An older man was standing in the middle of a log home. With a bundle of firewood in his hands he glared at the stove and said, “If you give me heat, I’ll give you wood.” The old man froze to death.
The parable above is a great reminder of what we sometimes do in relationships. Putting conditions on our giving is the sure way to have both people in the relationship freeze to death.
Part of the responsibility of being in a mature adult relationship means that we have to think bigger than just ourselves, we must give in order to receive. The old man could easily have saved his life by letting go and giving in, but instead his pride got the better of him. His demand for heat wasn’t physically possible.
In my own marriage, this looks like me wanting something from Karen that I never actually tell her I want. Meaning that I expect her to be a mind reader. When I first started speaking publicly, I used to ask Karen if she wanted to come. She would politely respond with, “If you want me there.” To which I would muddle some sort of an answer about it being up to her. The reality was that of course I wanted her there. I wanted her to be my cheerleader. I wanted all those things from her and just never said them. I became the old man, holding on to my resentments.
The other part about this parable I love is that even if the old man had given the wood, he wouldn’t have gotten wood back. He would have gotten heat, which is what he needed, but not what he had. This holds true in marriages as well. When we can give of ourselves, we are able to get something completely different in return. The beauty of relationships is how the people are different; not how they are similar. Having someone to do life with means that you have someone who can give you something you can’t give yourself. When I finally got brave enough to tell Karen that I wanted her at these speaking engagements, what I found is that she is able to give me a perspective that I could have never gotten myself. For example, after one rather passionate presentation, she looked at me and said, “Why were you yelling?” Of course I had no idea that I was coming across this way. Her insight is invaluable, and something I could not get on my own.
In the midst of what is no doubt a busy summer, remember that every day you get to show up and give unconditionally to the person you love the most. When we are able to do that, it is truly amazing what we will get back in return.
How can you give freely to the people you care about the most?
What is one specific action that you can do this week?
Where can you clear up any unspoken expectations?