Does toilet paper belong in the under or over position? Does silverware belong face up or down in the dishwasher? Does the butter belong in the refrigerator or cupboard?
Does it matter?
If you’re in a relationship and you’ve had the misfortune of asking that last question in the heat of the moment, you may have found yourself sleeping on the couch. For many couples, the answers to these questions matter a lot. The right answer brings peace and structure to the relationship. The wrong answer can be a threat to one’s personal well-being. Thus a loud, heated debate seems warranted as self-defense. But let me be bold in asking the question again, does it matter? So that I don’t find myself sleeping on the couch tonight, let me explain.
In his book Sacred Marriage, author Gary Thomas shares an early point of tension in his marriage; empty ice cube trays. Thomas explains that as a child his family had a rule. If you took an ice cube, you filled the tray back up. However, when Thomas got married he discovered that his wife was oblivious to this rule and rarely refilled the tray. This frustrated Thomas so much that he timed how long it would take to complete the simple task. Seven seconds. That seven seconds was proof to Thomas that his wife could easily fill the trays, but it was not as convincing to her. Rather than convincing his wife, those seven seconds actually taught Thomas a valuable lesson and exposes an underlying virus that affects all relationships.
“It finally dawned on me one day that if it takes Lisa just seven seconds to fill an ice cube tray, that’s all it takes me as well. Was I really so selfish that I was willing to let seven seconds worth of inconvenience become a serious issue in my marriage? Was my capacity to show charity really that limited?”
Selfishness spoils relationships. It turns us from loving our best friend to yelling at them over ice cubes and toilet paper. That seems ridiculous reading it on the screen, but couples do it every day. They find their blood boiling because in their eyes, the way things should be is not the way things are.
In the early months of our marriage, I found myself regularly rearranging the dishwasher. I did not do this to be more efficient, but because things were in the “wrong” place. The bowls needed to go one way and the cups another. As I moved them around I felt frustrated that I had to do this so often. One day I caught myself entertaining that frustration. I stopped, stood up, and asked myself “Does this really matter? Is this really something worth getting worked up over?” I feel like I heard God shout, “No”.
I don’t love dishes more than my wife. I don’t love toilet paper or ice cubes more than my wife. That sounds silly, but when I put my petty preferences above her then it sure seems like they are more important. She is worth sacrificing my preferences for. In the long run of our marriage and eternity, the way the dishes are placed does not matter. The way the toilet paper is positioned does not matter. What does matter is setting aside my selfishness and choosing to serve my wife.
Rather than seeking to serve my selfish desires, I need to seek to serve her. That’s what marriage is all about; serving the other. Because I love her, I want to show that love by putting her first. That is what Christ did for us. He selflessly served us by sacrificing His life on the cross for us, that we would not be bound to sin and death, but that we may be set free (Romans 5:8). Since Christ did that for me, the least I can do is selflessly serve others, especially my wife.
If you want to know what is the matter with your relationship consider who you’re serving. Are you serving yourself or serving others?