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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Being Sensitive to the Needs of Others

(This was written about ten years ago. My son Edward is now a college graduate. We still have cats, unfortunately)

We ran into money problems again. After all of the times my family and I have been short of cash, you would think that I would know not to get too upset. We have always solved our cash problems before. Money comes and money goes. I usually figure out what bills to pay and what to hold off on paying. Then after a while the money shows up and everything goes back to normal. But every time this happens, I just can’t help getting upset. And the emotional turmoil is clearly stamped on my face. I usually develop a grim look and start barking at my family. It’s as if I broke out in measles, the little red spots telling everyone around me that something is wrong.

What normally happens is I look at the check register and see something strange in it. As the checkbook balance goes down I get more and more agitated. And then, checks to companies I don’t recognize. Checks for things that are way outside of the budget. For example, there was a check written to Pet Smart the local pet supply store. This normally wouldn’t get me aggravated except for the fact that the check is a lot higher than I would think kitty treats should cost. A lot higher. Like the difference between the cost of a used Yugo and a new Porsche.

So the conversation with my wife usually goes like this.
“What did you buy at Pet Smart?”
My wife answers, “The cats needed food, kitty litter and I got them a couple of treats.”
“Are the cats going to pay the bill for all of this stuff?”
“You know I have to buy these things for the cats.”
“Maybe we should look into replacing them with pet rocks. The maintenance would be less, and they wouldn’t wake us up at night.”

Not appreciating my sarcasm, Betsy leaves in a huff. And I am left stewing about expenses above and beyond the budget. The expression on my face now changes into something more like Frankenstein with a toothache. Not a pretty sight.

And so it should be of no surprise to me when my son picks up on my problem. He takes one look at my face and can tell something is wrong. Eddie is a good kid. He looks after his parents. He looks into my face and without hesitating asks me what is the matter. I appreciate his asking, though I usually say that nothing is wrong and try to change the subject. My oldest son is very sensitive to the feelings and emotions of his parents. He reads us very well, not just by looking at our faces, but also by checking out our body language and listening to the tone of our voices. Eddie and his brother and sister are sensitive enough to pick up the signals their mom and dad send.

The question I ask is, can I do the same thing? Can I be as sensitive to the needs of the people around me as my children are to my emotional ups and downs? I ask this question because I think it is extremely important for me to know and understand the people around me. I want to be able to read the signs that someone is in trouble. I want to be able to spot the cry for help without a word being exchanged. Jesus said that God knows what we need even before we have asked. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know the needs of my wife or my kids without their having to ask? I know that I am asking for a lot here. But how much more supportive a relationship we all would have if we could only be able to read the silent communication of the people around us.

Now I don’t really want my son to know that there are bills that we are having trouble paying. I don’t want him to be concerned about this. He is too young to be worrying about money. And I just don’t want to deal with the embarrassment of talking about this subject. But, strangely enough, I am glad he noticed. I feel good when my son comes up to me and asks me if there is anything that he can do. It feels good when people see that something is bothering me and take some time to respond to it. Showing concern for others is an important part of life. And I hope that I will show that I care for the people around me each and every day.

God Bless You,
Pastor Bill Whitehead

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