A lesson for us all
Overheard at a grocery store bakery … a mom is talking to her kids. “What kind of dessert do you think Dad would like?” she asks. “Should we get chocolate cake? Or maybe he’d rather have cookies. What do you think? What would Dad like best?”
Maybe that conversation doesn’t seem important. It’s only a few seconds long and it’s about what to have for dessert. What is really happening is that Mom — maybe without even trying — is showing the kids that she loves their dad and is inviting them to be part of it. Mother Teresa, also known as St. Teresa of Kolkata, once said “Learn to love by loving.” When you marry and take a vow to love someone, you are not talking about a feeling. You are talking about action. An easy way to show your spouse your love is by doing simple acts of kindness.
What is kindness? For years I thought it meant being available for others. And I was pretty good at it. If you asked me for something, I would give it to you. Er, but don’t ask too often — and I just found out I have to leave town. If you overheard one of my grocery store conversations, it would go: “What do I want for dessert?” And “If I get the cookies, I can hide some of them.”
Um, no. Kindness is anticipating the needs, or even the wants, of others and providing for them before they ask. So says popular spiritual writer Fr. Lawrence Lovasik in his book The Hidden Power of Kindness. Why is kindness powerful? Kindness brings peace between spouses, which provides a happy home for the kids.
I once interviewed a woman who learned that lesson the hard way. She had tried to do everything a Catholic spouse should do. She was faithful to her husband, open to life, and a hardworking mother. But life was stressful, as most of us can relate. Making a living, putting food on the table, endless tasks — it all wore her out. She became very impatient with her husband. Whenever he talked, her attitude was, “Just get on with it already!”
Then he got sick, very sick. His illness dragged on for months. At this point, a lot of stressed-out spouses might leave. But she didn’t. “For better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, until death do us part.”
Did the added stress make her even more miserable and unsatisfied with her life? No, it woke her up. Her whole attitude changed, and her focus was now on being kind to her husband. She stayed by his side and took hands-on care of him. She couldn’t help but notice that he was so patient and unselfish even though he was in so much pain. She began to fall in love with him all over again.
Finally, after much prayer, he turned a corner and began to get well. He had an operation which temporarily deprived him of the power of speech. He would write messages when he could, and when he couldn’t, she would search his beautiful eyes for what he was trying to say. When his speech returned, each word was precious to her.
When the crisis was over, life seemed to go back to the way it was. But there was one big difference. The woman remembered that she loved her husband and would never again forget it. She had learned to love by loving.
It is a lesson all of us need to learn. Daily. What’s it going to take? A book or a crisis? Personally, I’ll take the chocolate cake.
SUSIE LLOYD has won three Catholic Press Awards for her writing. Find her books, articles, and speaking schedule at SusieLloyd.com.
This article was originally published in Catechist, March 2020.