Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
~Ephesians 4:23 (ESV)
Uhm… You Stink!…
Last summer I was called into my boss’s office for a private meeting. I could tell from his affect when telling me to come into his office that it wasn’t to give me a raise. After I entered his office and closed the door, at his request, behind me, he picked a piece of paper from his desk and began to read it to me. It was the department’s dress code policy which contained a clause about personal hygiene. He read the section to me and told me that there had been complaints about my personal hygiene on the job, specifically that I stunk!
Now, my boss is a nice enough guy, but he’s not the most well-spoken person in the world. It will often take five or more minutes of him stuttering, interrupting himself, realizing that he should justify this or that about what he’s saying and generally just seeming nervous of your potential reaction, just to get a simple point across. He also has a tendency of describing singular isolated problems as chronic in order to justify his address of them. Because he fears confrontation, he needs to make problems that he must address, chronic, ongoing etc. in order to remove any doubt that they need to be addressed. In this way he is able minimize the “I’m being a jerk” factor and the likelihood of confrontation. The problem is that he’s really not as clever as he thinks he is and these efforts are typically very obvious.
This was to be no exception. It really didn’t surprise me that I stunk. I’m not an overly hygienic person. I clean up nice for church and take a bath when my wife tells me to, but I’m not the sort that gonna spend a hundred dollars on cologne or stand in the mirror a half an hour each day fussin with one of those little sissy beards. I’m a hick! I have farm chores to do before I go to work, It was august in SC and I work in construction, on any number of days I probably wasn’t smelling my best by the end of the day. What surprised me was his assertion that “everyone” in the office had complained about it. “Wow, maybe this really is a problem”, I thought.
If the man was smart, he would have stopped there, but as was typical, he continued to justify his action by trying to further magnify the problem. Citing more and more examples of the profoundly detrimental effects of my stickiness to the operation of our office. “Yeah, even the guys who work for the contractors at the bridge have said that guy really smells”…
“Uhm, wait a min” I think to myself, we had been building a bridge that summer, but I had not been there much. I typically worked by myself in a truck following other work crews around. The only few times that I was there was to test the concrete – several hundred yards away from anyone working for the contractor. That be some wicked BO now! In addition to this, my boss is a desk jockey. He hardly ever is in the field and the few times he has been, he certainly doesn’t speak to contractor’s workforce. Something was fishy here and it wasn’t my armpits! Then his fatal mistake; “Especially when you in the truck with other people”, he says. Now there had been exactly once that I was in a work truck with another employee in the previous year. It was the day before. My mind reviewed the day instead of focusing on what he was saying – I could tune back in after another few minutes and figure out what he had been saying.
The day before, I had been told to come into work at 4:30am. They would be pouring a concrete deck at the bridge and it was better for them to do so in the cooler hours of the morning than mid-day. I spend the morning testing concrete; a process that involves hauling wheel barrows of concrete from the concrete truck to the test area, mixing the concrete by hand with a ice scoop, filling cylinders for test samples etc. In short, it’s moderately heavy work and even in the wee hours of a South Carolina August morning, to be considered sweaty. Upon returning to the office later that morning I was instructed to drive one of the engineers to another job site, in a swamp approximately 90 minutes away in order to perform an erosion control inspection – it was 103 deg F, when I preformed the inspection, which involved trudging through ditches in order to examine drainage control systems and bush axing into the brush which surrounded the site.
It became clear to me what had happened now. The engineer with whom I drove to the swamp site that afternoon is his assistant and a woman. Women working here is a relatively new happening and I really don’t think he knows how to conduct himself around her. He’s so concern about appearing intensive to her as a woman that he ends up being overly sensitive to her. I’ve literally watched this man suspend the work he was doing on a 12 million dollar bridge project and take the afternoon to order her a mouse pad – “Is this color ok? How about this one with the gel on the edge?” Back and forth from her desk to the secretary’s office, all afternoon, making sure that just the right thing was ordered. This is a man that took 9 months to get around to ordering me thermometers and other equipment, necessary for me to do my job, because he was simply too busy.
She was not particularly pleased that she had to accompany me that afternoon to the swamp and was a bit grumpy both on the way there and on the return trip to the office. It was apparent to me what had happened. In that grumpy state she must have said something about me stinking after we returned in the presence of the boss. Now he went into “save the princess” mode. He was going to show her what an effective leader he was – what a tight ship he ran. As God as his witness, she’d never have to be subjected to the foulness of my stinky armpits again!!!
Now I’m pissed! Not because of the embarrassment of being called stinky. I was stinky. I’m stinky all the time. I actually work for my money. I probably could pay more attention to my hygiene. Put a little more attention into my appearance and the impression it will produce. I just don’t really care. I was pissed because this was being made to look like something that it really wasn’t simply so that he could impress some girl. I was caught in the middle of some kind of office peacock strut, being put down so that others could make themselves feel good. But I was mostly pissed because no one could see my side of the story.
What neither of them had known is that part of the problem that day is that I had run out of deodorant and didn’t have the money to buy more until my next paycheck. Times had been really tight that summer. I had lost a bunch of overtime by taking off for my wife’s hospitalization and my subsequent hospitalization, she had quit her job and I just wasn’t making the amount of overtime that I had the year before. Our account was overdrawn, the mortgage was behind, they were threatening to reposes our vehicles, and I literally only had five dollars in my pocket to last us until my next paycheck still several days away. I can remember later that afternoon, standing in the grocery store with that same five dollars in my pocket. I had a gallon of milk in one hand and deodorant in the other and stood there seething as I tried to decide if it was more important to not let the baby go another day without milk or to not get written up for offending someone with my BO.
I’ve sometimes wondered since that day, how my boss would have felt if they had known those things. If he understood the choice that he would be forcing me into that day. Would it have changed his perspective of the situation? Would he have reacted less severely? Choose another issue on which to assert himself? I’m quite certain it would have made a very big difference in the way that he handled things and I guess the moral to this story (if there is one) is that sometimes people stink for very good reasons.
I wanted to talk about empathy and its place in the process of forgiveness. Preacher Google tells me that nowhere in the bible is the word “empathy” used, but there is a number of places where it is displayed or instructed.
“compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous . . .”
~1 Peter 3:8 (NKJV)
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Jesus himself shows great empathy a number of times in the gospels:
The Harvest Is Plentiful, the Laborers Few
35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, qlike sheep without a shepherd. 37 rThen he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
~ Matthew 9 (ESV)
Through the Eyes of My Monsters…
You know I decided to write about empathy almost a week ago and have been staring at a blank screen for the last few days. Maybe awaiting inspiration, maybe I just don’t have a clue about empathy, but then something happened that really served to show me what I needed to be writing about. My wife and I had a fight last night, actually the last two nights. It began, simply by my noticing a particularly scowlfull look on her face and asking what was the matter. “Nothing” she replied, but I know from experience that regardless of whether or not something is wrong, this will be her first reply. In a little while, I asked again what was wrong. Again, “nothing” was her reply.
Really, nothing makes me more nervous that the word “nothing” coming from my wife’s mouth. The word represents a complete dichotomy with respect to what may be going on with her. A double edged sword which simply cannot be handled without doing some sort of injury to myself. “Nothing” may mean nothing, but it has also very often meant “nothing that I can tell you”, secret, horrible things that are anything but nothing. It’s so difficult for me to distinguish for instance if she’s just frustrated with the boys and nothing really is the matter or if the fact that her face betrays her words means that something much deeper is lurking. If nothing means nothing and I push too hard, nothing becomes “you’re pissing me off for asking”, if nothing means something and I don’t push hard enough, nothing becomes a very big something in very short order. The word literally strikes fear into my heart.
I usually err on the side of the latter that is the assumption that nothing is the matter really means something is the matter and as we got in the bed that night, I asked again. “Baby, what is the matter? Did something happen that you don’t want to tell me?”, then, I don’t know why, I can only attributed it to my own stupidity; I asked the one thing that I know will invariably set her off “you’re not being sneaky again are you?”
Oh Lord, now it was on… I’ll spare y’all the details of the 24 hours which followed this and let it suffice to say that it started with “why the hell can’t you just leave me alone” and ended with “I’m trying to stop hating you” and along the way involved plenty of ignoring one and other, the word “bitch” (me), the word “asshole” (her), the expression “F*** You”, (her) and a lit candle thrown at the wall (me) as well as both of us bringing up stuff from the past. There was some beer involved, but really not much. I had maybe five that day starting about 1pm and she had about two. It was now past eight and both of us were well before our sloppy drunk stage. Both of us were holding fast to the things that we simply refuse to give up. Me insisting on my right to be treated with respect and to communicate with my wife when I think that something is the matter. Her insisting on me getting past the past and believing her when she tells me that nothing means nothing and to be left alone when she wanted.
Well, on this particular night “nothing” didn’t really didn’t mean nothing and all kinds of stuff surfaced for both of us. I regret to say that this is really our primary form of communication. My wife despises talking about things so much that it is often necessary, when I see that something is wrong, for me to incite that type of rage simply to get her to engage with me. Only then, after this rage and assuming that this process does not also put me into a rage, when all the rage has subsided, do we find the issues have been put out on the table for us to consider. It’s a horrible way to communicate, I know, but I honestly don’t know any other way. I debated whether I would write about communication or empathy first and decided to first tackle empathy as the understanding of such was probably necessary for any meaningful discussion of communication.
After the candle, I was done being angry – it often switches off quickly like that for me. She was still angry, but as I began to speak more gently she eventually backed down as well. Now what I have just described to this point, could very well have been any one of two dozen nights at my house since the affair, but what made this one special is something she said to me after we made up and were lying there falling asleep. She talked about a woman at church who recently lost a baby and how it was difficult for her to talk to her. That she didn’t thing that she should have any right to try to give advice to another Christian give what she had been doing last year. That she wasn’t worthy. She continued saying that the therapist had asked her last week about dignity and pride and that she didn’t know what the difference was, but she didn’t think that she had either.
In that instant, something changed in my heart and reminded me how much I loved this woman. For the first time really since the affair, I saw her not as the source of my pain, but as another soul crying out to the world also in pain. I felt sorry for her and in that instant, wanted desperately to find a way to give her the dignity and pride that she so desperately needed.
I didn’t really understand the difference between pride and dignity either, so we googled it. I’m still not sure that I do. Pride has more to do with a good feeling about something you’ve done whereas dignity has to do with a good feeling about yourself. Something like that. She was crying silently now and I wanted to say something to make her feel better but didn’t know what to say. “Well, why do you think you don’t have dignity Baby?” was what I managed.
“I don’t know, I just don’t feel like I deserve to”, she answered.
“Because of last year?” I asked.
“Yes” she blurted, “and because of everything. My whole life”
I’d like to break here in order to share with y’all a little about my wife’s life. She’s had it pretty rough now. Like me, she grew up pretty poor, but unlike me, her family was absolutely crazy. I don’t mean crazy like “Please don’t make me have dinner at the in-laws” crazy. Crazy like Grandmother killed herself in the attic with a hatchet crazy. Crazy like Mother has been hospitalized and medicated for depression crazy. Crazy like Father had schizophrenia and killed himself with a shot gun crazy. Crazy crazy!
The lattermost of these events (her father committing suicide) occurred in my wife’s presence. I’ve seen the police report. Her father, as I have mentioned, was mentally ill and would often abandon his wife and young daughter and simply disappear for long periods of time. Her parents separated and on the night that he killed himself, he, my wife (then two), his girlfriend and her young boy (also about two) were camping. No one really knows what happened that night. The police report says suicide, my wife’s grandfather thinks that my wife’s mother found him there with his girlfriend and shot them, what certain is that my wife and that other little boy spend the night in that tent after both my wife’s father and his girlfriend were dead. Now clearly my wife, then being only two, has no clear memory of this, but still, can you imagine growing up knowing that? Knowing that you weren’t enough to keep that person from killing themselves? That you weren’t worth them sticking around, dealing with whatever they didn’t want to deal with?
My wife’s mother had a very hard time dealing with this and placed my wife in foster care for several years following this while she worked on her own recovery. My wife also remembers very little from this time, but still has always had the knowledge that it happened. When her mother was stronger her mother took her back again.
At the age of 8 my wife and four other girls were watched by a couple from their kingdom hall (Jehovah witness) the man, who was one of the elders in that congregation, would each day, take one of the girls back to his workshop, where he would molest them. My wife doesn’t like to talk about it much, but from what I understand I don’t think he had sex with the girls, but it was far more than pats on the bottom and inappropriate kissing. Think insertion and masturbation that sort of stuff. When she told her parents, who were also members of the congregation, they did not believe her. The abuse lasted for almost two years.
I promised myself that I was not going to go off on the Jehovah Witnesses here, but it’s my considered opinion that they’re horse shit! It’s one of those things that looks enough like Christianity to make you think “yeah, there a little wacky, but they’re Christian enough”, they’ll even refer to themselves as the only true Christians, but at their core they are something very different than Christian and the closer you look the more you realize that the organization is really something very horrible that market’s itself as Christianity. It’s like one of those bad dreams where you see someone who you think is your wife or your Mama, but then when you get closer they turn into a monster. Their allegiance is not first to God or Jesus, but rather to a dozen or so men that live in a tower in Brooklyn NY, called the Watchtower. This watchtower refers to itself as a profit, but has time and time again made predictions which have failed to come true. They instruct their followers that they are not intelligent enough to understand God’s word and must study it through the watchtower’s publications so that it may be interpreted for them. These publications also instruct and control virtually every part of the Jehovah Witness’ life. What they watch on tv, their music, their friends, their medical decisions, financial decisions, how much they should be witnessing, how they should be witnessing, what they can eat, drink, smoke… These “instructions” are so stringent, that they are just plain impossible to follow in their entirety. None of them can, but they all believe that everyone else is. The impression that each one of them has is that they are the only “bad person” in the congregation. If they were a better Jehovah Witness or loved God more, then they would be able to follow all of the rules set forth, but because of their own inherent ungodliness, they cannot. So each of them do what all the others do which is to watch what they want on tv, read what they want, listen to what they want etc. and then pretend that they don’t. It’s literally an entire organization comprised entirely of people who in their hearts believe that they are deviant, but God understands pretending to not be deviant. Terrifying!
Growing up like that has got to take a toll on your self image! Since a very young age, my wife has been conditioned to think that there was something wrong with her. That she herself was deficient in some way, which prevented her from knowing that joy which is God’s love. She knows full well how to play the role, but deep down knows that she would always have to find collateral ways to happiness. Her association with the Jehovah Witnesses ended when she married her first husband. Him not being a Jehovah Witness, it was prohibited for them to marry. When she did, she was “disfellowshipped” a process which involves the intentional shunning of all members of that organization including her family.
That marriage was tumultuous. When they married my wife knew that he was dying of cancer. He was addicted to drugs and although they loved each other very much, the relationship was plagued by abuse, abandonment, fights and infidelity. He died very young and I believe my wife thinks that this too was her fault for abandoning her Jehovah Witness faith.
After his passing, my wife returned to live with her parents and the congregation which had shunned her for leaving to be with her husband. The quickly arranged for her to marry another single man from the congregation a marriage which produced my stepson. This was a very unhappy marriage from the beginning and my wife was now wholly depressed, addicted to drugs and willingly participated in affair after affair the last of which was me. I have also heard things from my wife and stepson which led me to believe that there was physical abuse in this marriage as well.
Now that’s a bunch and I am certain that there will be those that read this and say “Wow! That’s a bunch!”. I am equally certain that there will be those who will read this and say “I’ve seen/heard/been through worse!” And the truth is that yes, even a past like that does not entitle someone to the type of selfishness that my wife has shown, but even I, who most likely am the one person who has the greatest justification to not excuse this woman, has got to read that and think that a life like that is gonna leave a mark. A spot that Ajax won’t take away. Time and time again in my wife’s live she has not only been told, but shown how worthless she is. How vulnerable. How expendable; “you aren’t valuable enough for me to choose life over death”, “you aren’t valuable enough for me to keep you instead of taking time for myself”, “you aren’t valuable enough for me to respect the purity of your youth over my base need to jerk off while touching you”, “you aren’t valuable enough for us to make a fuss at the kingdom hall in order to stop the man abusing you”, “you aren’t valuable enough for me to stop hitting/abandoning/feeding drugs to/ take you in the woods and screwing you!”. “I’ll tolerate you as long as you don’t become more of a burden than my use for you will warrants.” Time and Time again – her whole life!
Should it really surprise me that a person who has been used that much in her life should herself become a user. That she doesn’t know any other way to relate to people? That stamped into her mentality is the notion that everyone is full of horse shit! Pretending to be something just to get what they want from her? Is it really that far of as step to go from “Daddy couldn’t/wouldn’t protect me” to “God my father can’t/won’t protect me!”? Should I find it to be shocking that she may also not trust God’s word or will for her.
And how does a person like that find acceptance? We all crave, need and seek out acceptance for ourselves. We require that validation that we’re worth something. Christians seek it in fellowship, Atheists seek for it on atheist message boards, children seek it with other children. If we can’t find it in our church, we leave our church. If we can’t find in our jobs, we leave our jobs. If we can’t find it with our parents, we leave our parents. If we can’t find it in our marriages we leave our marriages. Where do you go, though, when you honestly believe that you’re not worth anything? That you have no value? That nothing decent can recognize anything decent in you? … “Oh, how about a drug dealing scum bag (y’all proud of me that I didn’t say nigger. I’m trying. That chapter’s coming) who drives a moped around town because he lost his license and who can’t hold a job for longer than a few months at a time! He’ll accept me! He can’t judge me! We can pretend that we’re both not worthless together. Tell each other tales (true or not) of our woe, pretend to believe each other’s nonsense and use each other to justify what we’re doing!”. It doesn’t surprise me.
The Harvest Is Plentiful, the Laborers Few
35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
~ Matthew 9 (ESV)
What’s going on here anyway? When I look at a crowd of people, I don’t automatically feel compassion. Some of them might have very nice lives! Better than mine; swimming pools in the back yard, nice cars, wife’s that haven’t cheated on them. He must of known that some (even most) of them would not follow him, some may have even been going to be responsible for putting him on the cross. Why would Jesus feel compassion just from seeing a group of people and what is this about harvest and laborers? What does that have to do with harassed sheep? Here’s what; when Jesus looked at the crowd, he didn’t only see them with physical eyes as we do – this guy needs a shave and smells like wine, that woman has a reputation, that guy over there has his zipper down, what a dufus! He saw them with spiritual eyes. He saw not only what they were, but what they could be. What they were designed to be. But they are lost, helpless and need help to find their way home.
That kind of help is not easy to provide. In fact it’s a lot of work. I live on a small farm, so I can kind of get the agrarian reference. We’ve never had sheep on our farm, but I can speak for goats. You don’t ever trust a goat to do the right thing! A goat will test a fence like he was going to get paid when he got out! And once they do, you better not have any place to be that afternoon and certainly no place that requires your clothes to be clean, because if you want that goat back, you are going to spend your day chasing him through the woods, dodging trees, crawling under brush and about wanting to shoot the dang thing before you will be able to cajole him back into the pen.
Now producing a harvest is a hard work to, but at least the cotton doesn’t try to head butt you in the ass. If you’ve ever kept a garden, then you know that with any sort of crop, all of the work is up front; plowing, tilling, planting, fertilizing, insecticide, hoeing, fighting back weeds and insects and birds and your neighbor’s dog, by the time you get to the harvest your work is pretty much done. It’s exciting. It’s time for your reward. Everybody wants to help when it’s time to pick the pick the tomatoes, but strangely enough everyone’s real busy when it’s time to hoe the weeds. It’s not very dignifying work; crawling around on your hands and knees, trying to yank out he nutgrass without breaking the stem and leaving the bulb to sprout up again next week, flicking grubs into a bucket for the chickens. There’s not much pride associated with walking out the garden, covered in mud with a basket full of weeds, not nearly as much as walking in the house with a big basket of beautiful beefsteak tomatoes. But that’s the work that is necessary to get to the point where you get the tomatoes. In a manner of speaking, we must sacrifice our dignity in order to gain it. We must look ahead to the dignity that’s to come.
Still though, if Jesus is saying that the harvest is ready, but yet there are so few available workers, well then how did the harvest become ready? Who pulled out all that nutgrass? Who fed all the grubs to the chickens? Who planted all those seeds to begin with? Surly if there was enough workers to finish all that work, then there should be plenty to spare available just to pick the fruit. Hold on now, we must not be gardening alone! Someone else was there. Someone else has been working. Someone else is helping with the really tough stuff! The stuff that for us as Christians is really just beyond our ability to do. All Jesus is telling us to do is to give one and other the dignity of gathering the tomatoes, placing them in the basket and bring them into God’s house for his glory.
Back in the Bed…
So when my wife said to me last night through her tears, “I don’t think that I have any pride or dignity”. I need to see that as an opportunity to serve God’s glory by validating her. She’s telling me what she needs to feel whole. What she’s always been missing. Her lack of pride, her lack of dignity, her lack of value is like that nutgrass squeezing the life out of the decent plants, sucking more and more of their nutrients, water and resources away. She’s telling me that the reason that her tomatoes are withered is that the nutgrass is choking them out and that what I’ve been telling her is that helping her weed is beneath my dignity, I just want the tomatoes. I really am an ass sometimes.
OK, so she needs pride and dignity, how can I give her that? I better look at those words again.
I think that in order to understand the difference between pride and dignity we must first take a look at the difference between self-esteem and self-respect. In the most simple (and I like simple) terms, my understanding of the basic difference is that self-esteem had to do with what you “think” whereas self-respect has to do with what you “do”. Whereas self-esteem is internal, self-respect is something that is necessarily external to ourselves. Self-help gurus love to talk about our self-esteem – “What you need to do is reduce your feelings of shame through the power of positive thinking. We can show you how, for just three easy payments of $19.95, but wait, act now and we’ll also send you the egg-o-matic! Never feel the shame of not being able to peel your hard boiled eggs again!” Sounds great! Let me have some of that! I want to feel good about myself! Here’s the problem:
Charlie Manson had great self-esteem!
That guy simply loved himself! Happy as a clam convincing folks to kidnap and murder people. As long as he feels good about himself, that’s what’s important right? Sometimes a poor self-esteem is just good common sense! Self-esteem is what my wife and this man were giving each other when they sat in the woods telling each other about how horrible their lives were and why they so deserved to continue their adulterous affair. Our thoughts change day to day, sometimes moment to moment, how in the world can we use them to gauge our self-value.
As opposed to this is self-respect. Self-respect has to do with things outside of us – what we do! Observable, measurable things that our wacky though process can’t deny. I’ve kept this family under a roof and put supper on the table as best I could through all this! My negative thoughts can’t deny that. Here we are warm tonight with some supper in our bellies. My wife doesn’t have that right now. The best she has is; we’re alive despite my efforts. That’s gotta suck! I don’t think I could value myself either with that hanging over my head. The thing is I can’t take it away, she did all that stuff, I can’t simply pretend that it never happened. Believe me, if I could have figured out a way to make it have never have happened, I would have done so a long time ago. Still though, it’s over, she’s done, I’ve forgiven her, I have to let her begin that process of learning to respect herself.
Pride has to do with the positive feelings we get from how we see ourselves. It gets to our self-esteem. That’s why we can envision both positive and negative connotations of the word pride. No one want’s to be thought of as a prideful person, but being proud of my kid for making that diving catch a the ball game –maybe that doesn’t seem so bad. But what if I’m proud that my kid is so much better that that little girly looking kid in right field? Like our self-esteem, it’s subjective, a function of things going on internal to ourselves and will therefore always be subject to our internal moods. I can make my wife feel good about this pie that she baked, or this dress that she looks nice in (and I should) but to what extent will that ultimately alter her sense of self-value. It may right now, but tomorrow when she’s feeling bad about herself, my compliments will seem fleeting.
Dignity gets at our self-respect. I have value because, my kids value me. I have value because, even thought my kids don’t see it, I love them unconditionally, would give my life for them and provide for them to the best of my ability. Now that’s something real! Because I can feel like poop about myself tomorrow and our house will still be here reminding me of my value to this family. I’m not perfect, but I’ve tried to serve God, stay in his word and follow his will for me. I can’t deny that stuff based on my mood. I might be able to deny it to others. Convince others that I a good Christian, a good worker, a good husband, a good father etc. I can fool myself into improving my self-esteem based on what others think. Pride in things that I know are false, just because I’ve fooled everyone else, but when I’m alone with God, there’s no lying about it. Self-respect/dignity has some more girth to it now. Even when I screw up, I can look at my track record and see that yeah, I may be being an ass right now, but all in all, I’m not so bad. I can’t challenge it by my wack-a-doodle thinking. It’s there in front of me or it’s not. And maybe, if it’s strong enough, my dignity can begin to outweigh my wack-a-doodle thinking.
That’s what I want for my wife! Dignity! That’s the stuff! Where can I buy it for her? Thing is that you can’t – I checked on eBay. There’s none for sale. I can’t buy it for her and I can’t give it to her. It has to be something she builds for herself. How does one encourage that? In 2 Kings 4:
The Widow’s Olive Oil
1 The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the LORD. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.”
2 Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?”
“Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.”
3 Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. 4 Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.”
5 She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring.6 When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.”
But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing.
7 She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.”
All right now! I know something about the indignity of poverty. I felt it that day in the grocery store trying to decide between buying the bar of deodorant and a gallon of milk. What we see here is Elisha helping this woman to develop her own dignity. A couple of things I can see; first Elisha doesn’t contribute to her indignity. It’s so easy for us to do so. It’s so easy to say to ourselves, “oh his armpits stink because he’s too lazy to take a bath.”, or “she hurt me because she’s just evil.” But that’s not what Elisha does. He says, straight off – “how can I help you”. That’s key. He doesn’t just fix it for her. He doesn’t just take over and pay her rent. That’s me. I want to take over, handle things, fix what needs fixin. I know what to do and you don’t either have to worry about it. I’m in control. I got this. The problem with that is what I’m communicating is “I’m in control, because you aren’t able to be in control”. I’m stealing her dignity!
The next thing he does is guide her to consider the resources she does have. When my wife is well, she is quite simply put the most loving and caring person I know. She’s a wonderful mother. Is intelligent, funny and loves God with all her heart. I forget to remind her of that, because it is so obvious to me. What I have to remember is that when you have creditors threatening to make your children slaves you tend to forget about the bottle of olive oil you have in the kitchen.
Now Elisha, directs her to her faith. “What the heck!” the woman must have been thinking “I only have one jar of oil! Why in the world would I ask all the neighbors for all these jars? They’ll probably think I’m crazy”. You see she went and got an ass of jars, not just a few – a testimony to her faith.
Then, behind a closed door, for only her and her boys to see, God provides for this family. The oil pours and pours and fills each jar that she secured via her faith. That’s awesome! Even in the old testament God has compassion. He looks after those who have faith in him. What’s notable here is that he lets her do it herself. He doesn’t boar his way in with her saying “here give me that bottle. This is too important and you’ll probably just spill it anyway!” He allows her the dignity of building her own dignity. He allows her this private moment with God. Again that’s huge, because had he not don’e so the widow would never had seen that it was on her behalf that God was acting, not Elisha’s. That she was of value to God as well. God had her back and not just his buddy Elisha’s.
Now don’t miss the tail ending, because it’s something to which I really need to pay attention. She goes and tells Elisha, who just says “well alright! There you go! Pay your bills and get on with your life.” That’s it and that’s all. No, “hey check me out! See how much I did for you”. No, “see how better you would be if you just were more like me?”. No, “The reason you got yourself in this pickle is that you were a dope about this or that.” Just, “well alright! There you go.”
I need to learn to shut my mouth like that. I need to stop stealing my wife’s dignity in order to bolster my pride. I need to stop worrying about my self-esteem and the expense of her self-respect. Stop fussin about how her nutgrass is choking my tomatoes (that almost sounds a little dirty) and help her fill her own basket with the harvest. Lord Jesus, please help me learn to do so. Because at the end of the day I know, that her value and my value are the same. That my value as a husband is a function of how much she values herself. That sometimes we all stink and there is a reason for it. I love my wife and I want more than anything for her to feel the gift of dignity.