Awhile back, a family member started a discussion on her Facebook page where people posted in-the-moment photos of their living rooms. Her goal was primarily to make hard working mothers realize they weren’t alone, that not everyone’s home looks like a Best of Pinterest spread. I really liked the concept.
But one young woman walked into the conversation and essentially said there was no excuse for anyone to have a messy home, no matter how busy they were or how many kids they had. “It’s not that hard,” she said. “You just pick up as you go along.”
On the one hand, I think she was coming from a place of naivete: she didn’t yet have uncontrolled Others in her life, like a spouse or children, and (bless her heart) her views are likely to undergo some adjustment someday. On the other hand, I got the impression order was really and truly not a mystery or a hard thing to her. She honestly and simply couldn’t understand those who felt differently.
In an intellectual sort of way, I know “you just pick up as you go along.” But that requires a) that you have figured out where to put things away or what it means to pick up and, and b) that you actually manage to do it consistently. And I don’t. Yes, I resolve repeatedly to do so. Sometimes I manage a week or two of working toward it.
But then there comes a day when I get home all worn out, and instead of scrubbing the tub and vacuuming, I sit down with a book or the guitar and spend time on that instead, and the next thing I know, I’ve built a little nest of books and instruments and empty coffee mugs around the couch and computer chair, while the rest of the house falls apart.
Could I do better? Sure. But it’s a serious struggle for me. It always has been and likely always will be. So those comments stung, and I was upset that someone couldn’t or wouldn’t understand what that might be like.
Fast-forward to yesterday. I stood up to stretch for a minute by my desk, and as I looked out the window, I spotted a young man across the street, talking on his cell phone and smoking. He was wearing scrubs, and this above all set me off. Here’s a guy who’s obviously in the medical field, probably a nurse or radiology tech from the hospital down the street. He knows, almost certainly better than most, that smoking is bad for you. And yet, there he is, smoking!
It bothered me enough that I started ranting to co-workers. I went from there to ranting that though Dad is a respiratory therapist and we’ve all heard horror stories about emphysema and other lung baddies, I still have family members who smoke or who have smoked, and I DO NOT UNDERSTAND. How could they be so stupid?
Then, like a smack-down from above, it hit me: I have no temptation to smoke, but there are times when I’ll buy a half gallon of ice cream and finish it off over the course of a weekend. I know it’s bad for me. I know it doesn’t fix any of my problems. I know it doesn’t make me feel awesome. Still, I do it.
And I remembered that living room conversation, how frustrated I was by it. It struck me: I do exactly the same thing to others at times.
To quote Frank Sheed, “You commit the sins that tempt you, and I the sins that tempt me. And we all feel virtuous for not committing other people’s sins, whereas there is no virtue at all in not committing sins for which one lacks either the temptation or the constitution.”
We have to recognize that just as we all have gifts, we carry a variety of crosses. If we lose sight of this fact, we run the risk of doing one of two things:
1. Seeing others struggle with things that are not a temptation or weakness for us, and despising or condemning them for it,
2. Seeing that others have no problems with things that are temptations or weaknesses for us, and despising or condemning ourselves for this.
On the positive side, our differing struggles offer opportunities to reach out to one another: to make up shortcomings with our own strengths, and to exercise kindness and patience, even when we do not–even cannot–understand.