One of my favorite memories of our first daughter occurred during bedtime prayers. She clenched her hands together and she waited patiently as her dad and I said our blessings. Then it was her turn. She sat up, cleared her throat, and prayed, “Lord, please give me the wisdom, and the power, and the pixie dust I need to fly!” Far too enchanted to burst her bubble of Pixie Hollow naivety, we chuckled adoringly, kissed her forehead, and submitted her sweet little prayer to Reader’s Digest.
We all long to transcend the daily grind of this life. A little whimsy here and there captures our imaginations and ignites a flame of desire that the here-and-now-world tends to snuff out. It gives us a chance to see our world as we’d like for it to be and to see ourselves the way we’d like to be. Whether we are indulging in Pinterest, binging on Netflix, or playing the lottery, we all appreciate a fantasy or two.
There’s nothing wrong with a little bliss, but if we move from appreciation to attachment, if our need for completeness or satisfaction becomes tied to anything in this world, we have ventured into dangerous territory. As Christians, we know better than to place our deep soul needs in the hands of anything on this earthen ball of clay. Our experience tells us that such foolishness leads to disappointment and scripture tells us it’s idolatry. “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
Nevertheless, it happens, doesn’t it? Even though it’s a sin, even though it never ends well. It’s our wayward way. We all succumb to a little pain-numbing idolatry. A friend of mine calls it the “If…Then World”. It’s thinking that if a particular thing happened, then we would be happy, fulfilled, secure, or significant. We can frame it in numerous ways, but the common denominator is that we set our desires upon a particular thing with the expectation that it will satisfy us. For many of us, these little fantasies began in childhood, and often in response to emotional pain or an unmet need. In this way, unresolved brokenness often leads to such ‘if…then’ thinking. And, whether we know it or not, whether it is logical and true or not, we carry those silly expectations into adulthood.
My parents didn’t endorse the make-believe, so I never dressed up for Halloween, never put cookies out for Santa, and never collected spare change for my lost teeth. But that didn’t stop me from dreaming. As a young girl, my fantasy was to be married. Blame in on Disney, I believed the lie that marriage could bestow identity, worth, and security to me. Then I would be safe, loved, and appreciated. Then I wouldn’t feel lonely, wouldn’t feel like a failure, wouldn’t be rejected or abandoned. Long before I even met my husband, I wrote his job description in response to my heart’s cry for God, my unresolved pain, and unmet needs. Therefore, marriage was an idol, my ‘if…then’ fantasy world, I hoped would eliminate my emotional turmoil and cure my soul sickness.
If you’d asked me what my expectations of marriage or a husband were, I’d probably have given you a few Bible verses. And I’d have done so sincerely because I was just as unaware of my unrealistic expectations and I was my brokenness. I knew better than to think that my husband could make me happy. My head knew I would marry an imperfect person, but my soul had wounds that demanded attention. So, I entered into marriage with unfinished business and tried to enforce the unrealistic and unfair expectations I had unwittingly established. Even though I was not consciously aware of it, I counted on my husband to fulfill my fantasies. And unbeknownst to me, I married someone who did the exact same thing. My young husband had an “if…then” fantasy world with my name on it. Proverbs describes it best. “Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense” (Proverbs 12:11). According to the Bible, we had no sense. And sadly, those with no sense have to learn things the hard way. It took us10 years of combat training before we were willing to repent for our idolatry, let each other off the hook, and let Jesus heal us and fill our cup.
Whether you are 2 months into your marriage or 25 years, it’s a worthwhile exercise to consider what your expectations are and whether or not they are realistic. Experts say that a realistic expectation must be both clearly communicated and agreed upon, but as Christians we are held to a higher standard. We must also ask ourselves if we have placed soul needs upon our spouse that only Christ can fulfill. Our spouse can be a beautiful reflection of Christ’s love and sufficiency, but he will be a miserable substitute.