If you asked my husband, I think he’d say that my most irritating quality is my desire to just do “one more thing” before bed, trying to squeeze in one more errand into an already packed day and generally just being resistant to all unstructured downtime. I’m a go-go-go kind of gal. Sitting and “relaxing” isn’t my strong suit. If you asked me what his most irritating quality is, I’d say it’s that he does so much sitting and relaxing… while I’m all about doing.
And yet, I’m slowly learning that there’s something to be said for his way of doing things: To have a successful relationship — with your significant other, and with God — means making time and space for just being together, without accomplishing anything tangible at all.
After dinner on any particular night, you might find me in the kitchen making sandwiches and little lunch packs for Peter, intermittently checking my email and tidying up the house, while he sits on the couch watching TV. He surely appreciates the homemade meals (and so does our bank account,) but what Peter would really like is for me to be sitting there on the couch with him for an hour or so of decompression time.
He says the happiest moment of his day is when I’m quieted down and snuggled up. Around 9 p.m. he’ll send me a text message — yes, a text message from the other room — asking me to come sit with him. If I still haven’t come out by 9:30, he’ll come to get me with a sad look on his face. “What’s so hard about sitting down to snuggle on the couch with your husband,” the look says. And my exasperated expression often says, “Can’t you see all the things I’m accomplishing here?”
Odds are that you relate to one of us in this story, and gender has nothing to do with it. There are some people who show love by doing — by making things, creating projects or engaging in small acts of kindness — and others who show and want to receive love through being — snuggling, doing mundane activities together, just spending time in the other’s presence. But these aren’t the only types of love: There are some who show love by purchasing tangible tokens of affection, while others show love by verbally expressing their emotions — and the list goes on. (For more on these different “languages of love,” check out marital counselor Gary Chapman’s excellent book, The Five Languages of Love, or see the sidebar on the right.)
Recently, I’ve begun the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, a meditation and prayer retreat in everyday life. As you can imagine, the idea of sitting in meditation and prayer for 30-45 minutes each day doesn’t work well with my doing attitude. Much like there’s always one more email to respond to, and one more thing to do in the kitchen before sitting down with Peter on the couch, there’s always one more thing I want to try to get done before sitting down to pray.
And yet I feel the happiest in my marriage, and the most fulfilled in my prayer life, when I can prioritize that time to sit and be in relationship with those I love and cherish.
More like Mary
This Lent, I have tried to devote more time to prayer. I’m not going to lie — I haven’t been entirely successful. An extra Mass? Sure, I can do that. But quiet time in meditation? Lord, save me. I’ve also tried to devote more time to relaxing and just hanging out with Peter. A dinner-date? Sure, that’s easy and fun, but another hour on the couch watching The Office and 30 Rock… while there’s work to be done? Heaven help me.
See, the problem is I think that I’m right. My work and productivity has to be a good thing and I want to be rewarded for it, not told to stop. But then I think about that beautiful reading about Jesus’ visit to Martha and Mary (Luke 10: 38-42). Martha welcomes Jesus, cooks dinner and does all the work, while Mary sits at His feet and listens to him. At the end of the evening, Martha complains to Jesus, saying, C’mon, I’ve been doing all the work, and Mary isn’t doing anything. But Jesus congratulates Mary for her attention and reprimands Martha for distracting herself with too many mundane things. The moral of the story, as we usually read it, is that it was more important to sit and be with Him than to mess around with dinner.
I’m Martha all the way. Her role has always struck me as important — I mean, someone has to make the dinner, right? And for us do-ers, that role is not one to be diminished. But oftentimes those who express their love through doing things discount the validity and importance of showing love through being. And that’s a mistake, because as Luke’s gospel tells us, quiet attention and physical presence is a very important component of the relationship with those that we love.
This Lent, I’m trying to be a bit more like Mary — in both my prayer life and my personal life. I’m going to try to value the being as much as the doing. Obviously, we’ve all got to be a bit of both — to find that balance between doing and being — but each of us internally has a pull toward one pole or the other. Where are you pulled? Are you a Martha or a Mary? What have you done to help keep in balance in your relationship with God and those you love?
Check out the sidebar to see the five languages of love, and how to give and receive love for each: Do you show your love by your actions? By your words? Through physical touch? And what about your significant other? What “language of love” do they speak? (Don’t know what language of love you speak? Take this online quiz to find out.)
Share your stories as we continue our Lenten journey and all try to grow in our many loves.