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What I Learned at the Mall

When my husband watched our toddler while I shopped, he did more than he could imagine.

A few years ago, my husband, Greg, and I were shopping with our then 18-month-old daughter, Taylor. I was lugging her around and trying to browse the aisles, and it was starting to wear on me. Greg noticed my frustration and asked, "Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Yes!" I said. "Would you take Taylor and let me shop alone? I can't get what I need with her hanging on me."

"Sure," he said.

So after I gave several last-minute instructions, Taylor and Greg set off in search of a bookstore he'd seen earlier. Once inside, Taylor and Greg discovered the biggest children's section they'd ever seen. There were mountains of books, and an enormous stage where the kids could play. Instantly, Taylor situated herself in the middle of the stage, and Greg and Taylor began looking at a picture book.

As Taylor and Greg read, Greg felt as if they were being watched. So Greg looked up and noticed several mothers smiling at him. A few moms even commented about what a precious daughter he had. As Greg glanced around the room, he noticed he was the only father present.

Because he'd performed a "servant duty" to me, he discovered he was enjoying the reward of spending time with Taylor and receiving praise from others for doing that.

I'm really onto something with this servant thing for my wife, he thought. I'm enjoying myself, and my wife appreciates what I've done. I'm a hero!

Unfortunately, Greg's celebrity status was short-lived.

He soon noticed that those same mothers who'd been smiling now seemed disgusted with him.

Confused, he glanced toward Taylor who was now playing with finger paint. Brown finger paint? he wondered. Where did she get that? Then it dawned on my husband. That wasn't paint!

Earlier that day, Taylor had developed a rash on her bottom. So the combination of her rash and a messy diaper resulted in a very itchy toddler. As a result of her scratching, Taylor "painted" some of the stage and several books with the contents of her diaper. Greg ended up having to purchase several more books than he'd intended.

Later, when Greg told me about our daughter's "artistic expression," I was tempted to lecture him about not checking Taylor's diaper. But instead, I simply thanked him for letting me shop alone.

I realized Greg had tried to serve me, to make my shopping experience pleasant—and he'd already had enough troubles just cleaning up Taylor and the mess. I also realized that if I did lecture him, he wouldn't want to serve me anymore!

So I gratefully thanked him for what he did for me. I even apologized for the humiliation he must have felt.

We wound up serving each other. My positive response was my way of serving Greg in return.

When you serve your mate, it's essentially another way to communicate honor, or a high value.

Also, when you do something for your mate it motivates him to return the kindness.

I've found that honor (or service) is the single most important principle I know of for building a healthy relationship. That day, I recognized how important it is for Greg and me to begin applying servanthood to our marriage.

This is the essence of what Jesus was driving at when he said the second greatest commandment is, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39). Serving my mate needs to be a decision I make every day. Since Greg and I interpret "service" differently, I try to ask him such questions as, "How can I help make your work easier today?"

Why not give serving a try? You may discover that allowing "honor" to reign can be dramatic and life-changing.

Erin Smalley, a family counselor at the Smalley Relationship Center (www.smalleyonline.com), lives in Missouri.

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

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Help; Marriage; Service
Today's Christian Woman, Winter, 2003
Posted September 30, 2008

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