Birthdays are significant in our home. We’re not big on decorations or even presents, but the hope is that the birthday person feels celebrated and enjoyed. When possible, we spend the day together enjoying some combination of favorite homemade meals, restaurants, and activities. It’s a veritable crime for the one being celebrated to do any work. King or queen for the day is the goal.
This past summer, I was enjoying a relatively low-key birthday day. My husband had made plans for the evening. My children, who had been well-trained in the way of Silander birthday custom, greeted me in the morning with shiny, anticipating faces. They sincerely wanted me to enjoy my day. They wanted me to feel loved. Their motives were pure.
Shortly after breakfast, my cherubs were quick to relieve me from manual labor, and they started cleaning the kitchen. But somehow, in an instant, the mood shifted. Child A began arguing with Child B about who was to do what chore. Exasperated Child C interrupted and proceeded to boss give direction to the less-than-righteous siblings. After giving up hope that the situation would resolve itself, I finally stepped in to mediate. My efforts were temporarily successful, but within the hour, a modified version of the same situation transpired. My frustration was growing. It was my birthday. “All I really want for my birthday is for you all to love each other well and for us to enjoy the day together,” I stated, as if this would be the obvious end of the matter. And it was. For awhile.
My frustration dissolved into sadness as I realized a hard truth. My children love me. From the deepest, sweetest, brightest places in their hearts, they wanted me to be blessed on my birthday. But, an insidious cloud had gathered and was overshadowing their good desires. They wanted to honor me… but on their terms. The cost of laying aside their own agendas was too high.
When for a fleeting moment, I attempt to look honestly at my own heart, I’m saddened to acknowledge that I give to others in much the same way. We had nine under our roof this Christmas, and it didn’t take long for my feeble, misguided attempts at caring for others to buckle under the strain. Too often, I give out of my natural inclinations and tendencies – which does not necessarily result in a gift that is meaningful to the recipient. Even if my motives are pure.
Imagine that my talent and interest was in knitting, and that I knitted the same red wool scarf for everyone on my Christmas list. For some, the scarf would be a treasure. The time taken to create, the warmth the scarf provides, and the much-desired fashion accent would leave the receiver feeling loved well. Those are the easy-to-love people in my life. My natural inclinations fit well with their needs.
But others may be allergic to wool, look terrible in red, or are hot-natured with no need for a scarf. If I want another to feel loved, I have to pause and consider what would be best for them. And all too often, the time and energy required to stretch beyond my natural inclinations, comfort, and agenda… well, the order is just too tall. So I knit my red scarf and convince myself that it will be enough. Or I cook a meal rather than spend time with a sick friend. Or I clean up the house rather than offer kind words to my husband. Eventually, we both feel missed and hurt.
I’ve never been one to make new year’s resolutions, but I do have some hopes as we launch into 2012. I want to pause and consider those folks in my life who are difficult to love with new eyes. Rather than taking offense that my “red scarf” doesn’t succeed in making another feel loved, I long to lay down my pride, comfort, agenda, and expectations in order to grow in grace. I want to be willing and teachable to love in new ways – for the benefit of another.
I also plan to be more intentional in my reading, consistent in healthy cooking, and possibly train for a race. And by the way… I’m actually taking my first knitting class with my daughter this month. Perhaps I’ll make a red scarf for myself.
Happy New Year to you and yours!