A Simple Question to Start the Week

single flower

This week’s Monday morning began while it was still dark and entirely too early for a human being to stir, let alone muster the motivation to sweat. I’ve been injured for probably six weeks, unable to run or do anything really. Honestly, I’m not really that ambitious. I’m a runner because running releases endorphins and endorphins are good for mental health and I will take mental health over physical health any day. I’ve always joked that I’m a runner and a writer because they’re cheaper than therapy and usually safer than meds. {Truth be told, I’m often a runner and a writer who may also be in therapy and on medication during any given season. What can I say? I have issues.}

But when I’m not running and when I’m sad about not running, the people I live with are not loving me so much. I can hardly blame them. My endorphins packed up weeks ago and are probably vacationing in Aruba and sipping margaritas and reading People magazines. Meanwhile, the barely-there muscle mass I once possessed has now turned to mayonnaise. Aaaaand I feel like a crazy person. We had a wee bit of drama in our house over the weekend and I finally cracked under the pressure of it all. Unable to cope for one more second, I finally sat down on the kitchen floor last night, leaned against the sticky cabinets, and wept for at least fifteen minutes. Yes, in front of the whole family. {In my defense, all the other places in the house were taken.}

This is probably not good. And it’s just one of several causes for self-pity at the moment. Self-pity is really just the worst place to be, isn’t it? It has a way of catapulting me onto the throne of Self and treating my tiny world like it’s my tiny kingdom. As you might imagine, this has gone well. Quite well. Who doesn’t love an overwrought and emotionally unstable tyrant in the house?

Back to this morning. I’m driving home from the gym I just joined today. {And by the way, I’m so not a fan of gyms. In fact, it’s safe to say I’m terrified of them. I’m intimidated by the fancy machines and the fancy buttons and the fancy exercise experts and worker-outers who seem to know exactly what they’re doing. There’s just something about people wearing ginormous leather belts and special gloves, something about the sound of clinking metal and words like “spinning” and “squats” that makes me want to run for the hills.}

I digress again.

As I drive home from the intimidating exercise place inhabited by people wearing large belts, I’m thinking about the reason I’m doing this. I’m thinking about the people I live with and how I’ve been a rather rotten housemate lately — selfish and sad and snappy. I confessed all of my yuck and asked God for help and grace and compassion. I prayed for them. And then I walked into the house and chatted with my husband while he tightened up his tie and prepared for the day. I was extra mindful of all that he’d already done this morning to assist each person who lives here.

Normally I would’ve rattled on about the things happening in my little world or jumped into my own agenda. But this morning I did something different. I needed and wanted to shift my focus off of me. I wanted to love him better and this required feedback. So I looked at him and asked a simple question: What do you need from me this week? What can I do that would help you? 

I’ll tell you the first thing he said. It wasn’t what I expected.

Don’t add anything else to what you already have.

Um, really? That’s the number one thing? Apparently it is. He wasn’t rude or bossy about it; he was gentle but forthright. He asked me to love him and help our family by saying no to other endeavors that may indeed be good things but that will deplete me or add unnecessary stress. When I say yes to good things that shouldn’t be the priority things for me or for my family, right now, in this season, it has a way of affecting the stress level of the whole family. Or so I’m told.

I wasn’t actually saying yes to other people all the time. I was simply saying yes to a host of little endeavors, projects, and goals — good things, all of them — that have subtly been whittling away my capacity to give to the better things, the needful things, like marriage and the hearts of my children and staying sane{ish.}

This is invaluable information when you think about it. Now my husband and I have clear expectations of one another and we’re accountable to those. His answer doesn’t mean that all of my energy pours into serving my family. If it did, I wouldn’t be writing this post or working on a current writing project that we both support and want me to pursue. But he’s lived with me for over 18 years and he knows my limits better than I know them. For most of our marriage I haven’t given him enough credit for this. He’s observed that when I try to stretch those limits or pretend they don’t exist or make other people more important than the ones who live in my own house, we all suffer in a bigger way than I realize. And that’s not loving or healthy or as it should be.

Some people naturally have wider limits, more social energy, more physical energy. But there are universal truths we have to accept: we all have different life circumstances, unique marriages, special health issues, children who who aren’t identical to any other children on the planet. It’s good to own these truths and to live out of them. It’s easy to compare and then live our lives according to someone else’s expectations, threshold, lifestyle, parenting, bank account, or marital dynamics. This is a bad idea. You’ll end up exhausting yourself or people-pleasing or harboring resentment or all of the above.

I wrote a post last summer called 18 Things I’ve Learned About the Not-So-Simple Art of Marriage. I’ve learned the hard way about the importance of valuing my spouse’s opinion above anyone else’s. {All things being equal of course. This does not apply if your spouse is a psychopath or sociopath or evil dictator.}

Don’t value anyone’s opinion above your spouse’s. Not your best friend’s or your mom’s or your sister’s or your mentor’s or some expert. This is your life partner, the person with whom you are one.

His opinion matters not because he is perfect or even right. His opinion matters because he’s your #1 person.

Value him by valuing his thoughts and ideas. And then stand back and watch what happens.

I’d be wise to revisit my own words more often. I feel like I have “life-lessons amnesia.”

Beginning the week with a simple question and conversation about one another’s longings and needs might just be a game-changer. The question can even be a fruitful one to ask of your kids or even your boss. {Maybe not your boss — you decide.} You might be surprised by the answer. And it might be more loving and life-giving and clarifying than you expect, both for you and for the ones you love.

Maybe you’re spinning your wheels trying to love and strive and manage in ways that they don’t even care about or in ways that may actually be hurting instead of helping. Maybe loving well is simpler than you think.

You won’t know if you don’t ask.

And one more thing. Don’t ask if you’re not ready to hear the answer. But I have a feeling, I really do, that it’s not going to be as complicated as you might imagine. I also have a feeling that they’re going to appreciate the fact that you love them enough to ask.

Wouldn’t you?

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Comments

  1. says

    I honestly believe we are the same person. I took a dr. imposed break from running a while back. It got a little crazy up in here, and by here I mean my brain and also my house.

    You are so brave to ask this question of your husband. I think mine would come back with a bullet pointed list in order of importance. God bless him. I’m such an underachiever;)

    Can’t wait to hear more about the gym! I would use this as an excuse to buy some cute workout clothes:)

    • Marian says

      Cheers to underachieving! Cheers to new workout clothes! Never even thought of that perk. : ) Also, not brave. Just trying, only through grace, to serve and love. And self-pity sucks; I got tired of living there.

  2. Anita says

    Marian,
    This little post was a great reminder to me. I might have gotten the same answer, had I posed that question to the one who lives and loves with me. And I was contemplating asking him about hosting a neighborhood party here in a couple of weeks. I think I just read my answer in your post. This is a lesson I have had to learn OVER and OVER. Thanks for the gentle reminder.

    • Marian says

      Anita, thank you. For some of us I think this is an issue we’ll be revisiting again and again and again. It’s just so easy to forget. I’m thankful {most of the time} for a husband who is honest enough to remind me. : )

  3. says

    What a gift to have a husband who says not to add anything else to the plate, he knows the value of you simplified. My husband is the same, and I’m so grateful that he’s the first to lovingly remind me when I’ve said yes to the wrong things at the expense of life at home. I don’t always like to hear it, but I’m always glad when he speaks out for the best of our sanity and our home and our kids.

    I just asked mine this morning what he really needed from me this week. The answer was simple, he needs work snacks and a little bit of undivided time. I will be happy to give him both.

    Also, I hate gyms too. I just want to work out and not speak to anyone. Or look at anyone. Do they have gyms for introverts? 😉

    • Marian says

      I love that he said “work snacks.” That is awesome. It’s the little things I think. : )

      And even though I’m an introvert, I actually meet up with people at the gym. Crazy. The fact that someone is waiting for me there is the only thing thing that makes me do it. I have no discipline without external accountability. It’s just sad.

  4. Emily says

    Thanks for the reminder this morning. I don’t ask this question enough and have landed in the “spinning my wheels trying to love” cycle (while still snapping too much), especially with the kids. I plan on asking them and the husband today. Plus, I’m really excited to hear what my middle child has to say :)

    • Marian says

      Oh I definitely can’t wait to hear what your middle child has to say. I have a few guesses: “more parties!” “listening to me talk all day long!” “lots and lots of non-itchy dresses!” “putting me in charge of the whole world!”

  5. Sarah says

    I love and appreciate your blog so much! You don’t know me so this could easily come off as creepy and weird so I will try to word it correctly. I gain so much insight from just reading about the things you share. We are so much alike in so many ways, and so I am soaking everything up, and trying to remember ( for my future self) these lessons that you give through your writing. The mistakes you share that you make help me to be on guard against making some of them, because I know I am vulnerable in a lot of the same areas as you. Anywho, that is all I wanted to say! Thanks for sharing your words. Keep it up!

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