Despite her strong streak of neatness and order, my wife leaves trash all around the kitchen, and I’m pretty sure she isn’t the slightest bit aware of it.
I noticed it many years ago, that when she would open something that had a tear-off part to it (like the corner of a bag of chips, the pull-strip to a frozen box of peas, etc.), she would pull it, throw it on the counter, and then put all her attention on whatever she had just opened. I’ve observed this behavior several times, testing to see if she could even see the garbage that she was leaving on the counter, but after a few days, she still seemed to not notice it. It was as if the trash became invisible once it hit the marble top.
Since I tend to be wrong in most matters in my marriage (or at least that’s what my wife tells me), I was anxious to point out this flaw of hers and finally be right about something. I’ve been waiting for just the right moment, but that moment never seemed to come. So, instead of alerting her to this behavior and attempting to change its course, I decided to do something different: I would change myself.
Instead of seeing her strewn trash as an annoyance, I decided to allow it to endear her to me. Her refuse-tossing then became a cute flaw of hers, a little secret that only I knew. Even to this day, I’ve never told her about it, so she still has no idea of her deed or how it makes me smile to see it. What was once something that irked me regularly, I now get joy from every time I throw it away myself, because it reminds me that I am happy that she is in my life.
When in a relationship, romantic or otherwise, we are often told to love people despite their flaws, because if we were to take the ill-advised time to see others for all their faults and misgivings, we would all run from one another, and the institution of marriage would collapse. So, we choose to overlook a great deal in one another for the sake of the relationship. We decide to focus not on what makes one another undesirable but what make each other special. Yet when the annoyances come up, and they do come up, choosing to put up with them is an act of love. Love is a choice, and when we choose to see them for who they are, not for who they might be, that is choosing love.
Our sinful nature easily makes us distasteful to one another, so we can only imagine how repulsive it must be to a perfect being. However, as the Bible repeats to us over and over, God inexplicably sees us for our flaws and loves us even more. Paul, the writer of Romans 5.8, fully encapsulates Christ’s unreasonable love for us in this statement: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God looked at us, and seeing our despicable nature, decided that He would do the most selfless, loving thing He could do: die for us so that we could be saved. The purity of His view on our nature displays a deep devotion to us, one that goes far beyond any flaw we might have. He looked beyond our flaws, beyond our heart, and chose to love us more than we could possibly love Him back.
Christ puts forth a model in how we should love one another, yet is it really enough for us to just look past each other’s flaws and appreciate one another despite them? Yes, the act of looking past each other’s misdeeds and imperfections is our choice, but if it is from us, then all the credit goes to us. So, how can we see God in the other person if we are busy patting ourselves on the back for seeing the best in our significant others?
Seeing past my wife’s inability to find the trashcan helps me appreciate her more, but it also sends me a deeper message about my place on this earth. It is a strong reminder that even the best of us are flawed, that we all make mistakes, and that none of us are alone in our imperfections. When we frustratingly seem to be repeating the same mistakes in our lives ad nauseum and become frustrated with the way we are, a little trash on the table is an acute reminder that we are all in this together. There is a commonality amongst us all that reveals our humanity, reinforcing the idea that there is not even one of us who is perfect, which isn’t a bad thing.
Realizing that we are not perfect and never going to be can be a humbling and sobering thought, yet there is a surprising amount of comfort to be found in it, as well. Too often, we strive for perfection in our lives, an unattainable concept, when we should be putting forth efforts to strive to more carefully and deeply love on another. The debris on the table is a reminder to me that I should avoid working towards a perfect life, which only leads to self-righteousness, and instead work towards a loving life, one where I will never confront her about her garbage. This week, don’t let the annoyances of others and the faults of their character exasperate you, but instead, let it be a reminder of how much this world needs love, and then start fulfilling that need in others. Amen.