May 25, 2011

The Magnitude of Speaking Kindly

Someone once said that my parents wouldn't raise their voices to one another if the house was burning down.

It's true. I really don't think they would. I have never heard my mother and father fight. Earnestly disagree, yes. But they always managed to do so with words, tones of voice, and body language that still conveyed kindness.

Growing up, I didn't understand how drastically different my home was from others in this respect. I noticed that other moms snapped at their children in frustration awfully frequently. But I didn't realize that those moms were the norm and mine was the exception.

Sometime in my teens, I started to hear the difference in the way my dad spoke to my mom, compared to other men's tones with their wives.

Have you ever noticed how, when you overhear someone else answer the phone, you can usually tell who's on the other end just by the way the answerer speaks to them? Most of us have a very polite initial answering voice, which then changes slightly depending on who we discover we're speaking to. If it's a business acquaintance, the conversation generally continues in a soft, kind, "how can I help you?" tone of voice. If it's a friend we've been waiting to hear from, we progress into a louder, bubbly timbre for chit-chat. Unfortunately, if it's one of the people closest to us- our family- we often convert to a short, dull style of speaking that implies, "Get this over quickly and stop bothering me." (If you haven't noticed this phenomenon, eavesdrop a little the next time you're in the mall or at the office, and let me know what you find.)

When my dad gets a phone call from my mom, it doesn't matter what he's in the middle of. He might be in a desperate rush to get somewhere. He might be deep into an important theological conversation. He might be in a real predicament. No matter what's happening when his phone rings, you can always tell it's my mom on the other end of the line, just by listening to his tone of voice. He speaks to her more kindly than to anyone else. My dad's a loving, patient man. He always has a kind voice. But when it's my mom he's talking to, there is an extra measure of concern and sweetness in his words.

Not only do my parents set the example by speaking to one another lovingly, they also made sure that their children learned to do the same. My dad has never allowed us to get away with an inconsiderate word towards my mom. Likewise, she doesn't tolerate speech that disrespects him.

Isn't that how it should be? Those we claim to love the most should have that claim affirmed to them constantly, not only in phraseology, but also in tone of voice and even body language.

Yet I'm just now realizing that this is a rare thing I grew up with, assuming it was normal— this habit of speaking with utmost kindness within one's household.

Having parents who implied love with every word was an enormous source of security for me both then and now.

Most obviously, I was reminded that my parents loved and valued me every time they spoke to me. Even when I was being disciplined and their words were not pleasant to me, my parents spoke those words in a calm, gentle way that conveyed they were acting with my good in mind. Rarely did they use a tone of anger or frustration with my disobedience. (When hasty words were spoken in frustration, my mom or dad would soon apologize.)

Another benefit was that I knew my parents treasured one another. As a child, when friends' parents are divorcing and you are beginning to realize that everything in the world changes, affectionate words and a constant stream of mere kindness between mom and dad are like an anchor. I never once doubted my parents would stay together forever. Even if I'd been looking for it, I would have found nothing in their actions or speech that gave me room to question their love for each other.

I hope that my words and the tone with which they are spoken never allow my husband a single moment to doubt my love for him. I pray that someday our children are constantly reminded of our love for them and for each other by the kindness in our speech. (Incidentally, my husband is fabulous at this. I thank him almost every day for the loving way he speaks to me.)

When I'm in homes where kind words are not the norm, I feel awkward. I may only be visiting there for a short while, but I don't know how to respond in the midst of a family that criticizes, complains, mumbles, and snaps at one another. I leave wondering if they like each other at all.

So I want my home- my husband's and my place of retreat- to be different. I want it to be the uncommon sort of home like the one in which I grew up. I want to choose to speak to my husband with kindness, with love, with respect, no matter what.

No matter what. Back to the burning house idea— there is never an occasion to speak unkindly. Even under stress. Even in disaster. Even when the matter is urgent. None of those situations negate love, and none of them negate the importance of showing that love by speaking with kindness.

May 12, 2011

Obstacle #1: Selfishness {Masquerading as Perfectionism}

Cheerful Vintage Dish Washer
A month ago I was so focused.

I was excited about finding ways to make our home a pleasant place.
I was excited about journaling that journey.
I thought the most important thing in my world at the time was creating this ideal environment for us to live in.Then my priorities were challenged in a big way.

My husband nearly died. I spent just over two weeks with him in the hospital. And he lost his job.

So here we are, a month later. Exhausted. Confused. Trying to catch up and fall back into some routine that resembles normalcy.

Last night I became the epitome of what I'm hoping to avoid.

My sleep patterns are still off-kilter from the hospital stay and the late nights that followed it. I haven't had more than a couple hours of sleep at night in a month. That's no excuse for what happened, but it clues me in that getting enough rest is indeed just as important as they say it is.
From the start of my work day at 7:00am to the end of it at 4:30pm, I was miserable. I had a splitting headache and could've slept on my laptop's keyboard. Looking forward to going home and seeing my sweet husband alive and well was my motivation from start to finish. Seeing him and then taking a nap. That was what I held on to.

When 4:30 rolled around and I walked through my front door, my greeter was not the wave of relief that I expected. As I passed through the living room, all I noticed were the blankets on the couch, the books on the piano, and computer cables on the chair. Dishes glared at me from the kitchen sink, and the floor felt sandy when I slipped off my shoes. I went into the bedroom to shut it all out, and there was our overflowing laundry basket. Every dirty sock or item out of place taunted me with my utter failure at making our home ideal, this thing I find so important.

I wish I could say that I promptly checked my priorities, thanked God that I was home and not at the hospital again, and spent a relaxing hour or two just chilling with my sweetheart.

I didn't. Instead I started muttering under my breath about coming home from work just to find more work. I tidied up the living room and cleaned the kitchen and did the laundry. Oh yes. But not without several hours of angrily tossed books, slammed cabinet doors, and footsteps that fell a little too heavily from the laundry room.

I allowed my selfish desperation for the "perfect" home environment to destroy any chance of creating it that evening. In those hours, I was defining my goal of "pleasant retreat" by what would please me and me alone. My husband didn't mind the less-than-spotless areas of our home. But I allowed myself to be consumed by what I thought would make home perfect for me, a showcase of my "perfect" housekeeping skills. In the process, I chose actions that altogether ruined the pleasantness of his evening.

He is a good man. A very good man. He washed dishes, helped put away laundry, and even vacuumed the entire house. But afterwards he escaped into the only form of peace he could find in our house that evening- isolation, a pillow, iPod, and headphones. I don't blame him. I would've wanted to get away from the maniacal cleaning madness that I became. I gave him the Proverbs 21:9 Experience.

Selfishness is the first obstacle to making home a retreat. When I define what makes a pleasant home solely on my own preferences, I disregard others' feelings. When I selfishly went after what I thought would make home ideal for me (a perfectly clean house), I completely wrecked my husband's idea of an ideal evening at home (stress-free time with his wife).

How do I get around this obstacle? Ideally, eliminate selfishness in all areas of life!
However, I'm a work in progress. So are you. So when selfishness rears its ugly head again (because I know it will), I've got to choose selflessness.

I've got to make up my mind that home as a retreat means home is a place where relationships- not my controlling demand for perfection- are the focus.

Keeping a clean house is truly beneficial only as it serves others. If I'm frantically scrubbing so that my reputation as a housekeeper will shine as brightly as the dishes, I'm operating out of selfishness. If I'm washing up some things so my family can benefit from having clean glasses when they want a drink of water, that's selflessness.

When my motive is serving the others in my family, chores become a work of love. Since I'm focused on helping my husband rather than on my O.C.D. inner voice, I don't feel like a failure if something more important interferes and I'm not able to achieve perfection by bedtime. It's all about priorities.

From now on, when I get home from work I'm going to ask myself, "What course of action would make home a more pleasant place for my husband at this moment: washing all of his socks or really listening to him talk about his day?"

Eradicating the ominous pile of socks appeals more to my perfectionism. But something tells me that more often than not, his answer would be the latter.