The more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!
-Marianne Dashwood

How many of us sighed at that endearingly-rendered line of Kate Winslet’s in the movie Sense and Sensibility? I know I did, and giggled with my girlfriends over it afterward. Though not one of us seriously doubted the likelihood of our falling in love one day, it was fun to imagine ourselves turning away scores of dejected suitors and minding our maiden way quite happily. That is, until The One appeared on the scene. We all had different opinions on the making of a perfect man, but one thing we knew for certain: we’d recognize him in a moment.

In fulfillment of a promise to address some of the questions raised on the subject of ideals and expectations, I’d like to begin by saying that Elizabeth has already said it all. Her words rang with the winsomeness of true devotion—to the Lord and to her husband—and my spirit was refreshed, as I know many of yours were, by the simplicity of her response. We often make things so unnecessarily complicated by our musings and emotional meanderings, grasping at this counsel and that, scrutinizing God’s dealings with those around us as if they could actually have any bearing upon His dealings with us. The fact of the matter is that the only way to true peace with regard to our future mate is by way of an age-old path called surrender.In fact, it’s the only way to true peace about anything. And the more comfortable we are with that idea, I believe, the happier we are in this life. We sometimes think of surrender as a last resort, an arms-folded acceptance of an unpleasant situation, rather than the gateway to all the delights our Father’s blessing and joy. How He must marvel at times over our lack of faith!

the only way to true peace...

There was a time in my life when I actually allowed myself to think that God was going to give me the exact opposite of all my heart cherished just to build character in me. Events had dragged my ideals through the mire—and my expectations along with them—and I had begun to doubt that the dream of love was a valid hope. I questioned my married friends almost feverishly—Is this love business all it’s really cracked up to be? And how do you know if you’re really ‘in love’? And, if you are, does it last? They were undeniably patient with me, and gave me such winning, soft-eyed answers. But I was still skeptical. They’re in love! I’d protest to myself. How could they possibly know?

It was my younger sister who finally called me to task on the matter.

“Lanier!” she exclaimed one day when I ventured to suggest my new ideas. “What are you talking about? If we ask Him for bread, does He give us a stone?”

If we ask him for a prince, does He give us a boor? If we appeal for His guidance, does He turn His back? To be sure, God uses disappointed hopes and challenges in our lives to make us more like Jesus, but does He want to be perpetually miserable? Permit me to underscore it—God is perfectly capable of leading us through the process of preparing us for our spouse if we’ll let Him. He won’t prevent us from taking matters into our own hands, from going off on our own and making bad choices. But He does say that if we give Him the reins, He will guide us in the way we should go.

Throw your expectations out the window...

Now I’ll dip into some of the mechanics of ideals and expectations. But just keep one thing at the front of your minds: if our expectation is in the Lord Himself, we will never be disappointed.

I would like to make a clear distinction between ideals and expectations. You may remember my mother’s friend who adjured me: “throw your expectations out the window, but keep your ideals sky high”. I think it was only after I crossed from maidenhood to marriage that I fully realized the wisdom of those words. But, of course, at that point, I had the flesh and blood reality of all I’d been waiting and longing and praying for right there beside me. It was much, much harder to trust that the man I was dreaming of would be all that I had hoped when I was still wondering if he even existed or not. And it was even harder to see the difference between expectations and ideals.

Ideals, I believe, can be a part of a God-given vision of what He wants to do with our lives: what will be best in His loving plan, and, frankly, most appealing to us as the individuals He has created us to be. Rather indistinct, to be sure, because by their very nature they imply a hope not yet seen. But an indefinable part of our very selves.

Expectations tend to be more explicit; they seem to leave less room for God’s surprises and specifics. And they usually indicate that our imagination has pranced ahead of reality and painted a scene on our minds which quickly goes to our hearts and lodges there, masquerading as an ideal. A non-optional requirement. An absolute.

Ideals are things you can’t back down from—things for which you’d choose singleness rather than deny. Is he devoted to Christ? Is he devoted to you? Is he absolutely committed to the principles of God’s word? And, not least by any means, are you devoted to him? I believe that the dream of love is a very valid ideal, so long as it is founded on the love Christ modeled for us, the kind of Love that knows beyond all doubt that it is sweeter to love even than to be loved. Ten minutes into a good marriage you’ll recognize your own unworthiness—both of you—and ideally (and I use this word purposefully) you’ll channel this self-realization into a self-giving devotion. Because that is the only way to fully experience the joy God had in mind for us when he thought up marriage in the first place.

When you have given your heart to your expectations, to specifics about how he will look or what he will wear or what kind of music he’ll listen to, then you’ve fallen in love with a mere symbol, an image. An idol. We all do it. I know I did. But the wonderful thing about the place God finally had me when I met my husband was that He’d allowed me—through bitter tears—to lay down those specific requirements in a heap. Throughout the wonderful privilege of falling in love with Philip, a real man (and I’m still falling in love with him…), I discovered to my delight that so very many of the things I had ‘laid down’ were resurrected before my eyes.

I hesitate in giving specifics, lest they develop into expectations in anyone else. God’s dealings with each of us are completely unique. But one thing is ever and always the same. He can be trusted. And you cannot ever lose what you have offered to Him.

As an older sister in the Lord, as one a bit farther on the path than some of you may be, I’d just like to figuratively put my arm about each of your shoulders and say, ‘It’s okay—calm down. Your spouse is not something that’s going to happen to you. You have a God-given choice and responsibility in the matter, to carefully weigh every situation you find yourself in, to seek the Lord and His counsel. He will take care of the rest. And we couldn’t ask for a better state of affairs.’

Remember what Elizabeth said:

Some have said God gave them everything they asked for in a husband. God chose to give me far more than I ever could have asked.

I couldn’t agree more. The Lord is good…

Photography: JenniMarie Photography

41 Comments

  1. Avatar Christine says:

    A wonderful, and, for me, timely reminder!

  2. I couldn’t agree more… my ideals will always be high!

  3. I liked this: “Ten minutes into a good marriage you’ll recognize your own unworthiness—both of you—and ideally (and I use this word purposefully ) you’ll channel this self-realization into a self-giving devotion. Because that is the only way to fully experience the joy God had in mind for us when he thought up marriage in the first place.”

    I can truly say this is how me and my guy feel towards each other…our unworthiness, how could we be so blessed to have each other? And the fruit is selfless devotion, praise to God. 🙂

  4. I have felt a lot like Marianne as of the last year or so, more so than ever. Course I have been though one courship already, and I found out what my ideals and expectations were in marriage. But due to the fact he held none of what I believed (except being a Christian), it did not end in marriage. I have a hard time since going through that, KNOWING I need to trust Him now more than before because that is the only way I am going to follow and get what He wants for me in my marriage. Thank you so much for your encouraging words- they were much appreciated.

  5. Last week I heard an interesting definition of expectations: “planned resentments.” Had to think on that one awhile…..

  6. This is wonderful. All this “surrendering” business has me terrified, regardless of my conscious knowledge of the Lord. I suppose I’ll simply have to do it anyway. 🙂

  7. I may have missed the articles first time around, but am thoroughly enjoying the wisdom within at the moment!
    I especially like the, ” “throw your expectations out the window, but keep your ideals sky high”. quote.
    I do have my ideals, but could care less at this point what color eyes and hair he has; because I know God has someone perfect for me (and I’m just not that picky in those particular departments!)

  8. Beautiful post. It reminds me of a favorite line of Chesterton’s: “Blessed are they who expect nothing, for they shall be gloriously surprised.”

  9. Amazing! Thank you so much! 🙂

  10. This could not have come at a better time for me. I’m so thankful for all the wisdom I find on YLCF. Reading here has become part of my morning routine. Thank you so much, ladies!

  11. I remember loving these articles first time around too! 🙂 I especially love this quote: “He can be trusted. And you cannot ever lose what you have offered to Him.”

    And … I hope this doesn’t sound too trivial for words! … but I love the S&S illustrations – perfect! 🙂

  12. It was good to read this again…a great reminder of God’s faithfulness. I remember reading it and similar pieces when they were first published and wondering and questioning about how this whole finding-a-husband thing would work out…could God REALLY give me all that I wanted in a husband? But how would I know?! And now…several years later…I’m married to a man more amazing than I had ever imagined…and our meeting, courtship and marriage was so clearly orchestrated by the Lord that it still blows me away. Despite my doubts, He obviously knows very well what He’s doing. 🙂

  13. Thank you for this article. Sometimes we forget to wave our little flag of surrender!

  14. Good thoughts. It’s so easy to desire someone perfect, to even imagine what he should be like and get caught up in romantic dreams . . . One of my friends once told me, “You know, we don’t need someone perfect, and you know why? Because we already have Him that is perfect–Jesus Christ. If we are to marry we just need someone who loves Him most of all.” And you know what? That’s so true.

  15. Ahhh, Lanier, your words are like a long drink of ice water on a summer day! I can relate and I am encouraged by this. For that I THANK you. My expectation should be in HIM!

  16. Avatar sweetmomma says:

    Oh so true! The Lord led me to pray for my husband many years before we got married or even met. At first I prayed all the usual stuff “Please help him love me like Christ loves the church, please give him a love for all the children we may have, please keep other girls away from him!”
    But after the first year of praying all that sort of stuff the Lord whispered to my heart a different way. He reminded me that if my man loved Him first, then he would love me right. If he always placed his relationship with God first, then every other relationship would fall into line.
    The year I began praying that, my husband had deliverance poured out into his temporarily backslidden life and by the time I met and married him six years later he was a loving pastor seeking after God with his whole heart. I am NOT crediting all this to me. It wasn’t my praying that did all that. The Lord just allowed me to be a special supporting part of it.
    Listen to the Spirit sisters! He knows what both you, AND your man, needs!
    Much Love!

    1. I, too, have spent much time in prayer for my future husband! And it is so true, that if the man loves God first, he will love me good and right. I am so blessed to have a man who loves me so, gently and deeply and with wisdom. I know that my prayers have made a difference in my life, just as my presence does now, and that is so humbling. Because the Lord has done a mighty work…and we are so blessed!

  17. Sometimes I feel like Marianne a lot. 🙂 Thank you for the reminder! My expectation should be in HIM!

    Abigail

  18. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Excellent post, Lanier. Very refreshing to hear such truth…

    -Kari

  19. Lanier, thank you so much for sharing your God-given gift of writing with us! Is is always such a blessing to read, and this post was no different! Thank you for reminding me of the difference between ideals and expectation – so good!

  20. Avatar Anonymous says:

    That is so true! And it is amazing how the Lord works. I had an ideal picture of the sort of guy I wanted to marry…looked around, didn’t see anyone like him, and decided I just wouldn’t ever get married. Then God gave me a vision for home, and I came to the place where I knew if God brought his man into my life, even if he wasn’t my ideal, it would be well.

    Guess what? God has brought a wonderful man into my life. He has such a heart for the Lord. But – *gasp* – I absolutely couldn’t stand him when I first met him! He didn’t seem to be my “type” at all…but after I got to know him better, all that changed. It wasn’t “Ooo, I like this guy! *squeal*” It was, “Wow…I really respect this guy. Whoa…I think I could follow him. Oh dear…” And now, amazingly, I have found he is more like my ideal than I would have ever thought possible. God is good – ALL THE TIME.

  21. Wow!!!!!! 🙂 Thank you so much for that awesome post!
    Blessings and Shalom!

  22. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I was thoroughly blessed by both of your ‘Ideals & Expectations’ blogs Lanier! 🙂 I can honestly say that I’ve thought alot about the specifics…what I think ‘he’ should wear, listen to, or watch…and I know that each of those things should be pleasing to the Lord no matter what, but there is a degree to which we can become too picky or demanding. That’s what I’m learning. 🙂 Thanks again…
    It was fun running into you and Philip this morning at breakfast!
    love, griffin

  23. Avatar Anonymous says:

    What a beautiful post! One of the best posts I’ve ever read on here (and that’s saying a lot, because there have been so many excellent posts on the ylcf:)because it’s so encouraging, refreshing, and real. Not a lot is mentioned about the difference between preferences and ideals/standards. Thanks for sharing what God has revealed to you and what you’ve learned in your own life about this topic. I’m sure many others will be blessed from this post, as well.:)

    -Whitney

  24. Avatar ShelleyMariee says:

    Thanks for the encouraging, honest post, Lanier!

  25. Amen Lanier!

    It wasn’t until I told the Lord, “God, I’m so DONE with this dating/courting garbage! I’m tired, my heart hurts, and I obviously dont want what you want for me. I give up! I think that you want me to take a year off of dating to figure this out!” And that’s when God laughed and said “oh yeah? Well, guess what! You’re going to meet your mate!” And I did…it took almost a year of someone I felt was totally unworthy of me, didn’t fulfill my expectations to win me over.

    True, God planned and ordained love is definitely amazing 🙂

    Peace,
    Andrea

  26. Avatar aussietigger1980 says:

    Thanks, Lanier, for your thoughts. I agree that I find expectations and ideals very hard to separate, so I liked your assistance! I’ve never been a big list person of things I wanted in my future husband–particularly not on superficial/exterior things–but I have found it hard to work out which things are necessaries and which are optionals. 🙂

  27. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Hi Lanier:

    I couldn’t agree more…the man that the Lord gives us shouldn’t be a part of specifics, yes important standards are very important, but they way they’ll look or what movies they like or music really isn’t going to matter when one is choosing a mate for a lifetime. I so often see marraiges shatter within 1 or 2 or 3 years all because they want to be loved but not to give love unselfishly.
    I met someone wonderful, i’m engaged to a wonderful man, and he didn’t meet all my specifics, yet in every way he turned out much better than all my dreams. He was exactly what the Lord knew i needed in a mate, trustworthy, kind, sweet, intelligent, spiritual, grounded in Christ, funny and such a great fiance.
    Only the Lord knows what we truly need in a mate, and we shouldn’t pass someone up just because they don’t meet our specifics; keep your mind open and Trust God to bring you the ultimate perfect mate 🙂

    I am so happy that i didn’t let this one go….:)
    We do argue from time to time, but such is life and such life may be after marriage, but just remmber Let God be the one that picks you the best mate for you.

    Only the Lord is the one fit to choose the one best for us!
    And it helps if parents approve :))

    Ok that’s enough for now!
    Sorry for such a long post, and whoever read this far, i thank you for reading all of it 🙂

    Have a great day girls!

    God Bless you all and may HE keep you safe!

    Jane.

  28. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Lanier your posts are always so good! Thank you for your insights! they are amazing..and yes surrender to our Lord is not only the key, but fundamental part of being a Christian, i sometimes struggle as well with surrender it’s so hard for me sometimes, thanks so much for this post!
    It was so timely and so true!
    Thank you again Lanier!

    I also can’t wait until part 2.

    Have a great day and May God Bless you and keep you safe, Lanier 🙂

    Jane.

  29. Great insight! SURRENDER has kind of lost itself in our vocabulary hasn’t it?:)
    Blessings and Shalom!

  30. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Great post:) It’s so nice to hear from you, Lanier! Anticipating part two, as well…:)-Whitney

  31. For me this is so timely. It is just what I needed to hear. Thank you.

  32. Thank you, Lanier! I’ve been meditating on some of these very issues today. This verse is a great comfort to me: Psalm 34:10b Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. That means that there is nothing that I could add to my life right now to make it better. A husband is a good thing for some, but for me, right now where God has placed me, it isn’t a good thing. And that is an enormous comfort! It’s not a mistake, but part of His sovereign plan.

  33. God knows exactly what I needed to read, and all the doubts that formed in my mind just this evening. Thank you for the timely post and following the Holy Spirit’s leading.

  34. Avatar Anonymous says:

    if our expectation is in the Lord Himself…

    something i’ve been thinking on so much lately. thanks for the words that were so upward-focusing! may God give you more wisdom to impart to us!!

  35. Wow, that totally puts the whole matter in perspective! It all boils down to our trust in the Lord, who, if we are surrendered to Him, has been stamping His desires upon our hearts. Can we not trust Him to bring those desires to past if He indeed is the one who has placed them end? Thank you again! Can’t wait for the continuation!

  36. Avatar ShelleyMariee says:

    What a wonderful post, Lanier! That is such an important point about surrender, and that when our expectation is in the Lord, we won’t be disapointed, as you said. It’s so tempting to be afraid to surrender at times. I’m often reminded of the story from Leslie Ludy about her fears of being an old maid, then finally meeting an Elmer Fudd type guy, only to die not too long after! It makes me laugh becaus so often, I think we view surrender as something horrid, a last resort, as you said. But when our hopes are in God, trusting Him, whatever He brings and whomever He brings, we won’t be disapointed because He knows what’s best and desires to bless a faithful, trusting servant with His best:-) Looking forward to reading part two!

  37. Avatar Elizabeth J says:

    Beautiful, Lanier… so true. Eagerly waiting to read part two, myself!

  38. That’s wonderful…thank you for sharing!

  39. Thank you, Lanier! This speaks exactly to some stuff I’ve recently been going through…especially the Scriptural truth that your sister so simply reiterated…

    “If we ask Him for bread, does He give us a stone?”

    Thank you again…and I can’t wait to read Part Two.

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