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Oh, the Mess

Why can't he just pick up his stuff? Like me. Well, sort of.

One Saturday morning shortly after Brian and I were married, I made a disturbing discovery. Squeezing into the small space between the bed and the wall to tuck in a loose corner of the blanket,

I found a small mound of dirty socks.

What are all these socks doing here? I wondered, wrinkling my nose.

Okay, I'm not the most thorough gal with a vacuum. It was easy to ignore that small, out-of-the-way strip of carpet—creating the perfect hideaway.

Suddenly Brian's empty sock drawer made sense. I'd been baffled when, despite finishing several loads of laundry, his socks seemed mysteriously scarce.

When I questioned him, Brian explained that his evening ritual was to climb under the covers, pull off his socks, and drop them on the floor beside the bed.

This cleared up the mystery of why my husband owned 26 pairs of socks.

"And who will collect these socks?"

I quizzed. "The sock fairy?"

Brian shrugged. "Look at the bright side. At least they're all in one place!"

That made me feel so much better.

Of course, those socks weren't the only problem. There were the shirts left in the kitchen, papers on the table, tools not put away. And itsy bitsy whisker hairs scattered all over the sink. Though the list seemed endless, my patience wasn't. I pointed out. Reminded. Prodded. Suggested. But nothing changed.

Finally, after we'd been married three months, I decided it was time I clarified the "house rules." Again.

"We've got a problem," I announced. "When you leave your stuff all over the house, you disrespect me. How often do I have to ask you to clean up after yourself?" I paused, narrowing my eyes when he remained mute. "Are you even listening?"

"Aw, Ruth," Brian said. "I'm sorry. I really am."

Yes! I thought triumphantly. He finally gets it!

"By the way," Brian said with a smirk, pointing to the cushion beside him, "who does that belong to?"

I looked at the sweater, bunched carelessly at the end of the couch, and recalled stripping it off several nights earlier when I became too warm while watching TV. Uh-oh.

Immediately I went on the defensive. We're talking about you not me, I thought. Don't switch the focus in the middle of our conversation! "The point is," I snapped, "I pick up my mess and I pick up your mess. I'm just asking for help. I'm carrying the entire load."

I stomped off to our bedroom, muttering under my breath. The nerve of Brian, accusing me of being sloppy. That was his problem, not mine. 

Still fuming, my gaze drifted over all the clutter. A plate with a half-eaten cookie. Shirts and jeans crumpled on a chair. Books strewn on the night stand. All mine. And socks scattered everywhere—black, red, striped. Mine.

Reluctantly, I thought about my behavior the last few months. I didn't like what I saw. My eyesight was clear when it came to chalking up Brian's transgressions. But I had a few blind spots when it came to recognizing my own. Though my pride resisted the revelation, I had to admit that Brian wasn't the one I needed to concentrate on changing.

Jesus said, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? … You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:3, 5). Maybe it was time to remove that plank.

Later that evening I found Brian reading in our room. "Hi, honey," I said sheepishly. I took a deep breath and dove in. "I'm sorry. I've been nagging you about leaving your things around the house, but I'm just as bad." Tension flowed from my body as I watched him smile. "How about I make you a deal? How about every time I nag, I bake your favorite chocolate chip cookies?"

Brian laughed and gave me a high five. "Deal! And for every one of my socks you find lying on the floor, I'll vacuum for a week."

Since I despise vacuuming, the deal required little negotiation.

I still struggle with focusing on Brian's faults instead of my own—and I've baked plenty of cookies! But I'm learning to step back before I open my mouth. When I do, I see the whole picture. A truer picture.

Taking an honest look at my faults has been an eye-opening experience. But my husband, my marriage, and my cooking skills have benefited from it.

Ruth and Brian Bergen: married 3 years (on Valentine's Day); reside in: Manitoba, Canada; favorite activity: rollerblading

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Cleanliness; Home; Marriage; Organization
Today's Christian Woman, Summer, 2007
Posted September 12, 2008

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