Friday, February 24, 2012

Until I Didn't

As I threw his lunch in the trash and stormed out of the room in anger, my eyes began to well with tears.  I just wanted them both to leave so I could open the gates for the flood that was bursting at my ducts.  In the time span of 24 hours I had been dealt an emotionally crushing blow in my personal life that left me far less together than what I wanted.  This was not the time for wise cracks, jokes, and ungratefulness.  Sam looked at me in surprise and with a confused half grin on his face as if to determine whether or not I was really angry, and, perhaps whether or not I really just threw the lunch I made for him in the trash.  Though I wasn't completely sure why, I really was angry. "Ungrateful, unappreciative family," I thought resentfully to myself as I reflected over the last half hour of our morning together.  I was up at 4:30 to spend time with God and what a glorious feeling I had when I closed my Bible.  "God, no matter what happened to me yesterday, today is going to be a great day!" I affirmed with my Lord and  Savior, but it was less than two hours into the day after that when I exploded in an angry torrent over an unappreciated ham sandwich and baggy of peanuts. What had my day come to now?  It started with loud complaints from my seven year old over the scrambled egg breakfast I began to prepare.  "Mama, I don't want eggs," Ashton declared in an intolerantly whiny voice.  "Well, it's what I'm making, Ashton," I firmly replied, and at that moment Sam walked in with a request for oatmeal rather than eggs.  Simultaneous to this was Ashton asking me to get his school clothes for the day, to which I responded by telling him I was busy with breakfast and "you'll have to get them yourself this morning."  "But, mama..." the whining recommenced.  Meanwhile, Sam stood leaning against the chair talking instead of helping as I grew frustrated over having to prepare two different breakfasts, two packed lunches, and a weather appropriate outfit for my son - all at the same time and against the moving clock. I simply couldn't listen to anymore complaining as my already fragile emotional state threatened to crack.  I just wanted to hear something, anything, from one of them that would ease my building tension, but when it never came I grew angry, resentful, and mean - until I didn't. 

 After Ashton and I finally reconciled over the unwanted scrambled eggs, we sat eating together while Sam finished getting ready for work.  By the time he came into the kitchen, his oatmeal was ready and I was already back up making him and Ashton lunch, and from where Sam sat eating his oatmeal he could see everything I did as I packed their meal.  I finished his ham and cheese sandwich and proceeded to put wheat thins and peanuts in a Ziploc baggy for him.  Once I closed it and looked up at him, I immediately saw the surprised look on his face.  "What?" I asked with temper already on the rise.  "Nothing," he replied.  "No, what? You have something to say about the way I'm packing you lunch?  Is it because I mixed the wheat thins and peanuts in the same bag?" I asked in growing anger as I walked out of the room.  And then he said it - "it's just that when you put the peanuts in, you reached your hand into the jar to grab them and I'm just surprised considering you don't like it when people put their whole hand in there." With those words, I flew back into the kitchen as if riding on a broom, grabbed everything I had packed in his box, and threw it into the garbage.  "There.  That better?" I asked in hot rage.  He just looked at me with the confused half grin on his face, but within a matter of seconds I answered the question of whether or not I was truly angry by verbalizing to him how ungrateful he was being, and with that, my anger collided with tears and I just wanted them to go so I could cry my frustrations out. 

For those of you who don't know me, one of my obsessive compulsive issues is clean hands.  I wash my hands a lot and when there is a container of something like peanuts or a box of something like wheat thins, I don't like it when I see people just stick their hand in there without washing them first.  It makes it very difficult for me to want to eat from the box after that.  Hey, it's just one of my things, okay? I don't know where your hands have been and so I'd rather not share a box of something with you unless I know your hands are clean and I wouldn't expect you to just assume my hands are clean either.  I could have just finished helping my sniffling seven year old wipe his runny nose, or maybe I just came in from the garage where I scooped three cat litter boxes.  In either case you would like to believe I would go straight to running water and soap, but what if I didn't? Would you be quick to share a box of wheat thins with me? Of course not, and  I've seen people do some pretty gross things and then skip the hand washing process afterwards, so I'm pretty cautious when eating out of a box of food where many hands grab.  I see toilets and snotty noses all over my thins and peanuts, but before you judge me for being obsessive compulsive over this (I've literally listened to people make fun of me for this!), do a quick recap over some of your own issues.  We all have them, this is just one of mine.  Anyway, the point is - Sam knows this about me so it would have been safe for him to assume that prior to packing their lunches, I washed my hands (which I did), so when I heard him talk about it without first bothering to say "hey, thanks for making me a lunch," the already building explosion finally went "boom," and the remaining 10 minutes before he left for work were spent in silence - and he headed out to work without lunch.

Shortly after I threw everything away, I realized that I didn't even know why I was so angry, and in addition to that, I didn't want to be angry.  I decided in that moment to stop growing in anger and resentment and start growing in love and grace.  For starters, I was already emotionally taxed and far from recovery from something that had happened the previous day, and what I was looking for was peace through worldly, faulty means. I sought a mouthful of gratitude and praise from my family, so when what I got was whining and complaining, I quickly became the epitome of irrationality and wrath.  The problem here is not that they weren't giving me what I needed; the problem is that I was seeking my need fulfillment from two human beings rather than from God.  Yes, we need to build each other up, yes, we need to express gratitude towards our family, and yes, we need to show appreciation when people do nice things for us, but our validation should come only from God, not men, and not even from our own family.  When we seek it from other flawed human beings, we wind up resentful, bitter, and hurt when they don't respond how we think they should, and then the very act of kindness we started out trying to do becomes tainted and wrapped up in us rather than the intended recipient.  "Well, it's just common courtesy that she should say thank you," you might argue.  True, but place your need for that response in God's hands and you'll hear the sweet whisper of thanks come from Him, the only place from where you should be seeking it anyway. Acts of kindness cease to be about the other person when we start seeking fulfillment from them because if we have to have that reward for our kindness, then we were never truly being kind, at least not by God's standards.  Genuine kindness is it's own reward and completely independent from a need for recognition. We need to do nice things and treat our family well because it's what God tells us to do, not because we want recognition for our good deeds. Plus, if we can continue being kind without reward from man, God will reward us in a way and time so much better than man ever could. Have you ever done something nice for someone and never received a "thank you?" Most of us have and it hurts when our acts of kindness or generosity go unnoticed, but what's important is that God notices, and He is all we need in this life.  If you truly have this knowledge in your heart, then seeming ungratefulness from others becomes easy to slice through with the sword of God's Spirit - because we know that our true reward awaits us in Heaven.  Suddenly, absent gratitude doesn't hurt anymore.  When someone fails to show you gratitude for something you've done, just smile and remember that God thanks you, and when you've left this life, the reasons for someone's silence will be shown to you.  Expect to be surprised and humbled when that time comes, and remember that God wont ask you how someone responded to you when you did something kind; He'll ask you how you treated them after they didn't say "thank you."  If you feel bitterness or resentment rising in your spirit, decide to stop growing in those emotions and have an "until I didn't" moment where you turn from bitterness and resentment and replant yourself in love and grace.

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"And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." - Colossians 3:23-24 

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