I ran over my littlest toe with a grocery cart Sunday afternoon while I was in a mad rush to prepare for a party in our home. We were hosting the yayas and drivers Christmas event for the Tan-Chi side of the family. Nearly forty people were coming over in three hours and I hadn’t prepared my part of the food contribution, finalized all the game mechanics, or finished decorating. My toe was the unfortunate causality of my flurry.
During the party, I was the game master by default. Naturally, after two hours of standing on my feet yelling out instructions, my toe swelled uncomfortably. I actually thought I might have broken it when I began to feel the pain and it turned black and blue.
Edric came down to check on the party, and I showed him my toe. He was very sympathetic and concerned, asking if I was alright. Even though I appreciated his pity, there was no time to baby my toe because I had to head to the kitchen. We had another set of guests arriving for dinner, around thirty people, and I didn’t want to take my househelp away from their party.
While Edric shared a short bible study with the yayas and drivers, I cooked a pasta dish, put a salad together, and made dip for the chips with my mom. (My sisters-in-law and my mom helped with food as well so it wasn’t like I had to do everything.)
The yayas and drivers with their families after the games…
By 7 PM, the guests were settled in and dinner was served. The party had come to a close downstairs and our househelp could finally assist me in the dining room. My toe had been throbbing so I resorted to limping to alleviate the pain. It felt great to be able to sit down after so many hours and relax with our company. Finally, I can enjoy myself, I thought.
However, shortly after I was engaged in an interesting discussion with the women at the table, Edric asked me to serve him. This really annoyed me. Even though I didn’t manifest it, I emphasized my displeasure by hobbling more obviously. He didn’t notice because he was equally engrossed in a conversation with the men, at the other end of the table. Our table is fairly huge so he was a significant number of feet away. But still…I grumbled to myself…I told him earlier that my toe was in bad shape, and he knew I had been on my feet for a good number of hours hosting the party and getting dinner ready. How could he be insensitive like this?! If he was really mindful of me, he would serve himself.
My mom was at the “buffet” table and I made the mistake of whispering, “I’m annoyed because Edric asked me to get him something when my toe is in bad shape.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. Edric and I tell couples not to do this! It’s a good thing my mom isn’t the type to take sides just because I am her daughter. She will set me straight by offering another perspective. In fact she said, “It’s okay. He works hard all day.”
I knew that she was trying to be encouraging, but the judgemental thoughts began to percolate in my head and I felt hurt by Edric. I didn’t bring it up that evening because I was dead tired and crashed when the guests left. But last night, over an unimpressive slice of carrot cake at an unnamed coffee shop, while Edric and I killed some time before a dinner engagement, I commented, “I think if I contributed income to our family, you will be more reasonable about me serving you.”
Edric had no idea what I was talking about. He gave me a scowl that translated into the statement, “Whoa, whoa, what do you mean by that? We need to talk about this.”
I don’t know why I drew the conclusion I did but I suppose my main point was I wanted to be treated with more respect and courtesy. And as illogical a connection as I had made, I thought there might have been some merit to saying if he knew that I worked hard everyday because I had a desk job that he esteemed instead of housework, homeschooling, parenting, and hosting dinner parties, then perhaps it would increase his mindfulness of me. Perhaps he wouldn’t ask me to get up during dinner when my toe is hurting to bring him a bowl and spoon for his ice-cream!
So it was just a bowl and spoon but the timing of his request made me feel like he was totally inconsiderate of me. Of course, Edric requested that I clarify my ill-stated observation. I finally blurted out, “You asked me to serve you when you knew my toe was hurting me.”
With sincerity, Edric replied, “I’m so sorry hon, I totally forgot. I was so caught up in the conversation that I didn’t think about it when I asked you. You should have signaled me somehow or reminded me about your toe and I would have gotten the bowl myself. I hope you realize that I am not that much of jerk…that I would not knowingly ask you to serve me if you were in pain. You don’t think that about me, do you?”
My reply was, “I guess you left me no choice because I had just informed you about my toe and then you still asked me to serve you. So to me, even the forgetfulness was hurtful.”
“Okay, there’s no excuse for my forgetfulness either. Will you forgive me for that?”
This was part one of our dialogue. I’ve rephrased some of the statements but this was the gist of it. The next part continued while we were running this morning…
I began with, “So let’s just be clear…What if I was very tired because you knew that I was busy with preparations for a dinner event or activity in our home, would you still expect me to serve you? This question was posited as we ran up a hill.
His reply was, “Yes. I’ve equipped you with an army of household help and a driver so the answer is yes. It’s not like we are living in the U.S. where you and I have to do everything. Our circumstances are very different. Managing the home is your department, so you need to be on top of these things.”
“Wow, it’s like there’s no margin of error with you. Isn’t marriage also about teamwork? Like we are a team and we help one another out?” I countered.
“Give me some credit. When we were first married and didn’t have househelp I was in charge of the dishes.”
“You would leave the dishes for days in the sink.” I snickered.
“Still, I did them.” Edric said.
It’s amazing how much physical fuel you get from a marital discussion. I felt like each exchange pumped energy into my muscles to run!
“I suppose I just want to know that you will respond positively if there is an exemption. Like that night when the yayas and driver were enjoying a party? What about those instances?” I was looking for some reassurance.
“Well then tell me ahead of time so I can adjust my expectations, because in my mind, this is your department. So you need to manage parties we host in our home. But yes, I will rescue you.”
“I’m not sure I believe you.” I was skeptical.
“Well if you are going to think that way, we aren’t going to make any progress.” He began to sound annoyed. (I was being kind of annoying.)
“How come it seems like your tone is antagonistic?” This was unnecessary but I’m allergic to harsh decibel levels. We were now headed back home.
“So I have to say this in a sweeter tone for your to believe me?”
I was quiet. My thought was, YES.
In a sweeter manner Edric announced, “I-WILL-RESCUE-YOU.”
We smile at each other and he raced me home. He beat me.
At home, the third part of our dialogue ensued while working out our abdominals on the floor.
He was lying on his gray yoga mat and I was sprawled out on my purple one when he proposed, “We have to practice what we preach. What do we teach other couples about roles?”
“Do your part.” I must confess that I said this without too much enthusiasm!
“That’s right. So don’t worry about my responses. You do your part. I will worry about my role.”
I’m going to cut the story here because I’ve covered the most essential parts of it. My preconceived notion was HE KNEW about my toe. His honest confession was HE FORGOT. My interpretation of his forgetfulness was HE WASN’T MINDFUL OF ME. His sincere explanation was HE WAS DISTRACTED. My argument was WHAT IF I AM REALLY TIRED will you be reasonable about your expectations for service? His response was, generally, NO BECAUSE WE’VE DELINEATED ROLES AND I’VE EQUIPPED YOU WITH THE PERSONNEL TO HANDLE THE DIFFICULT WORK SO YOU CAN FOCUS ON ME. However, he did add that if I really needed him to be flexible, of course HE WOULD UNDERSTAND AND RESCUE ME, especially if I managed his expectations by communicating my need before hand.
So that was the end of the tale of my injured toe and the ice cream bowl and spoon, and here is what I learned/re-learned about marriage:
My initial inability to receive Edric’s confessions as true – that he had simply forgotten about my toe and he was distracted — told me that I had pent-up notions about Edric that assumed the worst rather than the best of him. I had judged him without hearing his perspective. Overnight, I cooked up some pretty destructive emotions.
Yes, Edric can have a bad memory. Yes, he can be insensitive. However, I’m accountable to the Lord for the thoughts I entertain. Edric’s uncommendable behavior (which isn’t frequent by God’s grace!) cannot be an excuse for me to harbor resentment towards him, leading me to forgo my desire to serve him and meet his needs as a wife. In the future I must be careful of poisonous presuppositions that begin with, “If Edric loves me he won’t…If he loves me he will…”
Edric loves me. Period. There’s no need to fill in the blanks.
Is it always a perfect love? Certainly not. I can’t promise him a perfect love either. But in marriage, he and I must begin with the assumption that we love one another and we mean well. To assume the best and not the worst is to hope in the heart transforming work that God is doing in Edric’s life and in mine. Christ is causing us to love one another the way we should.
Furthermore, I would like Edric to believe that when I make a mistake as a wife and he is the unpremeditated victim, I don’t will-fully want to injure his heart. Similarly, Edric would like to believe that when he messes up as a husband and I get hurt in the process, it’s not because he wants to be unloving towards me. It’s when he or I formulate judgmental conclusions based on appearances that we develop hostile feelings which eclipse our love and trust for one another.
“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” John 7:24
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.” Luke 6:37
What if a spouse makes wounding choices consistently? Wouldn’t it be logical to assume that this spouse doesn’t love her husband or his wife? Might I propose a different perspective? When a spouse thinks, acts, or speaks in habitually hurtful ways it’s not because they don’t love their husband or wife. It’s because they haven’t experienced the love of Christ, nor do they love him in return. Love’s starting point is not Christ but the self. A love whose source is the self will miss the mark — the higher standard of Christ-like love.
A husband and wife must therefore strive to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength first (Matthew 22:37), after which they can love their neighbor (Matthew 6:38), also known as one another!