“Let all that you do be done in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:14
One dish you will always find on our dinner table during a holiday meal or special occasion is homemade noodles. That is everyone’s favorite and the pot of noodles is usually bigger than the platter of turkey or ham. Even the leftovers (if any) are in high demand and don’t last long. The ingredients are simple – flour and eggs – but the process is labor-intensive…hand mixing, rolling the dough, cutting the noodles, and dropping them one by one into the pan…then cleaning up the flour and sticky mess left behind. It might be easier to use store-bought “homemade” noodles but it wouldn’t be the same. It takes some muscle behind that wooden spoon, some rolling-pin skills, and a steady cutting hand to make that family favorite. There might be only two ingredients mixed together in those homemade noodles but there is a third ingredient you can’t buy – and that is love.
Chocolate chips cookies are a family favorite too. It is a simple recipe that I found online a few years back and it is one of the best. I made those cookies for my children on the day I found out I had cancer the first time. I poured my heart and soul into that batch of cookies as I thought about how much I loved my children and how much I wanted to be here for them. The mixing, scooping, leveling — I did it all with love in my heart. I know that baking is a science experiment and the finished product will be the same as long as you follow the recipe; but somehow, those chocolate chip cookies always tasted better when I didn’t just “follow the recipe”. Those cookies tasted better when I thought about my kids, my family, my friends – or whoever was going to receive those cookies – with every level scoop and heaping teaspoon that went into that batter. They always tasted better that way because doing things with love makes all the difference.
We all had tasks and chores. We liked some more than others. I loved baking cookies. I loved making homemade noodles for my family. There were also things that I didn’t really enjoy. I didn’t like to pack school lunches. It was a chore that I dreaded every day. Maybe it was because my children were picky and didn’t like traditional ‘lunchbox’ foods. Maybe it was because I hated wasting food and my children often brought home what I packed and I sometimes had to throw it away. Maybe it was because my evenings were hurried and it was one more thing I had to do. Who knows? I didn’t like to fold and put away laundry either. Something about that big pile of clothes full of inside-out pants, two-layered and tangled shirts, and mismatched socks- it drove me crazy sometimes. I found doing the dinner dishes daunting. I was blessed to have a dishwasher but I was also born with a strange disorder that prompted me to practically wash the dishes before they went into said dishwasher. There could be no fleck of food, no smear of potatoes left on a plate before it went in. I loaded the basically already clean dishes into the dishwasher and then started on the pans. The dreaded pans. The caked on, baked on pans that should probably have soaked in the sink for a while; however, I didn’t have the patience or that kind of time. I scrubbed and worked up a sweat in order to remove every last bit of that stuck-on mess off my pots and pans. I hurried through that chore so that I could get on with the evening’s tasks – like homework, bedtime routines, … and packing those lunches!
All of those things used to bother me. I learned though, that it is all about perspective. After my diagnosis, I looked at things differently. All those things that seemed like extra work or an extra hassle weren’t so bad anymore. When I had to make those homemade noodles, I was grateful that I got to prepare them for another holiday meal. Every holiday with my family was special and as silly as it might have been, those noodles were a part of that. It was a privilege to make them for my family and to celebrate a special occasion with them. Those lunches? How could I complain about packing my children a lunch when my greatest fear was not being here to do these things for them? How could I not be excited about packing them food to nourish their bodies while they were away from me at school? The laundry? I changed my perspective on that too. These were the clothes they wore during their “growing up” years, during those special events in their lives – that shirt that my daughter wore on the first day of school, those pants my son wore to his first band concert, those pajamas they both wore on Christmas Eve. I thought about how those clothes held memories and showcased their personalities. I thought about how many clothes I had loved and then had to pack or give away because they had outgrown them. The dishes? Those dishes held the food that filled the bellies of those I loved most in this world. Those dishes were a byproduct of a family meal – a time spent together, full of shared laughs and discussions about our days. Every night I was able to wash those dishes, it meant I was blessed with another day to spend with my family. I received another gift from God. How on earth could I complain?
It really was true that if you changed your way of thinking, you could change your whole life. Those mundane tasks, those dreaded chores – they weren’t always easy and they weren’t always fun. It was hard to get excited about things like housework sometimes. But in every task, there was a blessing if you looked for it. Our days were busy, our time was limited, and our patience was always being tested. Our loved ones could push our buttons, our responsibilities could be overwhelming, and our fuses could be shortened by stress and fatigue – but within those things we “had” to do are things we should have been grateful we “got” to do.
That change in thinking could make a huge difference in your happiness and your willingness to serve your family and others.
Driving your kids from school to practice may feel like a chore, especially after a grueling work day. Think about how fortunate you are to have a car, to have the resources to pay for those activities. Somewhere there is a devastated parent grieving the loss of a child or a lonely parent whose children are grown – what they wouldn’t give to have to drive a child to practice. Somewhere there is a distressed parent who must explain to their child why they can’t sign up for dance classes or try out for the football team. They simply can’t get them to practice because they have to work or they can’t afford to pay the fees. You “get to” do what they wish they could do. Sign your children up and drive them…and do it with love in your heart.
Being diagnosed with a terminal illness and facing the reality that as my disease progresses, I won’t physically be able to do these things for my children or for my family is sad and scary. Knowing that there will come a time, much sooner than I ever expected, when I simply won’t be here at all … that is devastating. When you have to live with that knowledge every single minute of every single day, it becomes harder to complain about packing a lunch, folding clothes, or washing the dishes. I feel guilty for ever complaining about those things. I should have been happy that I had the honor to do them.
God wants us to love and to serve. We need to do so with a loving heart, regardless of the task at hand. It is a blessing to bless others and it is a blessing to serve, even when we may not feel like doing so. God wants us to reach out to strangers and to help those in need but we need to focus our attention on our families and loved ones as well. Why do we so willingly serve within our jobs or other obligations but we sometimes so begrudgingly do it for our loved ones? We don’t mind going that extra mile for our boss or a friend but we become resentful of our parents, spouses, or family members when they ask a favor of us? Why do we work hard at coaching a sports team or planning a classroom holiday party but we don’t put that same effort and passion into activities with our own children? We should never deny a stranger a helping hand when we are able to help so why would we complain about helping those we love?
When you open your heart to give to others, we are all better for it. Packing lunches and doing dishes suddenly doesn’t seem like an obligation anymore. A chore seems like a humbling privilege. Pouring our hearts into our own families shouldn’t feel like we are being ‘put out’. We are investing in those most important to us. The next time you are making your ‘to do’ list, think about it as a ‘get to’ list. Maybe even write that on the top of the page. Remember … change your perspective and change your life. Then, take a look at the items on that list. Who are your serving? Who are you forgetting? Are you going to complete that list with obligation or with love?
Because when you do all things in love, it makes all the difference.