Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Lesson learned as a tree falls

Psalm 147:5 (NIV)

Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
   his understanding has no limit.
My father and father-in-law cut down a tree in the front of our house today. Kristie has wanted it gone for a while because it was more or less brushing up against the upper level of the house. That made regular trimming somewhere between complicated and impossible. Previous owners of our home failed to prune it properly, exacerbating the problem. Plus it shed sticks and fruit throughout the summer. It will be replaced, eventually, with something much more suitable for the location. The replacement tree is a tenth anniversary present from my parents (and yes, our eleventh anniversary is Saturday).

The two dads got involved because the job was deemed easy enough for amateurs and too expensive to hire professionals. Kristie’s parents planned a trip here today anyhow for her birthday with her dad offering to do odd jobs around the house. My dad is always up for a chance to wield a chainsaw, and the anniversary tree has been his project all along. It didn’t start out with the removal of this tree being in play, but given time to think it over, that’s where Kristie decided it should end up.

The grandfathers at work — with a little help from Max.
And that essentially is my underlying point: I yielded control of this project, and it felt good. I did not have a personal desire for the tree to come down, neither did I have a great interest in fighting for its preservation. I didn’t want to get involved in logistics or expense or any other matter. I offered my labor if needed, but more or less tried to simply butt out of the process. And it felt really, really good.

In my book, there’s an important distinction between outright apathy and intentional avoidance. As it relates to the tree, I didn’t say, “I don’t care what you do,” I tried to communicate a message along the lines of, “You have my full support and I will live happily with whatever you decide.” I was happy to let Kristie and Pops sort things out. I was thrilled when I learned both dads would be able to work together and remove this problem from Kristie’s life on her birthday. And I was happy to do my part by herding kids and washing dishes.

Just as we learned early on how important the “choose your battles” concept can be as it relates to parenting, it also is fairly well applicable to the rest of life. It’s simply impossible to control everything, or to be deeply passionate about every possible issue, so what’s the use of pouring a bunch of extra energy into matters that end up being fairly insignificant? If I didn’t save myself for the days where my full focus is required, I might never be of much use to anyone.

Maybe someday I’ll learn to give way on something more significant than the fate of a tree in the front yard. Perhaps I already have and I just can’t recall the specifics. I think in our years as married folks, and especially as parents, each of us has learned there are times to seriously discuss a matter and times to let one person take the ball and run. We’ve also made progress by clearly stating expectations and asking forward questions if one party needs clarification.

It all boils down to communication and being honest. There’s not much to be gained by pretending to agree with something that in reality makes me angry. Nor is there any use in fighting hard for something I could just as soon let drop. We might end up making some choices running counter to my thoughts, but at least we go down that road with all the facts on the table. And ultimately, when we only have to hash out the truly important matters, it makes day-to-day life so much more agreeable because we both realize how much we still have in common all these years later.

Agreeable spouses tend to make agreeable parents. This benefits us in many ways, from providing a united front when trying to hold firm against the kids to habitually modeling a functional relationship for our boys. When we do disagree, we’re pretty much able to do so responsibly and with maturity. And if we afford our children the same degree of honest communication that girds the marriage, ideally we’ll have an entire family that knows how to talk to one another no matter the circumstance, always with love.

I’m not trying to paint a picture of perfection. We’re far, far from perfect. The main lesson I take from today is the value of letting go when there’s nothing to be gained from hanging on. So much of life is so incidental when compared to what truly matters. And the important stuff requires such a great amount of energy and attention, why expend either on the insignificant? The more I allow myself to learn this lesson, the better chance I have of passing it on to the next generation.

A prayer for June 5:

Lord, thank you for helping me to see life in light of what matters to you. I am continually in need of your guidance to know when I am trying too hard in areas that don’t need much of my attention — and for the reminders of when I am being lax in parts of life that require my absolute best. I ask you to give me strength, wisdom, patience and whatever else I may need to succeed in the ways you lead me, and to help me make sure I don’t spend any time walking down the wrong path. Use me as you need me. Amen.

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