Is that a dolphin, Mama?” my little children asked, repeatedly. I wanted to say yes. But no, it wasn’t. That spring break I learned that a dolphin cruise doesn’t necessarily gaurantee dolphins.

One sunny spring day years ago, we took our first (and only) dolphin cruise. My little children were so excited. Soon, I learned that “dolphin cruising” simply meant circling around the bay. Again and again. After about thirty minutes of our three-hour cruise, the kids began to get antsy. A cold north wind began to blow, dropping the temperature along with my hopes of a fun afternoon.

After two frigid hours of cruising, we had seen nothing but water and seagulls. Dutifully, the captain tried to entertain us with a string of corny jokes. I kept looking at the shore wistfully, thinking, “If he could just drop us off here, we could walk back.”

Soon, the deck hand began passing out musty blankets, which I received gratefully. I held the twins in my arms, wrapped the blanket tightly around us and began telling stories. Carol (my mother-in-law) did the same with my daughter. We hunkered down in the cold, determined to survive the dolphin cruise.

Finally, just as the captain headed for the marina, a dolphin jumped out of the water. Only Carol and I saw it.

We looked at each other, gravely. Slowly, we shook our heads, making a silent pact to act as if we had seen nothing at all (we were ready to go home).

Unfortunately, other dolphins began to surface, so the captain spun the boat around. To my dismay, we began to follow the dolphins as he played a cheesy recording of dolphin sounds.

An absent-minded passenger said, Wow, I had no idea we would actually get to hear the dolphins.” The captain looked at me in disbelief and shrugged. Possibly, he was as miserable as I was. In fact, for a minute, I considered jumping ship and leaving the kids and grandma behind.

Sometimes things are just not what they’re cracked up to be. That’s how life is.

But often, we’re surprised when things don’t work out as expected. Our shock turns into severe disappointment. Dismay. Even depression. And all we want to do is jump ship.

Sometimes, this happens in relationships, doesn’t it?

Our marriage takes an unexpected turn. In-laws meddle. Our teenager rebels. Friends disappoint. These things tend to shock us. And soon, we feel like this “relationship thing” is just not what it’s cracked up to be. Frustration can tempt us to jump ship—to emotionally or physically abandon the relationship–and move on.

Fairytales and Hallmark movies often leave us with unrealistic expectations. But storybook relationships aren’t reality. Conflict, frustration and problems are simply a natural part of relating to other people. Everyone we love will hurt us or disappoint us at some point–expect it to happen. The closer we are and the more we care, the greater the potential for hurt.

But our relationships are well worth the frustration and pain they may bring. Here’s why:

  • God designed us for relationship. We are relational beings. We need to love and be loved. God designed marriage, family and friendship to meet emotional needs. Loving well is living well. I believe our relationships last beyond this life into eternity. They are the greatest treasure we have, but sometimes it’s easy to forget how valuable they truly are.
  • Our relationships matter to God. I used to think God was too busy to care about each one of my relationships, but this isn’t true. God cares about how we treat our friends. He cares if we work at our marriage or just let it drift. He is honored when we honor our parents. He is glorified when we extend love to hard-to-love people. Jesus taught that loving others is second only to loving God. In fact, God offers to supply all the love we need (1 John 4:7).
  • Our relationships aren’t solely about us. I used to think God gave me family and friends for my support, happiness and fulfillment. But now, I’m seeing that my relationships don’t exist solely for me. God places us in relationships strategically, so He can care for people through us. Most often, God uses people to bless people. Focusing on this curbs some of my neediness, so I can see the needs of others. In each hard relationship, we have a choice: to abandon ship or trust that God placed us there for His good purpose.

After thirty more minutes of circling in the cold to the rhythm of taped screeching dolphins, our boat finally reached the marina. The dolphin cruise just wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. It didn’t meet my expectations.

But the cruise wasn’t only about me.

As we walked away, the kids hugged us, saying, “Thank you for taking us, it was awesome to get to see a real, live dolphin!” I’m glad I didn’t jump ship. Seeing my kids’ joy was worth the struggle (I think). This photo was taken after the cruise (March 1999). Surprisingly, we are all smiling.

Perhaps you are disappointed with some of your relationships right now. Maybe your needs and expectations aren’t being met. Don’t jump ship. Hang in there with those you love. Work to love them well at every stage of the journey—good, bad, uncomfortable and funny—it may surprise you in the end.