January 16, 2019

Sacrificial Service When You're Tired

The following post was commissioned by one of my Patreon supporters, who asked me to answer this question: "How do I show my husband value by meeting his needs when he gets home at the end of the day when I also have put in a full day and am exhausted?"

Thank you, Leigh, for making the "By Faith" podcast possible through your support! If you'd like to join her and others in supporting my work (and find out how you can commission a blog post), find out more here.

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When my boys were small, I distinctly remember standing at the stove, stirring a pot of spaghetti sauce in preparation for dinner, with a small child clinging to my leg, and hearing the garage door open. My husband was home from work, which I was glad for, but the noise and clatter of my other boys running through the house rattled my nerves, and I still had much to do in order to get food on the table. When he came in the door with a smile and arms open for welcome-home hugs, I watched as the boys ran toward him, but I myself did not go to him. I turned back to the stove and to my suddenly very important spaghetti sauce, excusing myself from warmly greeting him as a subconscious silent protest: look at all that needs still to be done, and look at who is doing it! I tried with my darting and dashing around the kitchen to manifest the old cliche before his eyes: a woman's work is never done.
The truth is that I was being stubborn. My husband and I had previously had a conversation about what we'd like to see different in our marriage. I'd myself asked for the feedback: "Are there little things that I'm not aware of that would make you feel more loved?" The only thing he'd mentioned was the moment he returned home after work. "I'd like for you to stop what you're doing for just a moment and give me a hug and kiss. That's all," he'd said. My husband rarely requests such specific changes, but I thought it was silly. Didn't he see that all I carried in a day--three young children, housework, volunteer work, part-time work, ministry, shopping, and cooking--came to a chaotic crescendo right when he returned home? Couldn't he see that I was already serving him through all of this? A hug and a kiss was frivolous and could certainly wait.

Again, the conversation. Again, the request. He didn't raise his voice (he never raises his voice). He didn't condemn (he never condemns). He again asked that I intentionally greet him at the end of the day.

Of course it was so much more for me than a simple greeting. And my response to the request said so much more about my heart than about my busy day. I didn't want to serve; I wanted to be served. I wanted reprieve from my day-long service. I wanted him to see me in action in order that he might validate and appreciate my service. No matter that he'd been pastoring, leading, shepherding, counseling, and managing all day. His arrival at home meant it was finally my turn to receive.

I know how ugly this sounds. Your heart may not be so ugly, but we all at some point are challenged by life's circumstances to serve and give, not because we're looking for return, but out of our love for God.

That's what I realized Kyle's request was challenging. It was not that I didn't love my husband or want to please him. It was that I needed a deeper well of love to draw from when my emotions, will, and energy were completely dry. I needed to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, imitating his sacrificial service in honor of his Father. It didn't matter if he was feeding people or teaching. Everything he did, he did with an eye toward God the Father.

We, too, must consider all we do to be for God. Our service may be directed toward people and benefit them in some way, but the only way we can pour out our lives for others is if we're serving "as unto the Lord."

The greeting of my husband at the door was stubbornly hard for me because I'd made it about me. But if I were to think, "This is a way I can love God (and of course my husband too)," then the choice is clear before me.

So for those of you who are serving while you're dry to the bone and exhausted to the core, here are a few suggestions:

Have the Conversation
Sometimes we put ideas in our own heads about what is expected of us and others around us are not actually expecting those things. It helps to ask a question: "How can I help you?" or "How can I show you love better?" and ask for practical answers. The response may be as simple as a greeting at the door, when, as I assumed, my husband wanted a perfect meal on the table just when he got home. My assumptions had made me grumpy and consistently dreading his arrival. Having the conversation also allowed me to say, "It's helpful to me that when you come home, after we say hello, you take the children from the kitchen and give me space to focus on finishing the meal."

Don't Spew or Stew. Express Your Needs
One of the best lessons I learned early in our marriage was that I needed to be able to label my own feelings. Before I learned this, my typical way of handling my emotions was to spew them out in every direction at the exact moment I felt them. My poor husband couldn't process everything coming at him, and sometimes he'd stop me and say, "Can you help me understand exactly what we're talking about right now?" I wanted to scream. Don't you know based upon everything I'm throwing at you? No, he did not.

My other typical way of handling my emotions was to stew in them, not say a word about them, and fully expect my husband to recognize what I was feeling. I didn't even know what I was feeling, and I expected him to read my mind?

I honestly was afraid to share my true thoughts, feelings, and needs, not because he made me feel unsafe, but because I'd never done it before in a healthy relationship. I slowly began to learn that I must take time to pinpoint exactly what I'm feeling and thinking. What is at the core of what's bothering me? What do I need from my husband in this? Answering those questions allowed me to know myself better but also to go to him with unemotional, clear requests.

When it comes to weariness and potentially needing a moment to yourself (especially if you've been at home all day with small children), ask for what you need from your husband, and be as specific as possible: "After dinner is cleared away, I'd love about 20 minutes in our room to read or text with a friend or take a bath." (Or whatever is your jam.) Let your request be something that recharges you for the evening ahead.

What I'm describing is not being demanding or unreasonably expectant. I'm describing a simple request for help. Sometimes, however, our requests cannot be met in the moment, and this is when we need to know Christ's love.

Know Love
You are greatly loved! Christ indwells you by his Spirit, and so you are never without him, his love, or his help. There are many times we will not feel the desire to serve. There are times we'll wonder if anyone will meet our needs as our requests go unheard. I've found in my own life that I can trust him to care for me, especially in those moments that Paul described as "being poured out as a drink offering." In his help, we have everything we need in order to sacrificially serve. We are never more like Christ than when we're serving others, and the good news is that he sees everything we do in honor of him.