New, some unpleasant, distasteful, but necessary chores and responsibilities land on everyone’s plate at some time. This blog was inspired by brother, Mac, who has assumed a new role of cook after more than 60 years of marriage due to his wife, Eileen’s, sudden sightlessness. He’d prefer to counsel, study and hike but he made a conscious decision to change a have-to into a want-to. He’s found delight as Eileen shares memorized instructions from her wealth of recipes and cooking skills, which not only makes his job simpler and more fun, but promotes her to chef-advisor as he learns the trade. As we say in our family “They are happy campers”.
Have you said, or currently surmising, “Who, except for me, is going to take care of that job?” I’d like to press a button and pass that responsibility to another.” “I didn’t sign up for this.” “or certainly, I can find a way out of this mess.”
A deeper psychological consideration, as Mac projected, is “‘Why have you chosen to make that distasteful chore into a full-fledged negative? Why not convert it into a positive by discovering how an unpleasant activity could become the source for discovering hidden purpose and enriched self-esteem? “
A story I read years ago about a young mother who was terrified when she learned that their child was afflicted with mental delays which would require more parenting skill and time, verifies this possibility. She wondered how she could continue her office job and provide the special care their son needed. She read everything she could get her hands on and dialogued with other parents who shared the same child-care dilemma. At the beginning, she felt very inadequate but was determined to do her best. As other parents consulted her for advice, her initial trepidation was changed into a passion to share what she had learned. Eventually, her notes which filled several folders, became a published book.
I’ve mentioned how my brother, John, a widower, accepted the responsibility for his deceased daughter’s seven children who ranged in age from 5-20, which meant drastic changes to his already packed schedule of college teaching, church responsibilities, adding more cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, counseling, comforting, homework and on and on. His reflection on grandfather-parenting has been “The children have been a blessing as they have adjusted to their loss by applying themselves to music, sports, church and study.” They have adopted their Grandpa’s example of hard work without complaints. John, at 90 years, says the involvement has kept him young.
Most of us are deluged with new undertakings at home, work and community that we would rather not even try. Since Jim’s death, I’ve had to assume jobs that he’d never allow me to do when he was around. Grass, leaves and dirt on the driveway bother me. “I guess I’ll have to remedy that”, I reasoned with myself. I knew where he kept the leaf blower that he used and ascertained that it had a plug, so it had to be electric and there was a long yellow cord close by. I plugged everything in and pointed it down the drive, pushed the button (I didn’t know I pushed it to high) and it just about took me down the drive as well. It wasn’t a job I would have signed up for, but after I realized I actually could lift it and make it work, I felt empowered along with getting a sense of accomplishment and said aloud, “Well, what do you think about that, Jim? Bet you never thought I could handle that undertaking.”
The same applies to getting income tax ready. Jim would set up shop for several days. He’d ask me to supply medical expenses, donations and my business figures, but otherwise, I was basically an observer and encourager. I’m a writer, cook, gardener and counselor, not fond of numbers. But, now, it was totally up to me to assemble all those figures. I dreaded this project because it took my reading and writing time as well as trying to make sense out of his and my bookwork. But after it was finished, I felt a little smug. A financial friend picked up and delivered my figures to an accountant. Receiving all the forms that needed to be signed and checks written was intimidating. But, again, I addressed myself and said “Tomorrow, first thing, allow a full hour to read the directions. You are smart enough to do this.” I only had to call the accountant four times with questions. She was so patient and kind. But, when it was completed, stamped and in the mail box, I squared my shoulders and said “Good job”. My self-esteem was strengthened, the job was not only done but I had made a new friend. It was obvious that learning new things builds character, strengthens confidence and keeps one’s mind supple.
Whenever Jim would experience a flat tire, a broken part or an appliance that quit working, he’d say aloud “How about that?” and kind of laugh about it. I am trying to do the same thing. After a year of learning to do the chores that Jim always enjoyed doing, I decided to develop a like for doing them rather than dreading them and try to laugh.
Friends and family have been helping me with car care, repair of leaks, yard care and even filling my gas tank. Now, don’t laugh, but in 65 years of marriage, I never was asked or allowed (not that I wanted to learn) to fill the gas tank of my automobile. Jim liked that job, so I was happy to let him do it. But recently, I decided it was time for me to learn how to fuel up. So, I asked granddaughter, Katy, to be my coach. “Ok, Grandma, first thing is to unscrew the gas cap.” My arthritic hands could not budge it, so I have accepted that inability and necessity to rely on a family member for assistance with that job.
I’m confident that as you call to mind experiences with assigned jobs, you’ll agree that seemingly daunting and overwhelming challenges are also craftily embedded with surprises and long-range benefits. We’re ahead of the game if we envision squeezing out of disliked chores some positive benefit, besides getting completing the task. Originally, this was to be my final paragraph, until I stepped outside to water flowers.
I noticed that the tulips and spring flowers were totally gone and needed to be clipped, a project Jim always took care of, aware that using the clippers was difficult for me. I had no choice but tackle this job. I located the clippers that Jim used and as I was on my knees beginning to work, I said aloud to myself, “I do not enjoy clipping. How can I follow my suggestions about joyfully converting have-to’s into want-to’s? This is not fun but what part of this could be enjoyable. I counted my blessings. It was cool, I was in the shade and it was quiet. Then, I heard the birds singing. They had been singing all the while but I was not hearing them. And during the clipping, I had comforting and pleasant reminders about how Jim always took care of any distasteful but necessary chores without complaint. I could almost hear him say, “I’ll pick up the clippings and put the hose back. You’ve been out here long enough.” I was reminded about the many ways he protected me. Clipping was well-worth the warm thoughts of Jim.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” (Phil. 4:13) flooded my thinking along with the actualization that I am truly “a happy camper’ doing Jim’s clipping chore. What a critical component incentive plays in all that we are assigned to do.
God knows our weaknesses, abilities and unmet needs. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy. Ps. 94:19
Thank you, God, for awakening incentive and creativity as we attempt to handle new challenges. And thank you for giving us calming and unhurried attitudes as we learn to want to do what we have to do.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him so that you may overflow with hope in the power of the Holy Spirit. Rom. 15:13 (NIV)