Could you make me a cup of coffee? Could you read this book to me? Could you get me some water? Could we have a planning meeting for my 2023 production of The Grinch?
These are some of the questions that make up the soundtrack of my day, from the mouths of my husband and boys.
And do you know how I answer such questions? Poorly. I may answer “yes” to most of them, but I do so through gritted teeth, or with an internal grimace and fake smile on my face.
At the end of the day, I might be able to say that I love my family—and by that I mean that I take care of their needs. But, I do it begrudgingly much of the time. I’ve slowly come to realize just how unpleasant begrudging love is.
Realizing the difference between begrudging love and love rooted in joy and freedom
Most recently I saw it in the way my husband loves me. One weekend he was supposed to have a long morning to himself to go hiking and hunting—and this was coming after weeks of working long days with barely a moment for himself. An opportunity for our son to go on retreat came up last minute that same morning, but would necessitate one of us staying home to watch the younger boys.
“I can watch them,” my husband piped up quickly as we talked about it. He happily offered to give up his free weekend to stay home so our son could have this special opportunity with me. I was impressed. If I were in the same situation, I would also probably to do the same if asked, but I would not be happy about it, and I’d hold onto the grumpiness most of the morning, if not the whole day.
To top it all off, we ended that day with a movie night after the boys’ bedtime. What movie had my husband chosen for us to watch on his night to pick a movie? It was a slow-moving family drama with a hint of science fiction (After Yang) — something he doesn’t like but knew I would love.
Once I started noticing how beautiful his responses were to me, how he loved me so happily and easily, I started to notice it more and more. I also noticed how often I have taken it for granted. I noticed it in my friends and extended family, too, and recalled all the times in my childhood and throughout my life that my parents and siblings have loved me that way.
I’m pretty good at doing the right thing, the loving thing. I like everyone around me to be happy with each other, and happy with me. But, my habit of doing the right or loving thing, and being praised for doing it has masked how selfishly I do it. Noticing the real love of other people has helped me tremendously.
So instead of continuing in my pattern of loving guardedly and selfishly—trying to protect myself and my time/my plans, only giving of myself partially so I can stay comfortable and not have to rely on other people—I am slowly learning to be fully alive.
It is exhausting to half-love people. My grumpiness takes up a lot of energy and mental space. I want to save that space to happily and freely make that cup of coffee, read that book, get that cup of water, or sit down and plan that 2023 production of The Grinch. Holy Spirit, help me, please!