I was cooking a late dinner when Mary called. She said, “Hey, can you chat? I think I’m giving up on this so-called friendship with Tracy.” I knew by the tone of her voice that this was going to take a while so I put dinner on simmer and found a comfortable chair to chat with Mary.
I said, “Sure, what’s going on?” As Mary ranted, I could hear the hurt frustration in her voice, “I don’t understand why I bother being friends with her. I never hear from her unless she needs something and she never has the time when I need someone or I just want to hang out. What do you think I should do?”
Taking a deep breath and a making a quick request to God for words of wisdom, I said, “Mary, I hear how hurt you are and I understand. It’s been awhile since you and I have spoken so let me catch up a bit on your relationship with Tracy. “So, what is it that she needs from you?” Mary said, “Her car broke down and she wants to ride with me to work until her car is fixed.” I said, “Ok, well is it going to increase your commute time a lot or cause some other inconvenience?” She said, “Not really. She lives about ten minutes from me and she works two blocks from my office so she offered to walk the two blocks.” I hesitated, and replied, “I see. As you explained already, the real issue is that she only calls when she has a need. I get it now. So, when was the last time you called her and she didn’t have time for you?” Mary scoffed, “Oh, I stopped calling her almost a year ago because she never called me to see how I was doing.”
I said another silent prayer for patience and compassion. I cautiously say, “Truly, I understand your frustration but it sounds like you’re expecting something in return from Tracy and when you don’t get it, you’re hurt, mad and want to give up on the friendship. Does that sound about right?” Mary said, “Well, I never thought about it that way but I guess that’s true. After all, friendships are supposed to be a two-way street not a one-way, are they not?” I said, “Yes, I completely agree that the best friendships are reciprocal and strongest when sharing goes back and forth but not always the case. Mary, you’re not going to like what I have to say but I love you and you did call me to ask what I think you should do, correct?” She said, “Yes, and don’t hold back. I really want to know what you think.” I said, “Great. I believe that your situation with Mary is a systemic issue that’s probably impacting many relationships in your life. I suspect this because I used to live my life thinking this way and still have to remind myself from time to time. I believe that we’re supposed to love and serve others without any strings attached and with a pure heart of selflessness. Expecting something in return is not coming from a place of love but from a place of selfishness. This is common until we become aware. Let me ask you, have you ever given someone a gift that you thought they would love and when you gave them the gift, they didn’t show much expression at all and didn’t even say thank you?” Mary said “YES! That has happened to me many times. It is so disappointing and it really hurts my feelings.” I said, “Yeah. I know because it’s happened to me as well. Now, why do you think we reacted that way?” Mary said in a huff, “Well, first of all it’s just plain rude and ungrateful to not say thank you and they could at least show a little enthusiasm even if it’s not exactly what they wanted.” I laughed saying, “Do you see what just happened there? You were expecting a thank you and a specific reaction to your gift. Is that why you gave it to them? It was your unspoken expectation that caused the pain and if you had given the gift with a pure giving heart, this pain would have never occurred. I completely agree that saying thank you should be the proper response to any gifts because it’s just good manners. However, it should not offend us if we are giving from a source of love. The lack of good manners has nothing to do with the act of giving or the giver. Does that make sense?” She said, “Yeah. I’m starting to see what you mean.”
I explained further, “When our spoken or unspoken expectations are not fulfilled, we sometimes twist that outcome into feelings of disappointment and even rejection. No one likes feeling this way, so we avoid the disappointment or rejection by eliminating future situations that might create the same feelings. Could this be why you made the choice to stop calling Tracy?” Mary said, “Yes, it is. I didn’t want to set myself up for more disappointment.”
I went on to say, “The alternative is to love and serve others without expectations from a pure heart so when nothing is returned it’s never a thought and giving of ourselves in this way creates a level of freedom, joy, and satisfaction that we cannot achieve from the selfish mindset. In the case of Tracy, she didn’t deliver on your expectations and I’m guessing that she probably didn’t know about them. Is that accurate?” Mary was silent for an awkward moment. Then she replied, “Wow. I had no idea that I was doing this. I’ve been caught up in this vicious cycle of unmet expectations from everyone in my life including my friends, family and my colleagues.” I said, “So, what are you going to do about Tracy?” Mary said, “I think I’ll try this new approach by telling Tracy that it would be my pleasure to help her out. No strings attached. Thank you so much! I feel like the light bulb just went off.”
I hung up the phone with Mary and I couldn’t help but think about how this situation with Mary and Tracy translates to our relationship with Jesus and perhaps why so many people say they believe but they stop calling up Jesus because he didn’t meet their spoken or unspoken expectations. Feeling disappointed or rejected by Him from unmet prayer requests or life outcomes. All the while knowing that we fall short every day in the eyes of God but He doesn’t stop loving us or calling on us.
I also thought about Mary’s point regarding the two-way street and I agree with her. Whatever we put out in the world, we typically get back in return. Those with a servant heart that purely gives with no strings attached will have all that they need and more but a selfish heart with a list of expectations will never have enough.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. And love others as you love yourself. – Mark 12:30-31