I continue to learn how much growth I still have ahead of me.
Last week, I wrote the sage advice to “Be married to the husband you have, not to the husband you wish you had.” It really is good advice, isn’t it? The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, after all. It is easy to focus on what we don’t have rather than on what we do. I really should take my own advice to heart.
A few days after I wrote that post, Lori at The Generous Wife wrote about the “my house must be clean” tape running through her head. She said her kitchen floor had needed mopping for almost a week. I looked at my kitchen floor. It was absolutely disgusting. There was sticky stuff near the stove, sink, and refrigerator, and some people in my family aim for the garbage can about as well as they aim for the toilet. Sigh. I better mop the kitchen floor.
Then, at the beginning of this week, Paul (Lori’s husband) wrote an XY Code post about having mopped the floor. Sigh. I wonder if my husband knows where the mop is. Wait. Do I even know where the mop is? Did I mop yet this month? Why do I hate housework so much? Why can’t I even pick one place in the house to keep clean and uncluttered? Why is it that when I clear a surface, my family decides to cover it with their stuff? Why can’t I even keep the kitchen counter cleared off? I love to cook and bake, but I can’t stand to be in my own kitchen. Oh, dear, how am I going to bake pies and cook Christmas dinner in that kitchen?
On the morning of Christmas Eve, those were the thoughts going through my head as I stared at my own kitchen floor. We had several paper bags full of recyclables that needed to be carried out to the garage. I asked my husband, sitting in his favorite chair with his laptop in front of him, if he would please carry them out for me so I could mop the floor. He said he would. I worked hard on my counters and cleared a space for assembling pies. I cleaned off the stove. I took a soapy rag to the yuckiest spots on the floor so I could stand to be in the kitchen. My husband was still in his chair, talking with one of the kids. I moved the recycling bags out of the kitchen myself. I swept the floor. I moved the chairs out of the way. My husband was still in his chair. I mopped the floor. I was mad. How can he not see that I need his help? Why couldn’t he be honest with me that he wasn’t going to do what I asked? I explained that I needed it done so I could mop, and since I’m so clearly mopping now, why didn’t he at least apologize for not having done what I’d asked him to do? Why can’t I have a husband who mops the floor? Why am I in this all alone?
The rest of the day proceeded somewhat similarly. I ended up doing the vacuuming in the living room and unclogging the vacuum as well—twice. (Side note: The dog has been gone for six months, yet his fur still manages to clog the vacuum hose. And I know I’ve vacuumed since then. I fear his fur will be with us forever.) My husband made soup for Christmas Eve dinner, spilling on my newly mopped kitchen floor. I wiped it up. If he ever mopped the floor, he would know how important it is to clean up his spills. I baked the pies. I made the cream cheese mint candies.
I browned the sausage and assembled the breakfast casseroles for Christmas morning. By the time I got myself dressed for Christmas Eve service, I was sore and tired and still mad.
Christmas morning was pleasant enough, although I was somewhat growly. I’d woken up at 4 am with a headache. All morning I had a constant running list of things I needed to do to prepare Christmas dinner. I spent several hours of the afternoon cooking. I assembled vegetable casserole dishes. I went back and forth working on the different layers of a jello and cream cheese concoction. My husband sat in his chair, wearing his Grinch lounge pants, and watched movies with our daughter. I peeled ten pounds of potatoes. About three pounds in, I realized I was crying angry tears. God, why won’t he help me? Why is he sitting in there enjoying himself while I’m out here peeling ten stupid pounds of stupid potatoes? God asked me if I’d asked for help. No. I did that yesterday, and that didn’t do any good. God reminded me that not only is each day a new day, the recycling bags had been carried out to the garage at some point, with no fanfare at all. The work I’d wanted done had been done.
Six pounds in, I decided in my tears to ask God for help in getting through the stupid potatoes and in finding a lesson or a blessing in the fact that I was doing all the cooking by myself. God asked me what I really wanted. I want to not have to do all of this by myself. God told me again to ask for help. I can’t, because . . . God interrupted me, asking me again what I really wanted. I want to be important enough that he sees what I am doing. I want him to care about the fact that I am doing this. I want him to know that my knees hurt. I want him to come ask me what he can take off my plate for me because I want to know that he loves me and values me in a way that matters to me. I felt God looking straight at me. Oh, I see. I want to know that he loves me. That’s what this is about. It isn’t about anything getting done; it’s about me feeling loved. Oh.
It was Christmas Day, and instead of thinking about Jesus and how much God loves me, I’d been throwing an internal temper tantrum at my kitchen sink. I didn’t really want my husband to mop the floor. It didn’t even matter that he knew the floor needed mopping. What I wanted was for him to see me and all the things that mattered to me. I wanted him to desire who I was and what I had to offer. I’d been putting more worth in being loved by my husband than in being loved by Jesus. I finished peeling the potatoes and made our family’s Christmas dinner.
From the Innermost Self
Having been up early that morning, I went to bed early. My husband spent two hours with our son playing video games. As I lay in bed waiting for the Mucinex and ibuprofen to do their work, I downloaded some prayer and Bible apps to the new tablet my husband had given me for Christmas. I created a prayer list for struggling marriages. I created another prayer list for my family. How should I pray for my husband? I asked God. I’m not angry any more, but I need to pray for him to have a more loving and gracious wife; he certainly didn’t have one today. God pointed out that my husband wanted the same thing I did—to be loved and valued in a way that matters to him.
Aha. So for all those years, when he said he wanted me to want him, that’s what was going on? He didn’t just want sex; he wanted to know that I loved and valued him in a way that mattered to him—exactly like I didn’t just want a clean floor but wanted to know that my husband loved me enough to care about what matters to me.
I thought about how all the cooking I’d done had been done out of love, even though I’d let that love be clouded by my own grousing. Preparing food for my family matters deeply to me as a woman. I made all our food from scratch (except for pie crusts, since I am a disaster when a rolling pin is in my hands). I wondered if this was a tape running through my own head, that everything needed to be done from scratch—but I realized it wasn’t. I did this because every bit of heating and mixing and recipe hunting and stirring was an act of giving in a way that mattered to me. It was a giving of all I could give from my innermost self, doing the best I could do with what I had to offer. When my family eats what I’ve prepared and enjoys it enough that they come back for seconds, I feel loved and purposeful. What is that you ask now, God? How does Big Guy give from his innermost self? What does he believe is the best he has to offer me? Sex? I’m right? That’s what makes him feel loved and purposeful?
When my husband gives to me sexually, he is giving from a place inside himself that matters deeply as a man. When I refused him sexually for all those years, I was rejecting his core sense of himself as a man who had something to offer—just like I would feel if I prepared a Christmas dinner that no one ate. When I had duty sex, it was like people eating what I had prepared but eating quickly and not appreciating what I had done. When I put conditions on sex (lights off, only after the kids are asleep), it was like my family was insisting on where the food went on the table or limiting me to only one small spoonful of each item I had prepared.
My kitchen floor wasn’t the real issue, and neither was the fact that I was doing all the cooking alone. The issue was that I was trying to define what counts as “love.” I had spent the entire day being grouchy rather than wondering at the fact that God loves me so much that He sent the greatest gift of all to us when an infant was born in a stable that had to be far yuckier than my kitchen floor will ever be.
It wasn’t just the fact that Jesus died for my sins that matters; it’s the fact that God loved me enough to give this gift in the first place. After all the years of my reminding my kids that the giving of Christmas was more important than the receiving, it turns out I was guilty of doing just that. I was focusing more on the gift than on the giving. I added some prayers for my own heart on my prayer list app, and then I spent a good bit of time in prayer.
I heard my husband leave my son’s room. I thought about what he had given of himself that day and the day before. He had made soup. He’d prepared the Christmas ham. He had carried the recycling out to the garage. He had given time to each of our kids. He had been a good father. He had been a good leader for our kids, who as young adults still have much to learn from their dad. When I thought about it that way, my heart began to melt.
My husband came to bed and took me in his arms. He gave me a gift that only he can give, from a place inside himself that matters deeply to him as a man. And instead of feeling neglected or thinking about my kitchen floor or about the fact that I still had a load of dishes to put in the dishwasher this morning, I gratefully accepted the gift with which my husband blessed me.
It was much, much better than a mopped floor.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:17