As I sit at the dinner table tonight I know that there is a half empty can of green beans sitting on the kitchen counter that needs to be put away. I cannot quite see it from where I sit, but I know that it is probably still there. Of course there is no guarantee because you can never tell what will happen in this house. I am aware of the green bean can because it has taunted me all day long. I am not quite sure when it appeared or who opened it, who knows maybe I even opened it, but I have seen it several times today in passing and I have remembered it from a distance on numerous occasions.
You might be saying, "Why don't you just get up and put it away?" Well, the reason is that I am certain that between my departure from the table and my arrival at the kitchen there would be some interruption and a string of circumstances that would have my next conscious thought arise in some place like the back yard, garage, street, or head in the refrigerator wondering, "What am I doing here?" or "What was I looking for?"
No, I am not a total lunatic, nor do I have Alzheimer's, I have just been keeping seven of my children for the past five days while my wife is in Alabama visiting her parents. The green bean can has special significance for me for two reasons. First, it represents my own inadequacy and inability to accomplish all that I am called to do in this task. Second, because it teaches me how to love my wife in a more understanding way.
You see, I remember coming home from work one day a few months ago and seeing a half empty can of green beans sitting on the counter. As we were putting kids to bed I passed through the kitchen and mentioned to my wife the presence of the can and asked how long it has been out and whether it should still be put away. She said, "I think it has been there since lunchtime." I remember thinking, "I wonder why she didn't put it away," but I didn't say anything. I knew that she was extremely busy and decided that I would just be understanding and take care of it myself. I thought I understood then, but now I really do understand.
I serve as the Dean of a seminary where I also teach language classes. Last Wednesday I taught & administered seminary education from 7:30 AM to 5:40 PM. Then I took my son to basketball practice and headed home to teach my Bible study. After the study we put our children to bed and then I headed to the SF airport to send my wife to Alabama. I finally arrived home about 1:30 AM. So, needless to say, I started this whole adventure very tired. But that is okay. It dawned on me this week that my wife does this all the time. She is often up early and retires late, constantly working. I was simply feeling what she does regularly.
Then it started. I entered the adventure with the naive thought that I would still accomplish my work from home while homeschooling and taking care of the children. I soon relinquished that dream. Very quickly the realization that this was more than a full time endeavor seized me. Now, five days later as I prepare to pick up my dear wife from the airport I have come to understand her very much better. In 1 Peter 3:7 it says for husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way. This is my endeavor by the power of the Spirit and the grace of Christ.
Walking a mile in someone else's shoes definitely goes a long way to help you understand them and learn how to love them better (being patient and kind). This week I have experienced the types of burdens my dear wife carries - the weight she feels of being concerned with homeschooling seven children . . . are they learning? . . . am I doing a good job . . . is CPS going to show up and take them away . . . am I doing what is the wisest? - the concern over their character . . . reading to them, disciplining, discussing -- holding them accountable for their responsibilities and chores, three meals a day . . . are they eating well . . . giving out medication . . . making sure the guinea pig and the fish don't die . . . the cooking . . . the cleaning . . . getting them to swim team and basketball practice, changing diapers (7 times a day), getting them up, putting them to bed, overseeing their hygiene (brushing teeth, doing hair, getting dressed, taking baths, wearing deodorant), managing the mountains of laundry, the washing, the drying, the sorting, the folding, the putting away . . . living through the very simple constant demands --the questions, the requests, the social agenda of each child, the whining, the rebellion, the hugs and kisses, the hurts, bumps, and bruises . . . being the nurse . . . going to buy necessary clothes, supplies, food, etc. . . . cleaning up spills and bathroom accidents . . . getting them up and ready for church on time, doing pew training, . . . And this list could go on and on. I found that often I experienced unexplained fears and surges of emotion.
While I was at home I didn't even have to concern myself with homeschooling the youngest school age children because she had finished their work up through my days with them. I also did not have to be concerned with pleasing and serving a husband as she does.
Besides all of these things my wife also somehow does discipleship, ministers to people in various ways, answers e-mails, writes a blog, engages in photography, graciously handles interruptions, and TAKES CARE OF ME all while maintaining her spiritual devotion to Christ.
In the midst of my adventure many things went undone. The first thing that went out the window was any time or energy spent on myself. I didn't even think about shaving for four days. It was hard to find time to eat, get dressed or go to the bathroom. The newspapers piled up in the driveway, I cleaned no bathrooms, did not clean out the fridge, did very little yard work, and no extra things around the house. and there is the weight of looking at the things you cannot accomplish like putting away a green bean can. So it was easy to see how some things just never get done.
Let me say here, to exonerate my children, that they were very helpful throughout the five days. They have been taught to do many things, but even then there is the weight of overseeing their work in their responsibilities.
After all of this, it would be an understatement to say that I marvel at how well my wife takes care of all of her charge. She truly is an excellent wife far more valuable than rubies. I feel that many daughters have done nobly, but she excels them all. I will praise her to her face, before the children, and in the gates. But I marvel even more at what Christ can do in a life. I marvel at His grace, because having experienced a small slice of her life I marvel that she would not only be able to do this and do it well all the time, but that it is her choice to do this and she loves it and would choose nothing else. She serves her Lord in this way every day with joy.
I think I understand my wife better and her needs. I need to be constantly vigilant in remembering to pray for my dear wife, to encourage her, to give her rest and breaks, to give her adult conversation, to rescue her out of her burdens, to treat her to dates, to find ways to help her, to support her with the children, to demand nothing, to treat her with extra special graciousness, gentleness, tenderness, and affection.
One last thought that occurred to me during this process was how difficult it must be to be a single parent. My heart is broken to think of doing this all without a partner. Again, how amazing the grace of our loving Lord must be to enable single parents to persevere and even have great joy in raising children without other help. Lord make us all more understanding and compassionate toward each other. Teach us how to minister to each other.