I was having the sort of morning that begins with the sound of two little boys screeching, continues with the discovery of two diapers filled with explosive runny poop, proceeds to a snit from Bugaboo over the Sunday morning TV ban, and is escalated by the realization that the only sound I hear coming from our bedroom is my husband’s rhythmic snoring. My thoughts started that horrible death spiral that starts off with, “I’ve been up dealing with every unpleasantness imaginable, and you’re in there getting an extra couple of hours of sleep.” The actual thought was a little more profane than that, but my understanding is that there are some younger readers of this blog.
With a very definite anger setting its hooks into my consciousness, I slammed open the laptop and prepared to launch a little screed on Facebook. God has a way of smacking me upside the head with a metaphorical brick when the kids’ hugs and tears don’t cause me to realize that I’m about to do something stupid, and He got me this morning with a one-line post from a young friend of mine, who is to be married Tuesday.
She had posted, “I give up stuff for you.. You won’t for me!!!”
Gee, that’s exactly what I was thinking. I don’t know the exact circumstances that caused her upset, but I do know mine. How humbling it was to realize that with all the emphasis I’ve put on how we can show love for one another this past week, I had missed a fairly essential part of the lesson myself.
Most people are familiar with at least part of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians; it’s often heard at weddings, and reads thusly:
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor , and if I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profiteth me nothing.
4Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil; 6rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth; 7beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall be done away; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall be done away. 9For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; 10but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away. 11When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things. 12For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known. 13But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
Love does not consist of expensive presents or passionate exchanges of bodily fluids. It is a complete gift of self, a gift for which we expect nothing in return. Granted, in all of human history, there has been exactly one Person who loved perfectly, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to give it, flawed as I am. It is the reason I thank God for our children’s strong lungs when they’ve been screaming all day, and the reason I was ashamed of myself for letting that spiral of rage get started just because my husband, who works 60 hours a week to provide for our family, then spends most of his days off either giving me a break from dirty diapers or helping one or more of our aging parents take care of things they are no longer physically able to do for themselves, needed an extra hour or two of sleep this morning — after he got up at 3 a.m. to take care of Baby Guy so I wouldn’t have to. The only reason I know he did it is that I saw the empty bottle in the sink this morning, and when he exited the bedroom this morning, I asked him when our tiniest tribesman awoke. Then I found the pants stained with what the diaper couldn’t hold, neatly folded on a counter so they wouldn’t stain anything else, so obviously, he dealt with that too — all without complaining or raging at any of us. Real love, the kind that comes from the gift of self, doesn’t worry about whether the time or place is convenient. If I let it, it will fill the spaces in my heart where anger seeps.
After lunch, we insisted Bugaboo and Beanie take a nap to sleep off some of their crankiness, and my husband went downstairs to play with the boys. Smudgie decided he’d had enough of being cooped up in the house and refused to come inside, so we gave him the run of the back yard for a while. I decided to lay down on the couch for a few minutes, and, after a few minutes, the male half of our household came back upstairs. Mr. Man, carrying one of his favorite books, climbed up onto the couch and laid down in the crook of my arm, looking at me hopefully. I never thought it would be such fun to read a book about Cheerios, but it always makes both of us smile.
When I finished that one, Mr. Man succeeded it with a half dozen more. Around the middle of the third book, my husband said he was still a little tired, so he was going to take Baby Guy into our room and lay down, since the couch was fully occupied.
While Mr. Man was retrieving his eighth book of the day, I closed my eyes for a moment; reading without my glasses gives me a headache, but I hadn’t really wanted to go find them and break Mr. Man’s rhythm. Moments later, I felt a little kiss on my lower lip, then a honk of my nose, then the snuggling of a not-quite-two-year-old boy against my belly.
I suppose I drifted off, because I was startled from sleep by the sound of a Scribble ‘n’ Write crashing to the floor. Glancing at the clock, I noticed about 45 minutes had passed since we had let Smudgie out, so I gave Mr. Man a hug and a kiss, then headed downstairs to retrieve our giant puppy. Mr. Man followed me down the stairs, so he could retrieve his blankies from his bed. When I came back up, the big guy was standing at the top of the stairs, crying because he couldn’t find me. I picked him up and hugged him, sat back down on the couch and talked quietly to him while he cuddled against my shoulder.
In the meantime, Smudgie, having emptied the water dish, took up his position on half of the loveseat, using the arm of it as a pillow. Mr. Man pointed to him and observed, “Puppy. Muzhy [Smudgie] puppy.” I replied, “Yes, Smudgie’s sleepy. He played outside for a long time. He’s cold, too, so he’s trying to get warm.”
Without further ado, Mr. Man gathered his blankies, rolled off the couch, tucked Smudgie in with his beloved blankies — the best things he has, in his view — and gave him a little kiss. Then he turned to me and said, “Shhhhhh,” before giggling his way down the hall to see what the noises coming from his sisters’ room might be.
I find a tremendous joy in realizing how much I am loved, and how many opportunities there are to learn new ways to love other people. The Lord has blessed me with much to give.
Today’s prayer: Lord, You defined love for us, and set an example of self-sacrifice that none since has been able to approximate. You have blessed me with a husband and children who give freely of themselves, and a husband who sets a tremendous example of sacrificing for the good of our family while expecting nothing, not even a word of thanks, in return. Thank You, Lord, for these gifts, for these proofs of Your love, which I did nothing to merit, and for Your gentle reminders that expecting something in return for love is no love at all, but a commercial transaction. Please keep me mindful that not once have You asked me, “What have you done for Me lately,” and help me to rejoice in the opportunities You provide me to love, instead of cursing the inconveniece.