Stupid in Love

Image created at Canva.com
Image created at Canva.com

I’m thirty years old with a ten-year-old marriage and a one-year-old son, and I’ve realized I’m stupid in love.

Not stupid in dreamy, teenage girl love, or romantic young woman love. Those are some of the false notions of love paraded in media and in our culture, and I know all about those. Those are the kinds of love that get you into trouble with teenage boys, and that get your foot through the door of marriage, but rarely any farther.

No, I’m stupid in agape love. God’s love. The love that chooses to love when someone is unlovely, when someone is angry, when someone needs you all the time and can’t return a favor. How did it come to my attention that I’m stupid in love?

Largely, The Love Dare, which I first blogged about here.

The opposite of agape love, says Love Dare author Alex Kendrick, is selfishness. And sadly, I know all about selfishness.

Boy, do I.

I had some holes in my growing up years that went unfilled—not to make excuses, just to provide some background if you’re new to this blog–and I spent my twenties first trying to survive, then crawling out of my hole of depression, and then working to further improve my newly non-depressed self.

I sought degrees, careers, publishing credits, and pats on the back from friends, church members, and family—because these investments weren’t risky…I knew I could keep them, no matter what.

One of my accomplishments was co-writing a book called The Hidden Half of the Gospel. It’s a book about how Jesus can heal our suffering, because he went through everything we did. And through the writing of that book, and through participating in the accompanying prayer ministry, I did largely heal from my suffering.

I began to open up to people like never before. I began to seek relationships. I began to spread the healing message I had learned in prayer groups and women’s ministry. My social life became the fullest it’s ever been. And I even decided to take the risk of having a child.

I thought I was pretty well equipped for this new job of motherhood and homemaking, what with all the healing I’d done.

Well, I wasn’t.

Yes, I had experienced the love of Jesus pouring into my heart—that’s what healed me from my own childhood wounds. But over the past year-ish of parenting—and especially since we’ve moved to St. Louis, where I mostly sit at home with my husband and son, stripped of outside relationships, accomplishments, and recognition—I’ve realized I’m not well equipped at all. I’m bad at putting my husband and son ahead of myself. I’m stupid in love.

It shows up in my short temper with Buc for not helping clean our new, tiny, easily dirtied kitchen. It shows up in my irritation at Sam for waking at “inconvenient times,” or for taking up “my” writing time. It shows up in my resistance to embracing the fact that THIS IS MY CALLING; THIS IS MY LIFE’S WORK RIGHT NOW.

The Love Dare has honestly helped me more than any self-help book I’ve read—and I’ve read a lot—because it is getting my mind off myself. For most of my twenties, I thought the best thing I could do was to focus on improving myself, because I was a miserable creature. But while “self-directed self-improvement” is sometimes called for, too much of it can ruin your heart for others. I think this is where I was before The Love Dare.

There’s not much room on my bookshelf these days for novels, memoirs, or light reading. Cookbooks, parenting books, and “others-directed” self-help books are what I’m into right now.

Before the dare, I was still too focused on developing myself and my career that I forgot my roles also include homemaking, wifehood, and motherhood—because God created women for these roles. I’m not saying he created us for these things exclusively, but when we have husbands and children—as I do—they should definitely be top priorities.

Yes, I needed The Love Dare to challenge me, to move me out of my prideful high place, and to put me back in the driver’s seat of God’s callings for me of wife, homemaker, and mom. I needed a “self-improvement program” that judges my progress within the context of how much time and effort I am putting into others—because where we spend our time (and money, if we have it) shows what we really love.

At this point, I’d say I’m still “stupid” in love. But I am learning. Day by day, and dare by dare. Slowly, my life is beginning to look more others-centered. 

It’s amazing the time I’ve found to take care of my home and family now that I’m putting them first. Here is a “family wall” I’m working on so that Sam won’t forget his relatives.
The second best “others-directed self-help” book I’ve read recently is Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe. The coauthors Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson have pointed my attention to the importance of small details in the home, like straightening a bookshelf, lighting a candle, or playing music to create a pleasant home atmosphere. (This bookshelf still needs work, but it’s better than it was!)

  

This was my to-do list one day last week, and I had to stop and laugh, and take a picture, as I considered how my to-do lists have changed in such a short time. (Wipe out sticky areas of the cupboard? Really? I bothered to put this on the list because I didn’t want to forget this nagging thing during Sam’s nap time. Free times in short supply make one really prioritize daily goals!)
Enjoying lunch out yesterday with my sweet boy, after his fifteen-month appointment.

Daring to Love: The Ultimate “Self-Help” Project

love dare
by Author Alex Kendrick

This week I wrote on my Facebook page that I’m addicted to self-help books. But that’s softening the problem. Really, I’m just addicted to myself (that’s the human condition, you know). But this week, and for the next month, I’m working to change that through reading and performing The Love Dare, which you might remember from the movie Fireproof.

I’m one week into “The Love Dare,” or the forty-day challenge of doing something specific for my spouse every day; and already I feel that it’s is changing me. From my words to my actions to my thoughts, I am being challenged to be kind to my husband, give him the benefit of the doubt, and extend grace. Oh, and to be the first to initiate these loving traits, even if and when he doesn’t deserve them. It sounds kind of hard. But it hasn’t been, not really.

I’m a nerdy sort of a girl who likes to learn things from books, who likes step-by-step instructions. The Bible gives me the core principles on love (God is love, love keeps no record of wrongs, I should forgive seventy times seven times, etc.), and it also give me the perfect example in the life of Jesus (because Jesus is God in the flesh)…but The Love Dare, with its day-by-day steps, has given me a format that my personality loves.

As a Melancholy wife, I’ve always felt I needed to keep some kind of record of Buc’s wrongs; it was my job to correct him and perfect him (sound familiar, women?). In fact, trying not to nag Buc has been my biggest challenge during our ten years of marriage. Want to know what the first dare was? (Did author Alex Kendrick have me in mind when he wrote this?)

“Speak only positive words to your spouse,” and “if you can’t be positive, don’t say anything at all.”

Even if I had stopped there, I think I would still feel a change at home.

It’s actually a relief to be told that, for today, and for the next thirty-nine days, my task is not to say anything negative to Buc. (I even have a place to check off each dare, and a page and a half to journal about my thoughts each day!) As I’ve continued to implement my daily dares, it’s been a relief to know that my words will not cause any arguments for the day; it’s a relief to have decided beforehand that any negative thoughts I will “take captive” to Christ–I will not say them to Buc.

I can’t say I’ve done a perfect job in my first week of dares, but I can say my home is more peaceful; many petty arguments have been eliminated; and my new thoughtfulness is often being returned. All in all, The Love Dare is positively impacting my home environment, and it’s probably doing as much to refine my character as any self-help book I’ve read. Who knew that putting others above yourself (in a healthy, Christlike way–not in a martyr-like, self-effacing way–of course) was actually a form of self-help, too?

And now, dear [Lindsey], I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. (2 John 1:5)

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.. (1 John 4:7)
God knew, that’s who. I’m so glad to serve such a wise God, and I look forward to learning more about his character as I practice loving my husband better.

Hamster Wheel Days

It’s 7:30 a.m. I’ve just tucked my fourteen-month-old, Sam, in for his first nap. Yeah, I know. That’s early for a nap. But we’ve been awake since 4:30. “It’s another hamster wheel day,” a voice tries to tell me, after a series of events like teething, traveling, and sickness that just won’t let us get back into our sleep routine. But then another voice replies, “Maybe not. You don’t have to live constantly struggling to catch up and never getting anywhere. You have choices.”

I have choices.

I’m not blogging this morning to complain. Well, maybe a little. But I’m making a big effort not to complain to my husband this week, or ever again…and I also have a need to express my feelings in order to work them out. I have expressed my feelings to God numerous times, and I am trying to make him my foremost confidant. But a blog audience is a nice audience to complain to, if you need to complain. I can talk about my struggles without being tempted to attack—like I am tempted to do with my husband—and I usually get some encouraging comments from my sweet readers. If nothing else, pounding the keys of the keyboard does something good for the anger inside me.

God is doing a work in me. He continues to do a work. Through this motherhood gig, he is pointing out sins that I wasn’t previously ready to confront.

Hello, selfishness.

I can keep blaming other people and circumstances for my frustration—there are always plenty of excuses. Or I can take responsibility for my actions and my attitude.

The fact is, I’m not (mainly) frustrated because Sam’s sleep is erratic, or my babysitter cancelled again, or my husband doesn’t help with meal cleanup. I’m mainly frustrated because I am selfish, and I have not planned for “interruptions” in my plans.

I am selfish, and I struggle to see motherhood (and wifehood) as my first duty and calling. I am selfish, and I have tried to neatly portion out blocks of time that are “mommy hours,” and blocks of time that are “me hours.” I am selfish, and I have not lived as Jesus Christ, giving my whole self—my body, my time, my attitude–as a living sacrifice. I am selfish, and I have wanted motherhood to happen on my own terms, not on God’s terms.

I have been deeply convicted that my failure to love and appreciate my husband and son in the midst of inconveniences or upsets in schedule are rooted in selfishness. So I am putting my eyes back on Christ—because I need his supernatural patience and love to get me through these “hamster wheel days.”

I have choices.

I can’t right now choose the time of day I want to study my Bible, or choose how long, or even totally choose what hours I want to sleep. (While I am doing what I can to sleep train, factors outside of my control like teething, sickness, and travel back and forth from Texas are legitimate struggles that cause regression and necessitate some babying.) But I still have choices.

I can choose to own this stage of early mornings and night wakings not as a tragedy, but as an opportunity to grow patience and self-sacrifice. Practically, I can also choose to nap with Sam on the really hard days, and realize that the world won’t end if I don’t post a blog or cook homemade food on those days.

I can choose to get my eyes off myself and focus on others who are going through struggles much worse than mine. I can look to mentors and good influences to lift me up. And I can celebrate all the good around me, like the fact that my friend just gave birth to a new baby.

Getting off the hamster wheel means simultaneously lifting up my eyes and lowering my expectations. I must do this—I will do this—so I can stop running on empty and be still sometimes…at flexible times, at whatever times Sam takes his naps. I don’t know what kind of a day you’d call that, but it sure beats the hamster wheel.

Reviving Relationships—Rethinking Goals

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 “The hopes of the godly result in happiness, but the expectations of the wicked are all in vain.” (Proverbs 10:28, NLT)

When I read this verse today, two questions immediately sprang to mind.

1) First, am I godly?

2) Secondly, what are my hopes—in other words, my goals? I have the sense that they have changed in just a few short years—and I’m not sure I’ve really defined them.

You should understand something about me. A few years ago, after my older brother recommended the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I got a little obsessive about my life’s goals. Looking for ways to improve my abysmally ineffective first year of teaching, I lapped up those seven habits, even making my second-year students endure a three-week unit on said habits.

During my third year of teaching, on my own I completed some exercises found in the back of my new 2011 Covey planner. These entailed writing out my roles and goals, my values, and my bucket list. You can find that list here.

On paper, my goals look good, but in retrospect, I think I’ve done badly—at least on the relationship points.

A Few of My Failures

“Conscious steps toward building or maintaining my relationships.” Maybe a few. We did start a weekly small group Bible study after I left teaching. But it took my new Bible-study-buddy, Tasha, to get me out of my comfort zone for social outings–sporadic spa days.

“Avoid overcommitting myself in areas that do not desperately require my attention.” My hubby’s feedback heavily suggests otherwise. In fact, just now I am kicking myself for getting too involved at church, yet again, this year.

“Don’t forget to make and take time for friends.” I’ve forgotten often. I have plenty of relationships that have fallen by the wayside, a topic for another time, but the biggest relationship I’ve neglected by far is my marriage.

This is hard to admit. Suddenly I see that all these years I’ve tried to blame him for our shortcomings as a couple. I’ve deluded myself into thinking I was the one doing most of the giving…he most of the taking…but now I’ll put the question to myself: What have I really done for our marriage?

As I think back on the eight years we’ve been in this union, all I see is a panorama of achievements I’ve chased—degrees and jobs and dreams—that were all selfishly motivated. To this day, I can list lots of things I’ve done for myself, but it’s hard to say what I’ve done for our marriage.

The Undefined Emptiness

Lately, with plenty of quiet time on my hands, I can’t help but reexamine my life, and what keeps coming up is that I have an emptiness inside. None of the degrees or achievements have filled it. God and my husband have done much to soothe it, but after much time on my knees, I feel it will not be enough to keep to myself—just me and my God and my husband and my writing.

There is something else I’m supposed to be doing. I know I need to be less selfish in my marriage, yes–and I’m working on it–but to deal with this maddening quiet when he’s not here—when it’s just me and my writing and my restlessness—is there something else?

So this morning I prayed: “Lord, please: I’d like a breakthrough of some sort. A pregnancy. A job. An acceptance letter [from my MFA program]. Some other place to belong, some other place to get my mind off myself.”

And you know what I heard?

“Lindsey, you are troubled about many things. But only one thing is needful.”

In his sequel to The Seven Habits, entitled First Things First, Stephen Covey uses an illustration involving a ladder and a wall, saying it will do no good to climb a ladder if it is leaning against the wrong wall. He’s right, of course, but only because it was God’s principle, first.

So says God and Stephen Covey: Lindsey, you better focus on question 1) Am I godly? Before you (re)tackle 2) What are my goals (and Where should I go, What should I do)? Because without getting number 1 right, number 2 is a moot point.

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things [whatever they are] shall be added unto you.”

Well, okay then. Back to my knees it is.