A Work in Progress

I was finally able to get my husband to finish a project, but I wasn't as pleased as I thought I'd be.

They mocked me for months. Every morning when I raised the blinds and looked out the window, I saw them. It was almost like they were winking: one Adirondack chair was a deep brick red; the other was white. White primer, to be exact.

We had not run out of red paint. My husband, Pete, had simply run out of daylight on the day he'd planned to paint both. And there they sat, still waiting for Pete to find another day to finish the job.

After 16 years of marriage, I know I shouldn't harp on unfinished household projects, even on those sunny Saturdays when he's playing video games or watching college football. I've heard enough sermons on marriage to know that nagging from me, though it might get the job done, also discourages and alienates my husband. I'd rather have mismatched chairs than a discouraged husband.

Or would I?

As much as I might resolve to leave the man in peace, my resolve has an expiration date. Ultimately, the day comes when I can't (won't) take it anymore. This tends to coincide with an upcoming visit from an out-of-town guest. Or a potluck dinner at our house. Or anything that involves someone from the outside coming inside our house where they might witness the evidence of our . . . gasp! . . . imperfections.

And that day finally arrived for the chairs.

So I exploded. I whined. I scolded. It wasn't pretty.

Pete took it silently. And when I'd exhausted my venom, he disappeared outside. After a while, I looked out the window to see where he'd gone. He was kneeling by that one white chair, slowly turning it red.

Looking at My Own Stuff

There's no real joy in the fact that the chairs match now. In fact, when we had our family photos taken in the middle of the mismatched era, the photographer was thrilled at the contrast and used it to great effect in our portraits.

Truth be told, those chairs still mock me. Because now, when I open the blinds and see their lovely, homogenous red-ness, what I really see is my own nastiness. I recall that day of my self-righteous explosion.

How easy it is for me to take note of all that Pete leaves undone. But what about everything that I leave undone? How many times have my daughters had a no-panties crisis in the morning because I failed to get their laundry done when I'd planned? How many years have I been working on that Christmas cross-stitch that's gathering dust in my sewing basket? (Hint: enough years that there's a rust stain from the needle that's neatly slipped through a couple of holes, as if I'll get right back to it in a minute.) And what about my growing dresser-dust collection?

If you'll indulge my adjustments, Matthew 7:3–5 goes something like this: "Why do you look at the unpainted chair in your husband's eye and pay no attention to the dusty dresser in your own eye? How can you say to him, 'Get your fanny out there and paint that!' when all the time there is a mountain of laundry in your hamper? You hypocrite! Get your own chores done, and then you can help him with his!"

What it comes down to, ultimately, is mercy. I can grit my teeth in self-powered "resolve" all I want, but it can't last. Because it's me-powered. Not until I fully absorb the astonishing volume of mercy that God has shown to me—and that Pete shows to me as well—will I be able to release the expectations that lead to my nagging in the first place.

When I catch myself starting to stare and squint at some unfinished project of Pete's, I let my eyes shift over to an unfinished project of my own. A project that my merciful husband has never once mentioned. That shuts me up pretty quick.

When I take note that he's playing video games, I also take note of our youngest daughter. She's sitting on the sofa beside him having a fabulous time with her daddy. And when he's watching football, I do something really radical. I remind myself that I happen to like football too. I grab some snacks and plop down at his side (where I'm careful not to talk during a long drive—but that's another article).

Finally, when he does get going on a long-awaited project—like adjusting the basketball hoop to a manageable height for our daughters—I don't sigh to myself and think, It's about time! I go out and help him. Inevitably, because neither of us is a descendant of Mr. Fixit, something goes wrong. After we've finished laughing about it, we figure out the solution together.

That beats staring out the window at chairs any day.

Mandy Houk is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Marriage Partnership. She lives with her family and matching Adirondack chairs in Colorado.

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

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