I wanted to revisit this topic, primarily because a close friend of mine pointed out where I could have been more clear, or could have delved deeper.
PART 1: A “Know Thee” Relationship
I’ll start by saying that there is a very interesting parallel between a romantic relationship and a relationship with God. I think that relationships, or the way we act in our relationships, can often be used as metaphors for faith in God.
This comparison is alluded to in the scriptures in a number of ways. One instance is when Christ is compared to a “bridegroom” in many of His own parables. Another would be when Christ says, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God.”
To “know” someone, as the verb is used in the scriptures, in addition to its more colloquial meaning, also implies a very intimate relationship. “And Adam knew his wife, and she bare unto him sons and daughters, and they began to multiply and to replenish the earth” (Moses 5:2). In the case of Adam and Eve, it meant sex and procreation. But I don’t think it’s presumptuous to assume that the verb “to know” also means developing a very close relationship with someone.
I would also like to point out the language we have been instructed to use in prayer. The Preach My Gospel manual for missionaries says, “Use the language of prayer, which shows that you love and respect your Heavenly Father. Use proper and respectful language in whatever language you speak. For example, in English use scriptural pronouns such as Thee, Thou, Thy, and Thine.”
This was confusing to me when I learned how to pray in Italian. Italians in the Mormon church use the more informal form of speaking to someone (tu) when addressing deity in prayer, a form of speech that is mostly reserved for speaking with someone you know intimately or when addressing a child. I was never able to justify this practice of using tu in Italian with the teachings in Preach My Gospel that emphasized respect. It seemed contradictory.
At least it seemed contradictory until much later when I came to a better understanding of the form Thou in the English language. In today’s world, thou is a very archaic form that is reserved only for Biblical or Shakespearean language, and consequently is usually only associated with solemnity or respect. But thou actually once implied closeness and intimacy whereas you was considered more formal and suggested distance between addresser and addressee. As soon as I learned this I felt as though I had found a secret message embedded within the English language. Scriptural pronouns like thee, thy, and thou aren’t the self-humbling or debasing words of a groveling subject to a superior as I once thought. These words imply something else, much like the informal form of addressing someone in Italian (tu). They are the mode of speech between close friends, family members, and (aha!) between people in a romantic relationship.
So when Christ said salvation is to “know thee the only true God,” we should be paying very close attention to the words “know” and “thee”. He’s talking about the most transparent and understanding you can possibly be with any one person. And I would go so far as to say that having a “know thee” relationship with a spouse or significant other in mortality is not only possible, but can also be accurately used as a metaphor for the kind of “know thee” relationship that, by Christ’s definition, is salvation.
So let’s take a look at our relationships. Do we have a “know thee” relationship with the people we should be closest to, or do we hide parts of ourselves because of shame or fear? Do we have a “know thee” relationship with God, or do we think that we could hide from Him as Adam did after committing his first sin?
“And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself” (Genesis 3:9-10).
Let’s not allow shame or fear to hinder our relationships. Let’s trust each other instead.
PART 2: Expectations Vs Desires
I define expectations as fears of outcomes we don’t desire. We know from the scriptures that righteous desire is essential in all endeavors, and in no way do I want to suggest that we settle. We should set our sights high—especially when it comes to gospel living and relationships. But this can be done with virtues such as trust, faith, and love, as opposed to fear and expectations.
When it comes to faith in God, you need to be careful of expectations. Yes, he is a perfect being who always has your best interests at heart. But let’s see how this plays out in a practical situation:
You know that God is a God of miracles, and that he loves you, and so on. But one day, out of nowhere, you desperately need a miracle. It is one thing to desire a miracle, it is another to expect one. In one situation we are putting trust in God, in the other we seek to dictate how and when God acts in our lives. Furthermore, what happens if you don’t get the miracle we expected? It could cause you to discard faith all together. But if you trust God, you will continue having faith in Him despite things not playing out to your desires. And that is the crucial difference.
PART 3: Desire for a Relationship
Let’s talk about this phrase that I think we’ve all heard quite a bit, and that is “God expects a lot from us.” We want to reach our full potential, and God wants that too. But I would change this statement from “God expects a lot from us,” to “God trusts us with a lot.” Isn’t that more accurate?
God trusts us so completely with our free agency that he doesn’t force us to do anything. I think God has great desires for His children, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that He expects us to meet them. I think He wants us to, and I think He trusts us to get there eventually, but I think “expectations” would be the wrong word to describe it.
As I said before, expectations and desires are two very different things. We MUST set our sights high. When pursuing the dream relationship, we can picture what it will feel like, envision it, WANT it, but I think we would be wrong to EXPECT it. Is that making sense?
Expectations lead to disappointment. I think I would have given up on finding that ideal relationship a long time ago if I expected it. I think that wanting it with everything you’ve got is a good thing. But once your fears manifest themselves as expectations, I think you’re on the wrong track. I want my dream relationship to come, and I believe it will. I have faith that it will. I think if I truly put good virtues into that pursuit instead of fear and expectations, I will never be discouraged or disappointed along the way. I think that if I expect it every time, I will be discouraged repeatedly and might give up entirely.
PART 4: Two Different Relationships
Now when you compare romantic relationships to one’s relationship with God, the metaphor does eventually break down a little. Unlike God, people aren’t perfect, and they will sometimes violate our trust. At that junction we have to make the choice of continuing to trust them or not, which is never easy to do.
But this does not justify having expectations of people we are in relationships with. Expectations are a form of control over another person’s agency. I understand that it might sound weird at first, but let’s use the example of fidelity within marriage:
Let’s say I get married (ha!), and I have the expectation that my spouse will be faithful. That would seem like a pretty reasonable expectation, right? I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. But what if my mindset was, instead of trying to hold someone to my expectations, to respect someone’s free agency so completely that I never had any expectations. What if, instead, I saw myself and my spouse as two completely free people who have used their agency to trust each other and never violate that trust? The end result might look the same: we’re both faithful to each other. But the way we get there is very different. One is based on fear, which could lead to suspicion, jealousy, etc. The other is based on trust, which leads to respect, love, and other virtues.
Most relationships, I think, are not all one or the other. Most of the time they’re a mix of trust and expectations, and we have to constantly try our best to sort through our feelings and root out the damaging ones. And, as I said before, if someone we love violates our trust we have to face the very difficult decision whether or not to continue trusting them. God, on the other hand, always keeps His promises.