My confessor admitted to a common theme he’s hearing among COVID-19-related confessions: no more patience. I think Mother Angelica hit the nail on the head when she said, “We’d all be perfect if it weren’t for people.” Quarantining with the same people, day after day, will certainly challenge one's holiness, don’t you agree?
But here’s the thing. I was struggling with people before COVID-19. And by people, I mean my family. I am just going to come out and say it at the risk of you not liking me, because up until now you had no idea how selfish I was, but here it goes: why do I always have to be the one to go first?
The first to make the coffee.
The first to ask, “Can I get you more coffee?”
The first to do the dishes.
The first to say sorry.
The first to put others first.
Why can't you go first?
This, sweet sisters, is a toxic weed that we need to pull at the roots. Nothing kills a relationship faster than a tally chart in your head and a stone of pride in your heart. And yet, nurturing the weed is easier than lovingly serving our husbands or friends, especially when it requires putting our own comfort aside.
If we look to Scripture, there is no denying that to “go first” is what we are called to do. Matthew 20:26-28 says, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And in Philippians 2:3 we are commanded, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Try preaching that one at your next cocktail party.
It’s tempting to follow the world instead of Christ. The world, after all, would support my complaint. The world would see nothing wrong with the bitterness I harbor and anger I justify when, once again, I have to be the one in a relationship that goes first. Have you ever experienced this feeling? Have you ever been in a relationship that was dying a slow death because you couldn't let go of the resentment for always having to go first? If so, I’d like to offer you one small piece of practical advice; a little something that works for me when resentment invites himself into my heart, and I reach for that tally chart.
I turn to Ephesians 6:5-8:
“Slaves, be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ, not only when being watched, as currying favor, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, willingly serving the Lord and not human beings, knowing that each will be requited from the Lord for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.”
There is a sentence tucked neatly in the middle that jumps out at me. Did you catch it?
“Do the will of God from the heart, willingly serving the Lord and not human beings.”
How do we do this? How can we willingly serve God as we struggle with wanting to be served? How do we see God in all of the human faces that we have been staring at for the last three months? I have an idea. And listen up, because I am not saying this is easy but nothing worth gaining heaven ever is. The next time you are called to go first, and something in your heart starts bubbling up, and it is so not love...ask yourself this:
This cup of coffee I serve, I serve to God?
These dishes I clean, I clean for God?
That loving response I offer, I offer to God?
This is how I have been slowly transforming my heart. Ridding it of the bitterness and anger, and replacing the desire to be served with the desire to be the servant. And not just any servant. But a servant of Christ. Because here is the thing. I do love Him. And I don’t want anything to get in the way of that love.
Just this week, as I grabbed myself a cup of coffee (coffee that I made; one check for me on the tally chart!) and settled on the couch with my Bible, I opened up to begin my morning prayer. The reading was from the First Letter of John, and was not a coincidence:
“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
And so I got up, threw out my tally chart, poured a second cup of coffee, and lovingly brought it to my husband. You see, when we ask, “But why do I have to go first?”, we must remember...we don’t. God does.
God went first.
P.S. If you relate to this struggle, I highly recommend watching the Opening Your Heart Connect Coffee Talk 4: Priority Three Marriage (Lesson 14: Marriage - Transformed By Grace in the study guide). You can watch it for free over at the Walking With Purpose website!