Monday, December 19, 2011
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Monday, December 12, 2011
It's kind of funny. And when I say, "funny" I don't mean, "Ha, ha."
We just came off the thankful-high of November. Everyone on Facebook was posting status updates on how grateful they were for this, that and the other and then, bam! Hello, December. Know what happens in December?
People get MEAN.
Suddenly it’s too much to return a smile in the checkout line. It’s common and somehow justified to pull out in someone vs. waiting your turn. Everyone is in a hurry, impatient, too busy to notice the humanity they are trampling over, ramming carts into and generally, ignoring. I stopped by our local Walmart this past week just as two bus loads of children were being accompanied by local church members to meet their needs. Wanna know how many of those people were impatient, pushy and rude to me and my son, even as they were surely trying to set an example of God's love to these community children they had taken shopping?
It’s just plain shameful. And we joke, “Tis the season!” as an excuse for the attitude.
What’s even more embarrassing is the fact that the majority of those living in the United States claim to be a Christian. Which means, they claim to be following Christ. Which means they should be emulating Him in their homes and in their interactions with strangers and even, *gasp* allowing Him to influence their driving habits and curb their rushed road rage. And the majority claim a local church as their home congregation. Which means, it’s not the unchurched saying they’re Christians being obnoxious and rude. It’s the Sunday Christians. The Bible-study attending Christians. The volunteers in the youth group Christians.
A few weeks ago Aaron and I watched a very emotional (when is it not?) Extreme Makeover: Home Edition where a young boy (I believe he was only ten or eleven years old) committed suicide as a result of bullying at school. The majority of the episode was on getting the word out that kids shouldn’t stay silent if they are bullied and that kids in general need to, “Be a buddy not a bully!”
Aaron and I kept pausing it (thank goodness for our modern days of technology and DVR) and discussing. What is the root of bullying? Where does change need to occur? How do we protect our own children? That night after we finished and I had cried myself into a serious headache, I stood over Joel’s crib, rubbing his back as he slept and just cried and prayed and hoped that he would know - that we would show him - that he could always, always come to us. No matter what.
As with most situations, it's not just black and white and clear cut and do x and get y every time. But one of the things we concluded is that kindness is certainly lacking. And where do children learn to be kind in the first place? At home. And whom do they learn those charitable, unselfish, thankful-in-all-things traits from? Ideally, Mommy and Daddy. And what happens when they hear Mommy cutting down Daddy to her friends? What happens when they see Daddy being unkind to Mommy? What chain reaction occurs when parents fight and bicker for control? Or when Mommy is too over-scheduled and everything is rush-rush and she's gripping the steering wheel and sighing in exasperation at the elderly gentleman in his Ford F-150 moseying down the road to Burger King?
Recently the Duggar family (most notable for their Christian convictions and their growing family, now up to twenty children) has been a topic I've seen circulating just about everywhere. I may not feel the same conviction to have twenty or more babies (I also started about a decade later than Mrs. Duggar in the child bearing department, so that's my out!) but what is most admirable is their dedication to the Lord and growing their kids up on the Bible. Sadly, that is not what is talked about most among Christians. Instead of commending their convictions and the deep respect, love and giving-nature of their family, we sit around and determine whether it's wise for them to have babies and when are they going to call it quits.
Who's the bully, now? Are we really all that shocked about the behavior of school-aged children and teens?
We are an ungracious, blame-placing, grudge-keeping, impatient, negative and unthankful teaming mass of humanity. I am not saying things are all bad. I am not saying that God is not present. I am not saying that many churches aren't doing all they know to do to challenge their congregations and impact their communities. But I think we need to step back and take a long, hard look at our attitudes and our words and our habitual gossip and our tearing down of others. Especially as parents. As mothers. (Proverbs 31:26 ESV)
Here we sit and pass judgement on a Christian husband and wife who are raising their children Biblically and holding fast to truth despite what is "cool" or "relevant" in the world. Maybe they make us uncomfortable because as God's people we see them doing things we know we should do, too and we'd rather find a comfortable excuse to avoid being quite that dedicated.
Anyway, this isn't about Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, but about us as Christians. Not as humans, not as Americans, but as Christ-followers. The Bible commands us as God's chosen people to clothe ourselves with a list of attributes, namely: compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiving each other of complaints and above everything, loving each other (Colossians 3:12-14 ESV)
And there's nothing in there about only dressing up that way on Sunday mornings. It's Monday mornings when the coffee hasn't kicked in. It's the middle of the night when the baby refuses to stay asleep. It's the weekly grocery trip. It's when you're late and in a hurry and you slow down because it's not anyone else's fault that you poorly planned your day. It's when you're folding the fiftieth load of laundry and when you're sitting at a desk for ten hours, when you're standing in line, sitting at the License Branch and when your head is bowed when communion is served.
November doesn't make us sincerely grateful any more than December makes us raging to-do list obsessors. We do it to ourselves. We need to admit to ourselves that we are grown-ups, willing and able to exercise God-given self-control and behave in a manner that is in accordance with our faith claim (Philippians 1:27 ESV). If we don't want our kids to be rude, then we had better not be rude. If we want them to be kind, then we better be fair and charitable. If we want our children to learn about giving to others less fortunate, then they need to see us doing it. If we want them to value growing up in a family devoted to God then we can't sit back and tear down families who are doing just that.
Our kids need to see us grow up so they can.
"He has told you,
O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require
of you but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God."
~ M i c a h 6 : 8
Joel loves to read. Well, considering he’s 20 months old, what I mean is he loves his books. He has always had this thing where he’ll point at the pictures and then expectantly wait for you to tell him what it is. We are trying to get him to tell us what he is looking at and we are slowly getting there. He’ll be sitting off in his favorite corner, “reading” away and I will hear him say, “Duck!” And I will glance over and indeed, he’s pointing at a duck, but he’s not looking at the picture. He’s looking at me to affirm him. To tell him, “Good boy! That’s right! That’s a duck!” And I do. And he’s appeased and turns the page. But he doesn’t move on until Mom gives him a little confirmation and praise.
When he did this a few weeks ago, I had to smile. So like a man.
And I don’t say that with any malice or judgement. I married a man. A good, country, God-fearing man. And I love him. But I am learning more and more how the man works. How they think, what makes them tick, what aggravates them about us, their princesses. It’s been really eye opening and I maybe didn’t want to see all the truth at first, but now that I do, I feel like someone has dropped a book of secrets into my lap. I feel like I am seeing and hearing my husband better. And I get the sense that he feels very seen and heard, respected and affirmed because of it.
Told you. Man thing.
I recently read the book, “The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands” by Dr. Laura Schlessinger. I don’t know much about her, but I knew instinctively that much of what she said was true. To balance it, I would sit and read and when I came to a point that made me blink and kind of made my insides twist in that knowing, “Are you paying attention?!” way, I would turn to Aaron and ask, “Is this true? What do you think about this?” Kind of hoping he’d disagree and I could feel justified in whatever I was feeling. He never once disagreed with Dr. Laura.
And as uncomfortable as it made me to maybe admit where I was being less than hospitable to my own husband, or less understanding or loving, it was eye-opening. And what they say is really true - men aren’t that hard to figure out. (I still maintain that women aren’t either - however, women make themselves and situations more complicated than they should. They
do the whole expectation thing way more than the men.) Many times you will ask a wife if there are issues in her marriage and she’ll have a long list to hand you. Ask her husband and he’ll tell you everything is fine. And he probably means it. He has no idea of all the negativity and inner turmoil that is raging in your head. Which means your dissatisfaction has more to do with you than with your man. Which also means it’s your issue to fix.... not his.
We “know” the facts, but in our every day life, in our marriages, we don’t act like that’s real. We seem to think that what we think is going on is in fact reality. That because he’s not talking, it means our marriages are falling apart. Or because he’s low energy it’s because he’s hiding some deep dark secret, even though he says he’s simply tired. What happened to believing our men, of taking them at their word?
Did it somehow happen when we stopped seeing him as the hero?
When we were dating, I was completely understanding of Aaron’s work schedule, his sometimes late nights and his exhausted evenings. I rolled with it. I was proud of him and how hard he worked. I would make him his favorite meal. We would watch football and I wouldn’t complain or ask dumb questions. Once I even had a pizza delivered to his apartment, knowing he needed to chill and watch some basketball and unwind. We are crazy thoughtful, understanding, patient and respectful when we’re dating. We want to be with them, we think so many of the things that they do are “cute” (but then when we marry, they are annoying). We fall in love hoping he’ll never change, so satisfied with everything he is. But after we get back from the honeymoon, suddenly it seems we set to work on “changing him”. You loved him as he was enough to marry him. Why can’t that be enough to stay (happily!) married to him? To be happy together?
In her book, Dr. Laura quoted one of her listeners: “If I really believe all the things I say/think/complain about him, why on earth are we married? If I love him so much, why do I act so unloving and disrespectful? What will make him continue to love me if I continue to act in this way?"
One of my best friends has commented recently that there aren’t very many verses in the Bible about how a man should treat his wife (other than the broad spectrum of loving her) but there are multiple verses about the nagging wife. Our complaints are like waterboarding to our men. We may not thinks so, especially when so many of our “suggestions” seem warranted, justified, even necessary... but when you criticize you destroy feelings of love and tenderness towards the object of your criticism. It’s kind of hard to feel madly in love with someone that you feel aggravated with just by looking at them.
Dr. Laura further state that, “One of the most typical ways that a wife misuses power over her husband is by her angry disappointment.” Most of us are married to good-hearted, wants to do right by you, kind of man. That means they want to make us happy. In decisions in my own marriage, my husband will say, “I just want you to be happy.” If I pout and huff and am generally a brat, I am not only annoying him, I am hurting him. His intentions are my continued welfare and happiness. That’s why he works so hard. That’s why he maintains our house so well. He wants me to be okay. Content.
Women have lots and lots and lots of power in their marriages. This ain’t no lie. You exercise a little tenderness and understanding and suddenly you’re Super Woman in his eyes. It doesn’t take much to impress them. If you’re respectful, thankful, and understanding of the fact that he’s a human being that you love, not simply a human being who is put on this earth to make your dreams come true... well. You’re halfway to your happily ever after and then some.
The problem is, with great power comes great responsibility. And sometimes we would like to just be powerful and use our wiles to get what we want. Uh uh. That isn’t going to work, sister. Not in the long run. The power comes in when you recognize the responsibility towards your spouse, to treat them the way you want to be treated. That means being understanding when they need to detox from a hard week and watch football and not turn it into a “Why don’t you ever want to spend time with me?!” argument. He’s at home, in your living room. He’s not avoiding home (and that’s a compliment to you!) But so many times, the man isn’t cutting it if he’s not cutting it the way the wife wants to.
Nag, nag, nag. Drip, drip, drip.
Sometimes you need to stop and ask yourself if you truly honestly care when your man is going through, feeling and/or needing. Many times we don’t want to know what’s really going on with them, we just want to know they still feel all ooey gooey about us. All we want is a little positive reinforcement, we say. Just give me some compliments, a great hug, a Hallmark card and I’ll be good. Again, we’re making our issues, our ultimate happiness, his job.
That’s not his job.
And dare I say that sometimes women need to stop thinking like women and start thinking like men? Men are pretty black and white about things. “I do this because I feel this way.” But women make everything a house of mirrors at the circus. We can be pretty crazy. Men, well, they are rarely seen as overly emotional and unrealistic. They operate on facts.
What if we operated on facts?
When I step away from how I think marriage should be or how warm and fuzzy I would like to be treated or all the compliments I’d love to hear... when I look at the facts I see a long list of ways my husband loves me and is in love with me. When I go back to how he was when we dated and how much I adored him, was proud of him, etc., that’s when I realize he is still that guy. Nothing changed. What changed is that we got married and I suddenly had wild expectations about how life should be. Or rather how I should be adored.
We go from wanting to hang out with them while they work on their trucks for hours to rolling our eyes and feeling like we’re one foot to divorce court because they don’t bring us flowers very often. It’s kind of silly, really. When we’re dating we think about pleasing them, surprising them, making out with them (don’t lie)... but when we’re married, we start thinking of our needs and our wants and our levels of fairy tale level happiness.
And a man is not going to feel romantic towards someone who is never happy or sends the message consistently that he’s to blame for the discontentment. We have power to make or break our men. And that means we have the power to make or break our marriages. It doesn’t remove responsibility from the husband - that’s not what I’m saying. But what I am saying is that much of the issues or unhappiness in marriage stems from a woman’s unhappiness with the way her man is or is not doing something. And usually it’s little things. Don’t major in the minors.
There is nothing wrong with wanting happiness and warm feelings in your marriage. But they don’t come about in the way you would (or fairy tales) would have us believe. It’s not about kissing in the rain or surprises in little boxes or dancing in the kitchen (although these are all great things when they occur!)... Genuine warmth and deep happiness and contentment comes from a heart that is grateful, not a heart that is constantly in want.
When Aaron and I were dating, I marked on my calendar the 100th day we were together and when that day came around, I gave him 100 cards that I had made, each with a simple statement of how I loved him. A hundred little things. We’ve now been together over four years. Made a lot of memories. And a couple babies. And when I stop to think, there are many, many more things I love and appreciate about him. Maybe more than I could list if I tried. Especially when I stop thinking about my “You do this and it makes me want to shove your head through the wall” list.
Set fire to the score card. And pull out some paper and start making a new list.
"I love you for putting your hand
into my heart and passing over all
the foolish, weak things that you can't
help dimly seeing there, and for
drawing out into the light all the
beautiful belongings that no one else
had looked quite so far enough to find."
~ R o y C r o f t