Starfoxy continues her turn as a guest at BCC.
One of the joys of being a part of a marriage, or family is ease with which I am able to take joy in the happiness of my loved ones. It is a pleasure for me to work for something that makes my family comfortable. Frequently the work and sacrifices family members make for each other are seen as tokens of affection. The classic O. Henry story of the young couple exchanging gifts obtained through personal sacrifice is an excellent example of this sacrifice-equals-love mentality.
This past October conference Elder Christofferson spoke at the Priesthood session and told a story, which impressed my husband enough for him to tell it to me when he came home:
Years ago, when my brothers and I were boys, our mother had radical cancer surgery. She came very close to death. Much of the tissue in her neck and shoulder had to be removed, and for a long time it was very painful for her to use her right arm.
One morning about a year after the surgery, my father took Mother to an appliance store and asked the manager to show her how to use a machine he had for ironing clothes. The machine was called an Ironrite. It was operated from a chair by pressing pedals with one’s knees to lower a padded roller against a heated metal surface and turn the roller, feeding in shirts, pants, dresses, and other articles. You can see that this would make ironing (of which there was a great deal in our family of five boys) much easier, especially for a woman with limited use of her arm. Mother was shocked when Dad told the manager they would buy the machine and then paid cash for it. Despite my father’s good income as a veterinarian, Mother’s surgery and medications had left them in a difficult financial situation.
On the way home, my mother was upset: “How can we afford it? Where did the money come from? How will we get along now?” Finally Dad told her that he had gone without lunches for nearly a year to save enough money. “Now when you iron,” he said, “you won’t have to stop and go into the bedroom and cry until the pain in your arm stops.” She didn’t know he knew about that. I was not aware of my father’s sacrifice and act of love for my mother at the time, but now that I know, I say to myself, “There is a man.”
While I have no issue whatsoever with the larger message of the address– that men and priesthood holders should be willing to sacrifice personal comforts for other people and their own spiritual well-being– something about this story just bugged me to death. The mother and father were both being good people, and were displaying love for each other through their sacrifices, things I shouldn’t have a problem with.
I couldn’t figure it out for the longest time, until I put myself in the place of the mother, and imagined that my husband had been going without lunches for a year to get me something that I needed. I realized that I hated the secrecy involved in skipping lunches for so long without her knowing. “Ideally,” I thought to myself, “if I really needed the machine, my husband and I would sit down together and decide how we could save up enough money to get it. At that point if my husband said, ‘I don’t really feel hungry most days at lunch, I could go without easily enough.’ I would be fine with that.”
This is, I think, where I’m very different than the mother in the story, she probably wouldn’t have been fine with that. Her husband guessed that she would insist that things were just fine and she didn’t need any machine, especially since she was hiding the trouble she was having from him in the first place. The two of them were *both* being secretive, and one secret sacrifice led to another.
The initial inclination is to remove the secrecy, to insist that husbands and wives tell each other of every need, problem, and urge to sacrifice that comes up. To insist that they work through everything as a team. The problem with this is, in order for it to be effective, we have to get past the idea that it is always noble to ‘take one for the team.’ Always taking the martyr role upon yourself denies the opportunity for your spouse and loved ones to see you genuinely comfortable and happy. In short, we have to be willing, at least occasionally, to let our family members choose to make a sacrifice for our behalf.