Monday, June 2, 2014

Dearest Sister: You cannot love your husband and children

Dearest sister,

You cannot love your husband and children (or sister, or roommate, or best friend), on your own.

When I was growing up, I used to dream about one day meeting the man who would be my husband, getting married, and then one day becoming a mommy. The thought of serving a husband and family was so exciting. I dreamed about it almost every day. I could picture myself planning delicious, healthy meals, wearing my pink ruffled apron while cooking, with my husband coming up behind me to kiss my cheek and tell me the food smelled delicious, happily sweeping the floor and keeping a clean, welcoming home for him to come home to after a long day of work, and one day tenderly kissing the soft cheek of our beautiful sleeping baby as she peacefully drifted off to sleep. I would think about cute, special little things I could do for my husband to surprise him and let him know how much I loved him and was thinking about him- leaving notes in his lunchbox, setting the table for a romantic candlelight dinner, cooking his favorite meals, running to kiss him when he walked in the door from work. I couldn't wait to be married and to have a husband to love and serve.

The problem was, in my dreams of being a wife and mommy, it was all about me loving and serving. It wasn't that I consciously thought to myself that I could do everything on my own; it was more that I didn't realize how much I need Jesus each and every moment of every day. And becoming a wife and mom helped me to see this.

Marriage is wonderful, and it is a very special gift from God. My heart cringes every time I hear marriage jokes that allude to the wife ruling and the husband reluctantly going along with things  or  comments and jokes about the "honeymoon" phase ending soon or implying that we are just in the "newlywed" phase still and will soon start loving and enjoying each other less and begin merely tolerating each other more. Yes, it is true that marriage isn't a "fairytale." There are times of disagreements and times when it is harder to love and serve. But, I have found that those times are when I am focused on myself and when I am dwelling on what I think I "deserve" or am "entitled" to. But love, true Biblical love, is not about us. It is about giving of oneself to serve another. (Eph. 5:1-2) says, "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." To love as Christ loved (which we are called to do), is to give up oneself as Christ did (He didn't keep any of Himself- but gave up His whole self- even unto death- for us!)
So, I might be able to set the table with candles and cook Matt's favorite chicken casserole when I am in a good mood and focused on him. But I am weak, and in my sinfulness, focused on myself, I don't always want to think about Matt. I don't want to serve; I want to be served. Soon into our marriage, I realized this, in one particular instance which I vividly remember.... We were living in Fuller apartments (which we loved & we have many special memories of our year there), but cooking dinner was sometimes a little challenging with the one small amount of counterspace that the kitchen had. I was making buffalo chicken and had just taken it out of the oven. However, I had forgotten to think about where I would put it to cool, and our little counterspace was full of dishes. The pan was very hot, and my hand began to feel it through the thin towel I had been using to hold it. In a matter of seconds, the buffalo chicken was all over our kitchen floor- bright orange-red splatters all over the white cabinets and a puddle of orange-red right in the middle of our green kitchen carpet. Soon, I too was on the floor, crying as I stared at the mess all around me. Selfish thoughts like, "Here I am cooking dinner, and now it's ruined, and I'm the one who's going to have to clean up this mess too!" or "I shouldn't be the one cleaning this up. I have to cook and do the dishes...." (What had happened to the happy day dreams about cooking and cleaning for my husband?) Now, Matt does help me with the dishes, and he is constantly thanking me for cooking and cleaning for him. He has never once complained about something I have made. I am blessed by such a thankful husband. But, in that moment, I was so focused on myself that I began to feel bitterness rising. That was the moment I realized I could not love my husband on my own.
I could not fold his laundry, pack his lunches, or even kiss him when he comes home from work if it wasn't for Christ working in me. I cannot love Matt on my own. No matter how much love he shows me or how much he serves me or writes me letters or tells me he loves me or thanks me for cooking and cleaning, I would always want more. To love Matt, to really love him (like when dinner spills all over the floor), I have to be dwelling on Christ's love for me. When I am marveling at how He gave up His life for me, my heart is full and thankful, and I do not seek to satisfy myself or look for how I can/need to be served. Then and only then, can I love Matt. By God working in both Matt and I, we are able to enjoy the gift of marriage and of loving and giving oneself for another because of how perfectly we ourselves have been loved by Christ.

Mommyhood was a little more of a wake-up call. Somewhere amidst all of the 2, 4, and 6 AM feedings, I realized that being a mom wasn't all about tender feelings and soft kisses on a sleeping baby's cheek. Being a mommy is like being on a roller-coaster of "This is so precious, I want to remember this moment forever" and "This is SO hard! Please, God, help me get through this!" I remember when Annie was just a few months old, and she smiled up at me. My heart melted, and I told Matt, "We should have eight kids!" Then, after one night of four very interrupted hours of sleep, I informed him that I thought we shouldn't have another baby but just adopt children when they were two or three. Being a mommy is all about giving; you give your body, your sleep, your time, your energy, your kisses, your hugs- all of you- to serve this tiny little person. For me, marriage is easier than mommyhood because I am blessed with a husband who loves and serves me (though God calls me to love him no matter his response), but as a mom, this little person whom I am loving doesn't even know how to say, "I love you, mommy" yet. And to be able to love her in both her moments of precious toothless grins and in the crying, fussy nighttimes, I need Jesus. I have to be dwelling on His love for me and be relying on His strength to love and serve her joyfully and selflessly.

God uses people and circumstances in our lives to continually show us how weak we are and how desperately we need Him. And when we are weak, He is strong. And He gets all of the glory and praise- for answered prayers of strength and patience when you didn't get very much sleep, for giving you a humble heart to do dishes and laundry and scrub the floors, for keeping you full and satisfied with His love so you can show love to those around you- whether they are your husband, children, sisters, roommates, co-workers, etc. We praise Him because we see that we could never have loved on our own.

I'll love you forever and always,
Your oldest sis