Okay, this post will be a little bit different. It’s not a story to tell or a confession to make. I don’t know what it is or why I’m writing it. Could be that I feel like it is important to know and that I could share. Or more likely, I’ve seen enough in my 25 years of life to make things seem more like a Tolstoy novel than the life of a community college employee. Either way, here goes nothing.
Somewhere circa 2008, I had a bit of a reawakening. I was scrambling around, trying to find my footing and worried that my entire future and everything I thought I knew about life had just been taken away from me. It was a time of my life that involved a lot of anger, bitterness, frustration, and more than one moment where weakness took me down to the fetal position on the ground with nobody around to pick me up.
Things kinda sucked. I guess that’s what I’m saying.
During that time, though, there were two particular phrases that I heard that hit me upside the head, along with one unique truth I learned, and those three things changed the way I look at the world. I figured since they hit me so hard back then, I should revisit them and share them with you. So here’s the first one:
Avoid Unnecessary Expectations
I was 20 years old, and I was convinced that my life was over. I’ll probably get into the “Why” of that in part two, but it doesn’t really need to be discussed quite yet. Just know that at the time, I had basically ruined every significant friendship and relationship I had. Okay, so EVERY one is a bit of hyperbole, but still. I felt alone, and for somebody who struggled with abandonment issues my whole life, this was a difficult thing to cope with.
Thankfully, one great relationship still remained: my relationship with a short guy named Chad, who will be the central character in part two. I was heavily involved with Reformed University Fellowship, a campus ministry that honestly saved my life during that time. Chad was the campus minister, and when my friends ran away from me and a lot of people despised me (probably for good reason), Chad was kind enough to welcome me to his office often and discuss my life and how I was an idiot and point me back to Jesus.
In this particular case, he pointed me to another wise man who lived three hours away named Les Newsom. Like Chad, Les was a campus minister, and he was also widely considered to be a bit of an expert in Christian community and relationships. RUF also made it a point to frequently preach sermon series about Dating, Marriage, and Sexuality. Les in particular had a lot of great things to say, and thankfully his sermons are on iTunes, so I listened to them and if you’re interested, you should listen too.
That’s when I stumbled upon that one line about expectations. Les preached it about how to avoid turning a dating relationship into a mini-marriage, but it is something that rings true in any sort of relationship we can pursue. It was that advice that changed my friendships, my views on community, and my view of all those around me. Here’s why it’s important:
(NOTE: The phrase is his. This breakdown is mine. He’s much smarter than I am so you really should just stop reading and go listen to what he has to say instead)
1. Unnecessary Expectations Cheapen or Kill Good Gestures
One thing that really hurt me back then was that I wanted everybody to love me. I wanted so badly to just be liked by everyone, and being a student at a small college, I really could go around and befriend just about everybody. So when so many people turned their backs on me? It hurt tremendously because it felt like my identity was being ripped away. My identity, of course, being tied into the fact that I just expected everyone to love me and pay attention to me. I had it set up so that if they didn’t love whatever it was I did or whatever joke I made, they had disappointed me. It’s a form of idolatry.
Now, it is KEY here that we make note of the word “unnecessary” in regards to expectations. Is it unnecessary to expect a friend to be kind to you? Or if you’re dating somebody, is it unnecessary to expect your significant other to treat you well? Of course not. That’s the key, though. Things get muddled when we expect things we shouldn’t. Being treated well suddenly isn’t enough. Now it’s about being treated BETTER than that. It’s not enough to get flowers. They should be the correct kind of flowers and anything else is a failure. Or with your friends, it’s not enough for them to enjoy your company. You start to expect them to pay as much attention to you as possible.
Maybe it’s a thin line, but you know what? It’s a line worth walking on. Maybe we won’t always see which expectations are necessary and which aren’t, but at the very least it should give us the will to evaluate them. Should I expect a thank-you note for doing something kind? Maybe not. That way, when the note comes, it is so much sweeter. See how that works? Don’t demand the unnecessarily kind things in life. Otherwise, you’ll never enjoy them for what they are: acts of UNNECESSARY kindness. And that’s the good kind of unnecessary.
At that point in time, I couldn’t appreciate my friends because I had set up unnecessary expectations of them. I couldn’t see the good things they had done for me because I wanted so, so much more from them. Who can blame me when they turned their backs on me?
2. Setting Up Unnecessary Expectations Is Selfish
A friendship is supposed to be give and take, or something like that. Really though, the best friendships I’ve ever had were all based upon giving and giving and giving. When we don’t demand things out of our friends, then we can actually enjoy spending time with them. Whoops. I jumped into that point a little too quickly. Oh well, I’m here already, might as well just go with it.
A hymn that has long stood as a favorite of mine when I lack guidance or direction is Father, I Know That All My Life, or, as renamed in this version by my friend Zack, If Thou Be Glorified. One line in particular has always stood out to me as interesting: “A life of self-renouncing love is one of liberty”. In other words, take what you imagine as liberty. It’s probably being free of responsibility and care and maybe even being by yourself without anyone to tell you what to do. Now toss that idea away because it’s stupid.
The truest form of liberty we can possibly have is to give of ourselves to others always. The only way to live a free life? Is to give it up. Daily. Give it up to those around you, to those you care for, and especially for those who care about you.
My view of my friends has been drastically different since those dark days about six years ago. Sure, I’ve failed a LOT in dealing with what I expect out of people. I mean, in the past few months, I’ve spent more time complaining about my friends than I have spending time with them. But something crazy happened this past week. On a day in which I was struggling as much as I possibly could with my life, I noticed something in my mailbox. It was a small package, addressed to me. I certainly hadn’t ordered anything, so I was confused.
Inside was a gift. It was a gift given anonymously by my friends who wanted to do something nice for me. Not something I asked for. Not something I expected. And given my attitude? Certainly not something I deserved.
I cried like a baby for the half hour drive to work. Just cried and kept saying over and over again, “I don’t deserve this!” to nobody in particular. Because at that moment, it wasn’t some little meaningless object I had been given. It was liberty.
Sure, a lot of awesome stuff has happened to me as a result of making friends. I’m not going to say that giving freely of yourself doesn’t have benefits that come back to you. Earlier this year, Chad Gibbs flew me to Europe for a week just because he needed another travel partner. My podcasting buddy Chandler took me to a Mumford and Sons concert (well, part of one) because there was an open spot and he knew I would enjoy it. My friends gave me a gift. But that’s not the point.
I can cherish those things for what they are: just things. Events, nice gestures, and ultimately just things. The true gift? Being able to give freely of myself to those people in return. Not because we asked for any of it. Not because we expected any of it. And certainly not because we deserve any of it.
We can afford to love those around us, because we have the liberty to do so.
In service which Thy will appoints
There are no bonds for me;
For my inmost heart is taught the truth
That makes Thy children free.
And a life of self renouncing love
Is one of liberty.