My friend Tina recently wrote about expectations and unconditional love in relationships. It’s a thought provoking post. Coincidentally, I’ve been thinking a lot about the subject. Another friend of mine and I were talking about the subject of unmet needs and expectations in relationships. That got me to thinking about what it “looks” like to surrender your rights to God and die to self in your relationships. Because every relationship has needs and expectations, what does it look like to unconditionally love someone, to surrender and die to self while communicating about those expectations and needs? If you’ve read my blog before then you know that dying to myself and surrendering my rights are two ideals of mine. I often write about my struggle to do both because I often struggle with doing both.
So, what does it look like to surrender your rights and die to yourself? The Dying to Self meditation that I posted on a page on this blog has some specific suggestions that I think have real merit. But it’s by no means a complete picture. I’ve also posted a list of “rights,” if you will, that we can and ought to surrender to God. Here are a few examples:
My right to pleasant circumstances.
My right to be respected.
My right to be loved by people who are “supposed” to love me.
My right to be understood.
I received this list through a Godly woman I met while in grad school. She taught me, and I believe, that a true sign of how surrendered I am to the Lord is how I react when my “rights” are threatened or not respected. When I’ve talked about this list in the past I think I’ve failed to point something out.
The point of the list is to get you to think about how you react when things don’t go your way, or when your needs or expectations are not met, either by others or by life in general. Do you react in the flesh? If so, then this list is meant to point you to the fact that you first need to surrender your rights to God and let Him lead and guide you as you respond to those unmet needs and expectations in your life.
The point of surrendering these rights is not to say that we should not expect that our loved ones would treat us with respect and love. That is a legitimate need and desire. We read in the Bible that husbands should love their wives and wives ought to submit to their husbands. I think these instructions say something about legitimate needs in the marriage relationship. Even Jesus had expectations of his friends. When they fell asleep while he prayed in the Garden of Gesthemene he said something like “Can’t you even stay awake and pray with me?” So, I don’t think that it’s wrong to have expectations of one another in our relationships.
What I think is wrong is when we demand that our expectations be met and we withhold love and approval when they aren’t met. The key to avoiding this fleshly behavior is surrender. When I surrender that need, expectation or that “right” to the Lord I’m not saying that I have no right to ask for love and respect in my relationships. What I’m saying is that if that “right” or desire is not met I give up my right to react in the flesh, to retaliate or to withhold love and acceptance. That doesn’t mean I give up the right to ever express my disappointment, need or expectation. Quite the contrary, I think the act of surrendering frees me to communicate in love a legitimate need or expectation I might have in the relationship.
For example, a dear friend recently came to me and lovingly shared how I hadn’t met one of her expectations in our relationship. It was a legitimate expectation and I had failed her. She had every right to come to me and express her disappointment. The key was this, she didn’t come to me in the flesh, full of resentment and bitterness. No, she came in a spirit of love. It was clear to me that while she was sharing an “expectation” and right she felt she had in this relationship she was fully surrendered to the Lord.
There’s a big difference when we communicate our needs and expectations in a humbled, surrendered spirit of love versus the flesh. I’ve really been examining my heart in this regard lately. There have been a few instances recently where I have failed miserably to express my need in a loving way. Recently I felt like someone I loved had been inconsiderate of my time. It was a re-occuring pattern in our relationship and had caused some inconveniences not only to me but also to other members of my family. Instead of going to God first and asking Him how to express this need or expectation I jumped in with both feet firmly planted in the flesh. The literalist would read my list of surrendering your rights and suggest the problem is that I was expecting someone to respect my time. But I don’t think that’s the point of this list. This list is about my heart attitude. Do I demand that things go my way? Do I become bitter and resentful when they don’t? Do I react by withholding love or expressing your disappointment or anger in a passive-aggressive or flat out aggressive manner? What I realized after the fact was not that it was wrong to expect and to ask this person to respect my time and my family’s time but that I’d failed to surrender myself to the Lord before sharing my need and expectation.
A surrendered person is not a person without expectations and needs within a relationship. A surrendered person is someone who has expectations but doesn’t demand in an unloving, fleshly way that their needs and rights be respected. Instead, because they’ve first surrendered these needs and expectations to God they can express their hurt and disappointment in a loving way. Surrendering allows us to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, the voice of love, more clearly. If we listen He will guide us and tell us how to express our needs and expectations in our love relationships.
Lately I find myself asking the Lord to show me what expectations, needs, and desires I should express in any given situation and which ones I need to hold off on sharing. I find myself saying things like: Lord, I give you my desire and right to _______________________. Please show me how you want me to handle this. I’m counting on the Holy Spirit to guide me.
Jesus had every right to demand to be loved, respected, understood (you name it) by others. We are created in the image of God. We owe one another respect and love. But it’s not something we can demand from one another. Jesus never demanded. He set the example by surrendering his heart to the will of the Father and always responding in love. I want to be fully surrendered so that I can fully love.