All of us want to decrease our stress level. One of the most important stress-reducing practices is to accept the reality that we can’t give what we don’t have and that it is futile to ask of others what they are unable to give.

In Acts 3:6 we read of Peter being asked for alms by a beggar who had been “lame from his mother’s womb.” Peter said to him, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee.”

Peter gave something of much greater value than the alms the beggar was asking. However, he couldn’t give what he didn’t have, and neither can we. I remember an old saying: “you can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip.” How does this fact apply to relationships and to daily life?

I’ve often lamented that I couldn’t give my children what I didn’t have. Often I tried. I smile to think of a silly mundane example: I read of a mother who read Shakespeare to her children and what a boon it had been to them. So I tried it, but we all ended up shaking our heads and laughing. I didn’t know, love, or understand Shakespeare and couldn’t give them what I didn’t have. I couldn’t give my children patterns of functional communication and problem solving that I’d never learned and that my own parents didn’t have to give me. I couldn’t give them the solid sense of self, unshaken by the opinions of others, that I didn’t have. I couldn’t give them a safe world free from the evil we see all around us: that especially I didn’t have to give.

Letting Go of Unrealistic Expectations

Family expectations can be brutally unrealistic. For instance:

1. Children can expect their parents to live up to their childhood fantasy that parents are super heroes with unlimited power to “make everything all better.”

2. A wife can expect her husband to fill her needs, which is impossible. Any married person can unwittingly be asking his or her spouse to make totally unrealistic dreams come true.

3. Extended family members and in-laws might expect someone who just married into the family to follow all their family patterns and traditions, leaving behind their own. Yet those traditions may be impossibly different from what the newly-married person is comfortable with, accustomed to, or even capable of.

The most crucial thing each of us needs to learn is that every person we are involved with is human and has limitations, lacks, and issues. That’s why the Lord tells us to pray for charity, because we need to love people even when they let us down, even when they don’t have it in them to give what we most want from them.

Asking of Others What They Can’t Give

I speak from experience. I’ve been in relationships where I’ve been asking, wanting, needing what the other person didn’t have to give. It is like going to a hardware store every day wanting to buy eggs, having the money necessary for the purchase, having a hundred recipes I couldn’t make without eggs, and being frustrated every time because they had no eggs to sell me. Only when I turned to a source of supply that actually inventoried “eggs” (usually the Lord) could my need be met.

Here’s another example: A friend tells me she has been continually frustrated by her husband’s lack of emotion or positive response. She asks him to please say something that is positive about her or about his day. When he doesn’t respond, she says she inwardly laments, saying to herself, “Is this asking too much from my spouse? Doesn’t he love me enough to make such a simple effort? Why can’t he give me what I need?”

She says that she has learned that it does more good to search for reasons behind the behavior instead of blaming or constantly being frustrated. Perhaps her husband doesn’t feel God’s love and doesn’t have it to share. Maybe he suffers from depression or detachment disorder and is unable to respond in a more positive manner. One might ask in any difficult situation: what factors could influence such behavior?

No one can give what they don’t have, and emotional issues often decrease our stores and ability to give. Extreme issues (pain from the past) can blind people to the truth and make them deaf to the promptings of the Spirit; in fact issues can shut the door of the heart to the Savior’s love. But maybe issues are just emotional wounds not yet laid at the Master’s feet so He can heal them. Sometimes that healing can be instantaneous, but more often it seems to be a life-long process. In the meantime, the Lord wants us to be kind, patient, long-suffering with ourselves and others, as He is to us. He wants us to remember that when any person’s behavior seems irrational (including our own), it is probably connected to emotional pain that is deeply rooted.

So how can we become wiser about what we ask and of whom we ask it?

We Cannot Rely on the Arm of Flesh   

In 2 Nephi 4:34 we read, O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.

No matter how much we wish it could be different, the arm of flesh always comes with weaknesses. The arm of flesh ultimately lets us down, and OUR arm of flesh ultimately lets others down in one way or another. Our weaknesses, our physical, emotional, and spiritual limitations make all mortals incapable of being unfailingly dependable.

Only the Lord is unfailingly dependable. Yes, He often answers our prayers and meets our needs through the service of other people. However, we need to be careful not to expect of others what is impossible for them to give because of their current circumstances (and only the Lord has total knowledge of all circumstances).

Think of the story in Alma, chapters 60 and 61. Moroni had been asking Pahoran for what he couldn’t give. He was convinced that Pahoran was thoughtless and neglectful when he didn’t send desperately needed supplies and men. What Moroni found out later was that Pahoran had been driven out, that those in rebellion had taken over the city of Zarahemla and left Pahoran totally unable to meet Moroni’s needs. Moroni was asking the impossible and censuring Pahoran for not giving it.

This story leads me to wonder: How many times have I asked the impossible of someone in my inner circle? Have I asked for love from one who had no love to give? Have I asked for understanding from someone who had such insufficient data to process that there was no way they could understand? How many times have I made false assumptions as Moroni did, not understanding the lack of ability of others to give what I wanted them to give.

  Am I still convinced they should be more forthcoming with what I need? Because of these tendencies, I’ve learned to just keep starting over in my efforts to love better– more like Jesus does.

As Satan pulls out all the stops and we draw ever closer to the final scenes before the second coming, life is hard for all of us! I become increasingly convinced that our private battles and personal turmoil are microcosms of the whole world in turmoil. Thank goodness for gospel perspectives that keep reminding us to focus on the fact that nothing surprises the Lord and that He is totally in charge of outcomes. Other people’s lack can’t ruin God’s plan for our lives. Our lack can’t ruin God’s plans for those we interact with. His purposes are rolling forth toward His final triumph.

The Best Gift to Give: The Pure Love of Christ

Even charity, the pure love of Christ, we cannot give unless we have it. Jesus loves us first so that we will have that love to give. John 4:19, “We love him, because he first loved us.” Even though His love is always there, always available, we have to be aware of that love and be willing to receive it.

The importance of having this love to give is illustrated in the following words by Elder John H. Groberg: When filled with God’s love, we can do and see and understand things that we could not otherwise do or see or understand. Filled with His love, we can endure pain, quell fear, forgive freely, avoid contention, renew strength, and bless and help others in ways surprising even to us.

“Jesus Christ was filled with unfathomable love as He endured incomprehensible pain, cruelty, and injustice for us. Through His love for us, He rose above otherwise insurmountable barriers. His love knows no barriers. He invites us to follow Him and partake of His unlimited love so we too may rise above the pain and cruelty and injustice of this world and help and forgive and bless.

“I know He lives. I know He loves us. I know we can feel His love here and now. I know His voice is one of perfect mildness which penetrates to our very center. I know He smiles and is filled with compassion and love. I know He is full of gentleness, kindness, mercy, and desire to help. I love Him with all my heart. I testify that when we are ready, His pure love instantly moves across time and space, reaches down, and pulls us up from the depths of any tumultuous sea of darkness, sin, sorrow, death, or despair we may find ourselves in and brings us into the light and life and love of eternity. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.” (Elder John H. Groberg, October 2004 General Conference address titled, “The Power of God’s Love”)

Pray for This Love

We can light lanterns of love that will not only illuminate our path but bring more light to all those who walk alongside us. Love is the answer to every relationship problem: not our love, but His. When we are full of His love, that love spills over on those around us. But remember the thesis of this whole article: we can’t give what we don’t have. No wonder we are counseled to “Pray with all the energy of our hearts for this love.” (See Moroni 7:47-48) Elder Groberg also said, “God’s love fills the immensity of space; therefore, there is no shortage of love in the universe, only in our willingness to do what is needed to feel it.” There is no scarcity of His love, except in our souls when we don’t open ourselves to it. Our joy now and in the eternities depends on our capacity to connect with that love. His love fills the universe and is the guiding force of stars and planets. That love becomes our guiding force as we open ourselves to it. And then we will have the most important gift and can give it to others!

Author Note: check my website for details about my latest book of comfort for those who have lost a loved one to suicide. While my last book (After My Son’s Suicide) was written strictly to the LDS audience, this one, Finding Hope While Grieving Suicide, is written to anyone who believes in God and the Bible. If you know anyone whose life has been impacted by a suicide, now there is something you can give them that may truly help. Here is the cover of the new book:

D FindingHope