Our Expectations of Others

Years ago I heard an amusing story from one of my ministerial colleagues. There was a duck hunter named Sam who bought a fully trained retriever from a farmer in the Midwest. On the way home from picking up the dog, the hunter stopped at a pond to test the retriever’s skills. The hunter threw a stick into the pond and commanded the dog, “Fetch!” The hunting dog leaped for the water, ran across the water to the stick, picked it up, and ran back across the water! The hunter was absolutely astonished. He repeatedly threw the stick, and the dog repeatedly retrieved it by running across the water.

The hunter decided to show off his remarkable dog to his hunting buddy George. George was one those “the glass is half empty” guys who refused to see anything surprising and amazing in life. The duck hunter thought even George would be surprised at what his dog could do.  Sam gave his retriever a knowing look, threw the stick, commanded the dog to fetch, and watched as the retriever ran across the water to fulfill the command. The hunter looked with pride at George who returned the look with a noncommittal shrug. The stick was thrown again and retrieved by the dog in his remarkable style, but still there was no response from George. With irritation in his voice, Sam asked, “Well, what do you think of my new dog?” After a long pause of indifference, George answered, “Your dog can’t swim, can he?”

I can think of many applications for this story, but the one I want to center on is our expectations of others. Often we have expectations of family members, friends, our brothers and sisters in Christ, or people we don’t even know which they are unable or unwilling to meet. They disappoint us because they do not “do life” the way we want them to or they do not fulfill their responsibilities in the manner to which we are accustomed. Perhaps their agenda is not our agenda (which, of course, is the only agenda that makes sense and matters!). We measure them by our yardsticks oblivious to the possibility that they may have their own means of determining their priorities and ways of being.

It has been my experience that if I look close and long enough at some of the people who irritate me the most, that irritation is because they do not meet my expectations, I often discover that they do meet some other admirable expectations which are more in harmony with their strengths, weaknesses, talents, and personalities. I guess what I saying is that there are many people who can’t/won’t “swim” the way I expect them to, but somehow they manage to get across the “water”—perhaps in more amazing, effective, and transforming ways than I pursue. May I suggest that the next someone gets under your skin because he or she does not meet your expectations, try imagining them running across water. Look for where they are faithful and effective. There is more than one way to “do life,” and some people manage to do it some remarkable and unconventional ways. Some can even run across water. And it would be a pity to overlook that kind of grace.

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