I recently got together with some friends to watch “Mom’s Night Out.” There’s a segment pretty early in the movie where the main character, a mom of three young children, tells a newlywed couple about the “volume” that will soon overwhelm their beautiful lives. She ends her tirade by saying, “You can only take so much before you crack!” Here’s a screen cap from that scene:
The past few years, we’ve spent a lot of time around stressed out people. Take a mom away from her family, throw her into a culture she doesn’t recognize, and cut off her independence. Then, tell her to love and care for a kid (or several) with whom she cannot communicate… and who has likely experienced some pretty significant trauma.
These moms have lots of “moments”…
Don’t we all?
Having a Moment
I had only been here a few months when I had a particularly memorable moment of my own. My favorite lunch is a toasted bagel with cream cheese, Swiss cheese, and sliced tomato. I was so excited to find I can get really great tomatoes here, just about any time of the year! And I found a baker from the States to supply my bagels. Even the cream cheese was easily found at the nicer grocery store. The only problem? That Swiss cheese. At first, I found some at that same upscale grocery store. I paid $10 for a tiny amount, but I didn’t care because it enabled me to feel normal.
But then one day I couldn’t find any Swiss cheese. In a rather undignified “moment” that lasted for five hours, I drove all over the city in search of it. Yes, you read that right. I spent five hours looking for cheese.
The result? The entire country was apparently “taking a break” from Swiss cheese. I came home in a rage. It was not pretty. There may have been tears involved. Ugly, angry tears that eventually left me feeling clueless as to what kind of psycho took up residence in my body.
The whole incident is now referred to as my “Swiss cheese moment.”
I share some version of this story with each of the moms who travel to Nicaragua to adopt. I tell them that one day (probably soon), they each will have their own Swiss cheese moment. When we are stressed, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually (or all three), we are more likely to say things we don’t mean, and to do things we wouldn’t normally do.
Extreme stress (like what happens during culture shock or adoption shock, or other life events like the illness or death of a loved one) has the tendency to turn most of us into an almost unrecognizable version of ourselves. After witnessing his wife during one of her “moments” during their in-country fostering process, one visiting husband said, “I wish you could meet my real wife… because this isn’t her.”
I know. I’ve been there.
Now that I am able to help prepare these parents before hand, the moments seem to be better tolerated all around. But perhaps the bigger lesson for me is to offer endless grace.
Loving Through Those Moments
That sounds all Christian-ese and all, but it is a lot easier said than done. When I feel unappreciated or even taken advantage of by people who are stressed out and just want to go home, my natural tendency is not to offer grace. Let’s be honest. When someone annoys or inconveniences us, we probably want to run the other way, at the bare minimum, or give ’em a piece of our minds. I want to correct them. I want retribution. I certainly don’t want to serve that person even more.
But you shouldn’t be a doormat, people tell me. And you certainly shouldn’t let someone take advantage of you!
I tried that way of thinking, really I did. I wanted to believe that it was OK to expect thank yous for my service. And then my husband dropped this doozie: “So, Wendy… you really want to serve others but only if they say thank you? Or if they help you out once in a while?”
I hate it when he does that! He’s totally right. I scoured scripture for months trying to find examples of where God says its OK to seek retribution when we are merely inconvenienced or appreciation when we are serving. I wanted to find out it was acceptable to stop caring for someone when it felt like she was taking, taking, and taking some more, without any giving back. I wish I could tell you I found something.
On the contrary, I found countless directives to love others as I love myself, to never seek revenge or carry a grudge. Jesus said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:12-14 ESV) “Show hospitality to one another without complaining,” we’re told in 1 Peter. I kept looking for a footnote, or anything that would let me expect a thank you for my hospitality, or a you-wash-my-feet-and-I’ll-wash-your’s sort of covenant. Nothing.
And the ultimate bombshell? “This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends.” (John 15:13 MSG)
If I’m to mimic Christ’s love for me, then there is never room for me to limit my love based on how grateful the recipient might be feeling each particular moment, or how kindly she might behave as I’m serving. Jesus accepted so much more than any minor inconvenience I might notice. Call it “being a doormat” if you wish, but I can’t see anyway around it if I am to follow Him.*
*Please note that I am in no way talking about any sort of abuse, under the guise of love or service. The type of “doormat” I’m OK with is not the woman who receives beatings from her husband, but rather the one who is cut off in the carpool line or not thanked by the family to whom she is delivering a meal.