19 “I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”
Matthew 18:19-20 NLT
Many of us struggle with what one counseling theorist described as dogmatic “shoulds” and “musts”. Among these are the following:
- “I must do well and be loved and approved by others.”
- “Other people must treat me fairly, kindly, and well.”
- “The world and my living conditions must be comfortable, gratifying, and just, providing me with all that I want in life.”
As believers in Christ we sometimes also have an expectation of what answered prayer looks like. After all isn’t that what is meant by passages like Matthew 18:19-20 (above)? When our version of God’s plan for our lives is not delivered according to our expectations we feel deep disappointment and anger toward God. Whether it is the expectations of the world identified above or those that we associate with God, there is a need for us to investigate the existence of irrationality within us.
I will share an example from my own life. For many years, I have struggled with the idea that social injustice around me is the responsibility of all to see and repair. I have felt an anger that I thought was justified. How could God allow such things as historical oppression, enslavement, bigotry and racial separation. My dogmatic “should” was that people should feel my pain and understand my anger…. but they didn’t….and this frustrated me even more. In John 16:33, Christ said "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." It was not until I meditated on these words that I realized that the cause of my frustration was not just the world’s indifference, but my expectation of it (the world). Whatever pain I feel, Christ is intimately familiar with it. This allows me to live in true freedom.
We are sometimes held captive by the expectations that we have of others. People are imperfect and unable to live up to ideals. Many times, we are unaware of these expectations, but they exist underneath the surface much like the submerged portion of an iceberg. Our “shoulds” and “musts” present themselves as the unconscious reasons why we are angry with those close to us and God.
Have you taken stock of your “shoulds” and “musts”? If not, find some time soon to reflect on what those are. Look at how they have impacted your relationships with God and others. Share your discoveries with people who love you. Make amends where necessary and live in the freedom of Christ’s truth.