Love without expectations – that’s an interesting and romantic concept. Is it possible?
A quick examination of our relationships might reveal the answer. What do we expect from our friends? “Nothing” would be a cheap answer, for even the most independent person expects his friends to remain his friends, for one. He expects that when he sits with them at a table, they won’t reject him. He expects them to return any greeting. It sounds basic, but this is just to illustrate a simple point – by putting a name to something you are already expecting that something to keep those characteristics peculiar to itself. If this is a chair, I expect it to hold my weight every single time I sit on it. If I couldn’t expect that, I would not call it a chair for a chair is defined as something that people can sit on. In the same way, we all have definitions of friends, and of friendship. So immediately, once we know someone there are certain expectations that come with it. And as the relationship continues, and the dynamics evolve and become mutually known intuitively and instinctively, more expectations are formed. We expect the person to keep to these dynamics; it is the way friendships are maintained, and they form the rules of engagement, so to speak. With no such governance, the friendship would be nebulous, vague, and inchoate – hardly a friendship at all.
Yet it is hard to completely reject the idea of loving with expectations. It is a lovely idea – one that is evident even in the Christian faith. Loving without expecting anything in return; is that not what we are called to? But perhaps it is crucial at this point to draw a distinction between love and relationship. No doubt the two are tied in many ways. However can we not love without a relationship? An example: A secret admirer can love a girl yet not have a relationship with her. A simple example, but it shall suffice for now. Can the secret admirer expect anything at all from the girl? Of course not, for obvious reasons. Let us take it further. God loves the world. He wants us to desire Him, to worship Him, to have a relationship with Him. Can He expect us to? No. He knows we are fallen, and we cannot choose Him. (Rom 3:11-12) Surely He knows that He deserves it, but we in our fallen state have nothing to offer, not even our worship. Yet He still loves us – enough to give us the grace we need to possibly choose Him. That is unconditional love. This love is extended to believers and non-believers alike. John 3:16 says that God sent Jesus because He loved the world. The entire world – even those who do not choose Him. So this is love.
On the other hand, we have relationship. Although God loves unconditionally, there are expectations for one who is in a relationship with Him. Simply put, we are expected to live a life worthy of the calling we have received, the characteristics of which include a growing in the fruit of the Spirit, a desire for holiness and righteousness, a longing for greater intimacy with God. We are expected to live as children of the light, to walk in love, to be Christ-like, etc. The list goes on. Our God is a covenantal God. The old covenant of the Law with Israel led to expectations on both sides. God expected the Israelites to keep His commandments, and the Israelites expected God to be their God, to protect and bless them in a land flowing with milk and honey. Take away these expectations and what do you have? Empty words. Expectations define and set the boundaries of a relationship. Only when these definitions and boundaries are there can the relationship be allowed to grow in that particular direction. Nothing can come of nothing, as King Lear says. If one does not have any expectations, one disallows any love beyond a superficial one. As the story goes, Israel fall short of God’s expectations, and God is grieved and angered. If God, who saw this coming, still willingly entered into this relationship with His people, who are we to limit the love that we are to receive and give by shunning expectations and thus any deep relationship?