My wife and I got married at the age of 18. For some people, the thought of making that kind of commitment at such a young age may seem foolish. Honestly, for some people, it definitely is. For us, I firmly believe it was a great choice. During that time we grew and matured together all throughout our adult life. We didn’t start having kids for about 8 years after getting married. During those years before children we really got to know one another and build upon our relationship. It was a great time in our lives, we were in college, we had a lot of friends and a wonderful church family. Honestly, it was a time in our lives that we often look back on with incredible fondness.
Looking back now that I’m a little older and I have a different perspective. I realize now that we were also unknowingly selfish people. We were ignorant to the needs of our friends and the people in our lives. Part of that is because we never asked and part of that is because we didn’t have the life experience yet to understand. I can remember on several occasions where we should have stepped in and helped the people we care about. There were times when we could have been a huge blessing to the people around us. We had friends with very needy children, going through medical issues, and simply struggling with their personal lives. We weren’t ignorant to their plights, we were ignorant to their needs. At the time we didn’t have a lot of money or skills, but we did have time. Time that we selfishly kept to ourselves.
In the past few years of our life together has been a wild roller coaster. I won’t go into the details, but there were plenty of times where we were barely holding on. We were on the edge of breaking, and either too embarrassed to ask for help or just not knowing how. To some degree, we weren’t raised to ask for help, which I agree is not a good reason, but for us it has been a regular stumbling block.
While my wife was pregnant with our 4th child she was having a conversation with someone close to her. While talking to her she began to explain why she was so frustrated and lamented about how hard it was to keep up with everything. That person responded with, “no one made you have all those kids.” Now, I agree, no one did tell us to have all the kids we did, it was our choice and we are the ones who ultimately have to care for them. While everything she said was true, should that be our response to someone who is clearly in need?
So Why am I Telling you All This?
I wish that someone would have explained this to me when I was in a better place to serve others. I had not realized what a wonderful resource simply having time was and for the most part, squandered it. Now that I’m weighed down with a busy schedule, 4 needy children, and my own medical issues, my time and energy is pretty limited. So often in my younger years I could have been a great blessing to the people around me instead of foolishly turning a blind eye. I bring this up so that others might not be ignorant to how much small acts of kindness can mean to others.
Story time! When we lived in Ames, IA we often shopped at a store called HyVee. We don’t have those here in Michigan, which is kind of sad. For those of you who don’t know a lot about Iowa, they get a good amount of snow and freezing cold weather in the winter. When our oldest was only a few years old, we returned home after visiting family for the holidays. No surprise, we needed groceries. So, I took the boy so Mama and our less than one year old little girl could get a break from his craziness and went to go get groceries. So we got what we needed, picked up some Chinese food from their in-store restaurant/cafe area, and headed for the parking lot. Well it was about 8pm and it had apparently been snowing quite a bit because the parking lot was covered in a thick sheet of wet snow. For those you who don’t know what that’s like, you are missing out on some of the best packing snow there is. At the same time, that wonderful white building material makes pushing a cart to your car nearly impossible. Even when it isn’t weighed down with groceries and a child. So here I am, standing outside of HyVee, cart full of groceries, and holding my two year old son in one arm. I didn’t want to leave my groceries to get my son in the car, but I couldn’t carry him and the groceries and the cart refused to roll through the snow. As I stood there, snow building up around us, an older gentleman came up beside me and said, “you take your son and I’ll bring your groceries.” I didn’t protest, I just gave him a weak thank you in relief and went out to my van. I know this doesn’t seem like much, but this small, simple act of kindness that took someone only a minute of their time was a huge blessing to this struggling dad in a moment of indecision.
So the question you may be asking yourself right now is, “in your many times of need, what would have been helpful for you?” Honestly, our needs were pretty simple. If someone would have taken even an hour to help us with some dishes, clean around the house, or even drop off a meal would have been a much needed if brief relief. I remember my wife would say, “If I could just get someone to watch the kids for an hour I could get a lot done around the house.” Just for an hour a week, would have been a huge blessing. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but just having someone show they care was a huge boost to our spirits.
I don’t know if you realize it, but being a stay at home mom is pretty isolating. Spending all your time interacting with children, counting down the minutes until you can talk to another adult is hard when you do it day after day. I know a few individuals with medical issues that keep them confined to their homes much of the time, with little freedom. I know even my week in the hospital felt horribly lonely. Often, someone just wants somebody to sit with them, show them they care and give them a chance to talk with another adult. It may seem like something small to those of us that are always running, out and about, wishing we were at home with some free time, it can be hard to recognize how huge this is for others.
The next time you know of someone struggling with life, or at least you know they have a lot going on, be creative. Ask yourself, “what’s something I can do for them?” Even if it’s something as simple as visiting/checking in, doing a few chores around the house, watching their kids long enough for them to shower, or, and this one is huge, offering to go grocery shopping for/with them. There are so many little things that we can do for others who are struggling.
My final thought is this. People are really good at acting like everything is good, putting on a show so that no one will know how much they are really struggling. We fear that others will think we are weak and in need of help, when in reality we are in need of help and that’s OK! I was talking with someone not long ago and she was pointing to a mom who she had so much respect for and desired to be like. The reason? Because this other mom seemed so calm and collected on the outside. She seemed like the poster child of what a great mom should be. The truth is, she, like pretty much every mom who has little children, was struggling daily and just looking for someone to show they care. Struggling is not failing, but it’s hard to feel like anything but a failure at the time.