Contending Alone

Something occurred to me today when I was talking to a friend about keeping our cool through the very busy, very hectic Christmas season. She has a new baby at her house and is finding the need to keep it mellow far outweighing the need to make fudge and wreaths. It reminded me of something that my husband told me a while ago (I think during some box mac and cartoon riddled period of our lives). First, you have to make the kids who will eat the cookies. Later, there will be time to make the cookies. This is so, so true. This Christmas is not the only one. You can always start earlier, do more next year.

Sabbath dinner, one of the sweetest family traditions we have, did not start until we were practically adults. There were many years of our childhood (which we loved) that were full of turkey ham and lima beans. Paper napkins. Homemade Bread. Boxed scalloped potatoes with a sausage sliced up in them. Wonderful homemade mac and cheese. Tacos. Spaghetti. Realistic achievements.

Of course it is our hope (and my parents) that our children will get more than we did, and in turn give more than we could. But this is the thing – shoot for what you can hit without stressing, without being unkind to your family, and without staying up all night for two full weeks in December. Try to give more than you think you can, but not so much that you lose your cool.

While we were talking, that wonderful verse in Proverbs came to my mind:  “A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike.”  I think it is safe to say that we are all accustomed to this verse enough to almost ignore it. You  may read it and think,  “And that is why I am not contentious.” You may have a picture in your mind of a woman who walks around after her husband picking fights. Nags the children about everything. Fights with the neighbors over the dog mess. But there are more ways to be contentious that are equally miserable to live with and don’t look nearly as bad.

I’ll have you know that I called my resident Hebrew expert brother-in-law to get a quick word study done. This is what he (and by extension I) found. The Hebrew word for contentious is derived from the word that means to judge. The contentious person thinks she is in the right –  thinks that she is judging correctly. Other associated definitions would be rivalry, to go out to contend with. Ben tells me that this sort of word would turn up in a lot in situations where there were multiple wives.

So here is what I was thinking about. It is not only possible, but easy, to contend with yourself.  You may be weighing your own performance in the balance and finding it wanting. You might be judging yourself, picking on yourself, and thinking that you are totally in the right to do so. You might be contending with how you did last Christmas, with how your sister-in-law is doing this Christmas. You might be contending and judging your home in the light of Martha Stewart or Southern Living. You might be contentious and making fun of Martha Stewart and Southern Living.

You can make life for everyone in your house annoying, miserable, and dreary by being hard on yourself. You may be setting up imaginary wives who are versions of yourself and contending with them. You may be picking on what you think other people want you to be. You may be contentious without noticing, because the only person you fight with is yourself.

So celebrate the Christmas season without contention. Make your home a dry and quiet and happy place to be, even for you. Drop the contentious spirit. Don’t think it is all right for you to be grumpy about what you aren’t getting done. Don’t pick on yourself, because the ramifications of that kind of fussiness lead to a miserable home.

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28 thoughts on “Contending Alone

  1. Much needed reminder for a lady with a two year old and a newborn – wanting to make memories and wanting to cuddle, and falling short in all of it! Thank you!

  2. Thank you, Rachel. I am sitting here crying with relief that you have written this — I have read your little book three times already and have been exhorted and encouraged and comforted. I have a three boys 4, 3, and 21 months and a 4 month old daughter and am just sort of “eke-ing by” wanting to be and do so much more for them (for this Christmas and all else)…What you say is good, good to hear…thank you for writing…please keep doing it.

  3. Thank you Rachel. Excellent. I have a separated pelvis from my pregnancy and so… well, you can guess that I’m not up to my normal work energy. For the most part, by God’s grace alone, I have not felt sorry for myself and have been able to accept this season with peace and grace. I did, however, have a little melt down this morning about the situation. My kind husband was there to lift me up and show me that all will be well, and to remind me of this precious boy in my womb. So you writing this today is very providential indeed.

  4. Rachel – Thanks so much for sharing this. I didn’t even realize that I contend with myself! A recognized burden is one that’s easy to discard.

    And, Luma, I’ve never even heard of a separated pelvis! I just want to come give you a hug. What a great God we serve that He can, and will, provide grace to endure the most unbelievable difficulties!

  5. Thank you for taking the time to write this! I constantly need these types of reminders. You aren’t watching me… are you??

  6. Ouch!! This was a direct hit, timely too, coming on the heels of what i journaled at 5 am this morning when i couldn’t sleep for the guilty barbs i was besieged with, from my own self. Thank you for clarifying this verse – it’s amazing that i read it every month and haven’t applied it to myself. Ever. And it’s ironic that i have come across your name at least 3 other times this very week AND have your blog site saved under my Favorites and looked at it tonight – the first time since March. (sorry) thank you for taking the time to write. I will journal tonight.

  7. Oh wow – I’m realizing how often I contend with myself. That’s not an image I want walking around my house.

    Thanks greatly for the encouragement. After working very hard to be able to come back from Thanksgiving ready for Advent I was extremely disheartened when I ended up going through a bout of food poisoning because I really wanted to be hanging lights, decorating my tree, cooking, etc. It wasn’t “fair” that I got sick when I’d been such a good wife and left things in good order for Advent. (sigh) On the other hand I had a fairly orderly home in which to be sick. That’s always a blessing :)

  8. Love the part about first making the kids who will one day enjoy the cookies and then the cookies can come later, such a great reminder.

    I sit now looking at my imperfect tree with the lopsided garland and bottom heavy ornament placement and as I look closer I notice some random household items stuck in between the branches (a 3 year olds attempt at adding to the decor). I smile and think of how many times I’ve been told by little people over the last few days, “mom, this is the best Christmas ever!”

  9. This is awesome! I love the “first, you have to make kids who will eat the cookies” too! I also think this is an excellent look at contention. You totally nailed it!

  10. “First, you have to make the kids who will eat the cookies. Later, there will be time to make the cookies.”

    This puts things in perspective(and prioritizes things well)! Love it!

  11. Lizzie Jank- I don’t have a new baby, but that’s a nice way to throw me off the scent that you are writing this for me! Or maybe I’m the hit wolf? Either way – Thanks! I have never thought of contention in this fashion and I really do need to knock it off! :)

  12. This was a good reminder… I’ve been frustrated at my lack of being able to do all the usual December things having just had my appendix out a couple of weeks ago and now dealing with a kidney infection. Now I need to put it into practice…

  13. Thanks, Rachel…never thought about these other subtle forms of contention in this light. I’ll be trying to guard against such.

    Franci, so sorry the illness is continuing!

  14. Thank you for giving me the kick in the seat of the pants taht I needed! Slow down, breathe, read that book with the little one…again. The atmosphere is most of what they’ll remember.

  15. Suddenly I was filled with overwhelming gratitude that we no longer live in polygamous relationships. Thank you God for doing away with the multiple wives thing! May it never return.

  16. I have heard the phrase “comparison is a thief of joy” how very true especially during this holiday season. What a wonderful reminder to take it easy on ourselves and do the best we can with the grace of God and a joyful heart.

  17. Ladies — I posted this on FB and gave a bunch of my friends a virus! :( They think it is some sort of malware left in the comments section. :( Just letting you know! Megan

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