What Did You Expect

In my last post, we met Joyce and Judy, a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law whose relationship has gotten off to a rocky start because of some presuppositions and expectations that were based only on their own desires, instead of a biblical foundation. Each of them has spiraled downward into disappointment, frustration, and bitterness because their expectations were not met. So, now what? How do we get Joyce and Judy back on a solid footing to build a relationship that brings glory to God? As I see it, there are three elements that must be present if they are going to remedy the problems they are facing: Repentance, communication, and love.

Joyce and Judy are not happy with each other. Each is disappointed in the other’s behavior, and this has led to some emotions that are driving a wedge between them. In order to restore the relationship and make it one that brings glory to God, each must humbly repent of their presumptuous errors in thinking.

Joyce has to recognize that Judy is under no obligation to have the kind of relationship with her that she wants, and she must adjust her expectations accordingly. As she does this, she must put off her disappointment about what Judy is not—the daughter she always wanted; attentive to Joyce; responsive to Joyce’s attempts at relationship—and put on gratitude for all that Judy is—a sister in Christ; a loving wife to her son; a valued member of the family.

Judy has been quite unpleasantly surprised by the intrusive nature of Joyce’s attempts at a relationship. While she doesn’t necessarily have to accommodate her mother-in-law’s every whim, she should, whenever possible, make the most of opportunities to spend time with her when she can.  She must put off avoiding Joyce, and put on honest communication. Ephesians 4:15 instructs us to speak the truth in a way that is loving. As each of these ladies repents of anger and disappointment, love between them will grow. But they cannot remove the rotten fruit until they dig down to see what has spoiled the root.

You see, there is a deeper problem here with both of these ladies. Joyce longed for a daughter, and has chosen a sinful, demanding route to get there. Judy longed for a mother figure, but when Joyce didn’t meet her expectations, she began sinfully avoiding and ignoring her. The problem here, as I said in my previous post, is that these desires are not necessarily sinful. The sin comes in the response to the unmet desire. When we sin because our expectations aren’t met, or our plans are thwarted, we can be sure that the object of our desire was not biblical. Often in these cases, we are seeking from a person what only God can truly provide.

First, let’s examine what’s going on with Joyce: She always wanted a daughter, but God in His sovereignty chose not to give her one, and she has never fully accepted this as a good and loving decision on God’s part. She has continued to long for a daughter, and when Judy came along, she tried to make her fit the mold she’d made. When she didn’t, Joyce took matters into her own hands.  Does this remind you of anyone?

Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”  ~Exodus 32:1-4

You see, the Israelites had a God in mind that would do what they wanted Him to do, in their timing. When he didn’t fit their mold, they rejected Him and fashioned themselves a new God. Joyce can’t get a new daughter-in-law, but she can certainly reject the one God gave her, and that is exactly what she’s chosen to do. But in rejecting Judy, Joyce is rejecting God because He is the one who sovereignly ordained that Judy would be in Joyce’s family. Joyce’s problem is with God, not Judy. Joyce needs to confess this, and repent of her manipulative ways and her bitter thoughts.

What about Judy? Well, she has basically the same problem. She’s rejected the mother-in-law God has given her, choosing to pretend she doesn’t exist and hiding from her. Again, we are reminded of another biblical account:

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.

Jonah was a prophet of the Lord, and he did not want to go to the heathen city of Ninevah. MacArthur says, “Israel’s…sense of spiritual superiority as the recipient of God’s covenant blessing produced a recalcitrant attitude in Jonah toward God’s request for missionary service.” In other words, this prophet of the Lord had a certain expectation of who might be worthy of his efforts. Ninevah did not qualify, so he ran away from God, ignoring His promptings and His command.

Though she doesn’t see it this way, that is exactly what Judy is doing. She had a certain expectation of the kind of mother-in-law she wanted, and when that didn’t happen, she decided to ignore and basically hide from her. Just as He did for Jonah, God is allowing Judy to be quite miserable until she begins to obey Him. In fact, both of these ladies are miserable, not because of what the other is doing, but because of their own sinful response to it.

If these ladies were my counselees, I’d give them each some homework. I would ask Joyce to begin to thank God for her four healthy sons, all of whom are believers, and all of whom love Joyce very much. I would also ask her to make an appointment with Judy to talk with her, confessing the ways she has sinned against her by manipulating her and trying to make her feel guilty about turning Joyce down. Joyce needs to ask Judy’s forgiveness, and begin to show fruits of true repentance. She might even ask Judy what she thinks repentance might look like for Joyce, and exactly what kind of relationship she would like to have going forward, then do her best to respect and live that out.

For Judy, I would assign some homework aimed at overcoming the fear of man. I also want her to understand the difference between true guilt for sin, and worldly guilt that is imposed on her through sinful manipulation. This will not only help her in her relationship with Joyce, but in all of her relationships throughout her life. Finally, I would ask Judy to make an appointment with Joyce to speak honestly about their relationship, confessing her avoidance of Joyce and lovingly sharing with her the kind of relationship she would like to have with her.

Expectations can make or break our relationships, as Joyce and Judy will discover in their reconciliation process. But, through Christ and our love for Him, we are all capable of loving one another. By basing our expectations on solid biblical foundations instead of our own desires, we can enjoy relationships that are mutually satisfying and, most importantly, glorifying to God.

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