if you did the same thing towards me, the other people I've put around you, and towards yourself."

That sounds really easy. But again, we're broken people trying to love broken people. Relationship failure is always there, lurking in the shadows, ready to break apart something God intended to be good. If we are to have quality relationships with each other, we have to be on the lookout for the things that would destroy us, and send us running back to our Netflix caves. One thing that can hurt our relationships with each other, and with our creator, is our set of expectations; those strong beliefs that something will happen in the future (usually based on assumptions, rarely communicated well).

So here are 3 types of expectations that we place on ourselves, our neighbors, and our creator.

  1. Unrealistic

  2. Unspoken

  3. Unmet

Unrealistic expectations are those ideas we get in our heads that, "If X happens, then I will be happy." 

"If my boss gives me a 10% raise, then my life would be so  much better."

"If I had six-pack abs, then all my problems would be solved."

"If I could get that guy to date me, then my life would be great."

"If my spouse changes that one thing, then our marriage would be perfect."

"If God answered this prayer, then I would never need or want anything."

In these situations, we place our happiness on something we think might happen, and then if it doesn't we are devastated. When we expect people, circumstances, or money to give us something that only God can provide, then we set our relationships up for failure. 

Unspoken expectations are those things we put on other people, but never communicate to them. Remember all those arguments that included the phrase, "I thought you were going to...."

"I thought you were going to take me out on a date at least once a month."

"I thought we were going to see that movie together."

"I thought you were going to pay that bill."

"I thought you were going to pick up the kid from school."

"I thought the church was going to take care of that for us."

When we assume, we make an...well, you know what happens. When we assume, we set ourselves up for failure in relationships. Better to be redundant and clear, rather than assume everyone is on the same page.

Unmet expectations can really tear us apart. These are things we thought we agreed on with someone, that haven't or didn't happen.

"You said you were going to show up."

"You promised me I'd get a promotion if I did this."

"You promised you'd change."

"You told me you'd stay with me forever."

"God, I prayed. You know how much I wanted this, why didn't you answer it?"

Having been on both sides of unmet expectations, I think these can sometimes hurt the worst. I don't like being let down, and I really don't like letting someone else down. But, when we are in relationships with broken people, these things are bound to happen. For me, the temptation is to believe the idea that if relationships take so much work, and I am most certainly going to let the other person down, then perhaps it is better to just not be in a relationship at all. Don't believe the lie.

In all of these expectations, good communication can most certainly help soften the blow when we face the unrealistic, unspoken, and unmet challenges of our lives. Letting people know what we expect, keeping each other updated, and fighting against the forces of assumptions can help keep everyone on the same page. Not playing the blame game and remembering that we are all in this together can ease the pain.

What really brings us closer together with our creator and with one another is how we handle these let downs. Do we let these things drive us away from the ones we love, or do we use them as opportunities to come closer with one another. Do we let our past let downs keep us from building new relationships, or do we use those previous hurts to form better, more productive relationships in the future? Do we retreat to our cave and feel sorry for ourselves, or do we get out there and try again?

These are choices that we each have to make. No one else can make them for us, and we've got to use our best judgement when it's time to fight for a relationship and when it is time to let it go, learn from it, and move on.

If we love God... If we love ourselves... If we love our neighbors...

Then we should be propelled to work through these situations, to communicate more, to try again, to try harder, to forgive, and to let go of the guilt and the pride that would leave us hiding in dark corners, avoiding doing the thing we know we need to do.

Do you choose love?

Gather with us this Sunday as we continue in our series on Home Fires. Invite a friend, and come start a new relationship.