Today we will finish up the discussions started in this post. As always, my comments will be normal and Paul’s will be bolded. Again, we’re discussing whose job is more difficult…or at least what it may mean and what to do when you and your spouse begin to compare the jobs God has called you to. In our case, it’s mother vs. ministry.
Why would two people begin to compare their respective jobs? Why would it come up in conversation? What do we want from the other person?
I think there are many things we could want, but most often we want help, sympathy, or to be valued by somebody. Of course, there are combinations of these as well. For me, my greatest desire in these scenarios is to be appreciated. I want to recount all the things that I am doing, all the responsibilities that I carry, and then have someone (cough, Liz) to say, “Great job! That’s a lot of stuff and you’re amazing for doing it” (at least that’s how I think it should go in my head). But often she really has no way of knowing all that I do. Many of my actions will go unnoticed by everyone except God. I fear that at the bottom of my desire for appreciation, there is a lot of pride. Being unsatisfied with the heavenly commendation to come (Matt 25:21), I look for earthly corroboration of my worthiness (Matt 6:2).
As an aside to be expanded in another post, it seems like the Scripture says it’s wrong to go looking for praise, but it’s right to be generous with it (Prov 27:2). What would our marriages look like if we were consistently generous with our praise and gratitude and frugal with our attempts to compare?
As much as I am loath to admit it, my pride also keeps me from asking for help or expressing fatigue to Paul. I want Paul to just know these things instinctively so that I don’t have to admit my weakness. I recite everything that I do and then wait, hoping that he will (with Sherlock-like swiftness) deduce my unspoken need and reward me with either sympathy, appreciation, and/or assistance. Sometimes I just want him to consider the breadth and scope of my duties as a homemaker and affirm that work. A little verbal pat-on-the-back. This is why it is so frustrating for him to respond with a recitation of his own long list of responsibilities. Even if he was trying to be sympathetic, recounting his frantic life doesn’t help me. Don’t tell me about your day in an attempt to sympathize with my day. I want a confirmation and not a comparison.
If we don’t compare to get help, sympathy or appreciation, then how do we get those things?
We don’t want to ignore our spouse’s desire for help, sympathy or appreciation. All of these things are good things to give. God helps people, he sympathizes with people, and he appreciates people (see below). So what do we do with these desires?
It’s natural for me to want help or encouragement, but, even though Paul tries, he will never be totally successful. Ultimately Christ is the one who supports us when we need these things. Christ offers grace for weakness (2 Cor 12:9; Heb 4:16), sympathizes with our difficulties (Heb 4:15; Luke 7:12–15), and values us more than anyone has or ever will (Luke 12:7). We must also believe that Christ sees our work and that he rewards those who sacrificially serve him (Matt 25:34–40). As the Spirit imbeds these truths deeply into our thinking, it frees us from needing/demanding appreciation from other people. We already have the appreciation of the most important person! Really, we do. Jesus notices my long day of caring for the boys, maintaining the house, and ministering to the body of Christ. Sadly I’m often not satisfied with Christ’s approval alone. I want Paul to hear the account of my day and verify my worth.
And it is a good thing to verify your spouse’s worth and accomplishments because they are evidences of God’s grace. In commending them, you’re noticing what God has done through them. The Scripture is filled with commendations of this kind (Rom 16:3–4; Phil 4:14–16Eph 1:15–16; ). And further, we should sympathize with the broken, difficult world in which our spouse’s live (Rom 12:15—Weep with those who weep!). Aren’t we supposed to follow Christ’s example of sympathetic master and friend? But the truth is, I am limited in my ability to truly understand my wife’s sacrifices. I don’t always realize that she needs help, godly affirmation, or Christlike sympathy. The same applies for me, Liz can’t know what’s in my heart and sometimes says things that aren’t helpful.
The tendency of course is to become bitter when our needs are not met. After all, how could this person not realize the extent of my sacrifice or of my need? But we must reject this bitterness (Eph 4:31–32–and for me, I must ask forgiveness for being so self-focused, after all there is a reason I don’t notice Liz’s needs like Christ would). And if Paul doesn’t notice or doesn’t understand my difficulties, I must be willing to admit that I am weak and need help. This is the beauty of a Christian marriage: The freedom to be weak without fear of judgment. Paul’s job is to sacrificially love me (Eph 5:25)—to help me when I’m weak. My job is to come along side of Paul and be his strong helper (Gen 2:20) when he is weak.
What are some practical ways to handle this topic when it comes up?
First, believe your spouse. I know we say this often, but it essential to trust your spouse when they describe how they feel. When Liz feels burdened by the stress generated by her daily responsibilities, I can’t disparage those feelings. If your instinctual response is to disbelieve them (e.g. “that’s not hard for me at all,” “ I’ve never had a problem with that,” “it can’t be as bad as your saying,” “I could manage that with no problem,” etc.) and you don’t check that impulse before speaking, then your conversation will have failed before it starts. Your spouse isn’t required to feel the same way you feel (shockingly:-).
Second, resist the urge to compare their difficulties with your difficulties, even if you perceive yours to be greater. Instead focus on practical step #3.
Third, try to understand what your spouse truly needs (assuming that they aren’t willing to just come out and tell you : -). Do they need help? Then help them from sacrificial love (husband) or as a strong support (wife). Do they need sympathy? Then admit that their life is difficult (because it is–Adam’s sin guarantees that!), but follow that with words of comfort, encouragement and grace (1 Thess 5:11, 14). Do they need to be valued? Reaffirm your love (and God’s) for them. Tell them how God views their faithfulness to him (again Matt 25:34–40) and how much their God-glorifying work means to you.
Four years ago, God graciously allowed Paul to lose his job. During this time I worked full-time while Paul stayed home with Jack. Two years later God provided Paul with his current job, and I transitioned to a (mostly) stay at home mom. This experience gave us a shared understanding of the daily struggles of full-time work and full-time homemaking. We can more fully appreciate the pressure associated with each role. And while we may not always respond graciously in specific situations, our overall view is expressed by Challies statement: “It doesn’t matter whose job is more difficult; what matters is that we each fulfill our role, our calling, with joy and with skill.” So stop comparing your lives. Recognize that each person has been given their current role by God. Rejoice that God made you into a team (or better, as “one” Gen 2:24) and offer loving, sacrificial support.
(This is my favorite picture from Paul’s “Mr. Mom” days. This is how I found the two of them one day when I came home from work. See, he realized that being a Mom is exhausting! : )