One night many years ago, I was approaching the door of our home after a challenging day at work, and I was looking forward to just “crashing.”
I remember, the moment my hand touched the doorknob, something whispered inside, “You have a house full of people who are waiting for ‘Daddy’ to come home. They want to be with you. They need you.”
My first reaction was to turn around and head the other way. I was so tired, so ready to have everyone else fill my needs. I didn’t want to even think about having to do anything for anyone else that day.
But in my heart, I was convinced of the truth of that inner wisdom. I knew that inside those walls were the people I loved most in all the world. Could anything be more important in my life than loving and lifting them?
With a resolve to do that, I squared my shoulders and went inside. I was immediately greeted by my four-year-old daughter with shining eyes and “Daddy!” on her lips. Her enthusiastic hug confirmed my resolution. I spent the rest of the evening finding ways to benefit and bless the members of my family. I listened, fixed broken toys, changed diapers, helped with the dishes, and tucked kids into bed.
What struck me the most about that experience is that later that night, as I was falling into bed exhausted, in the instant before my head hit the pillow, I realized I was smiling.
That night was a turning point for me. My paradigm was changed. I discovered that real joy in family life comes when you see home as a place to give instead of get. And I have found the paradox to be true: The more you give, the more you receive.
All too often we tend to see work as a place to contribute and home as a place to crash. We come home from work exhausted, and we somehow expect that everything should be in order, everyone should be happy, and we should be able to simply recuperate from the efforts of the day.
When we’re faced with the impact of the realities that parenting is work, relationships take effort, and maintaining cleanliness and order at home is a significant task, it throws us off balance. It doesn’t meet our subconscious, unexamined expectation that somehow the huge benefits of quality home and family life will simply be there for us with little or no real investment on our part. And because that expectation is not met, we begin to blame and accuse and punish those around us in little ways.
While it’s true that the greatest joy and satisfaction in life come from family, it’s also true that this incomparable fulfillment only comes when we fully give ourselves to the family, work for it, and sacrifice for it. This reality is in harmony with the great governing law of contribution—one of the fundamental principles in life.
No one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellow men.
—W. Beran Wolfe
Giving simply because it is right to give, without thought of return, at a proper time, in proper circumstances, and to worthy persons, is enlightened giving. Giving with regrets or in the expectation of receiving some favor or of getting something in return, is selfish giving.
The good news is that once you align your expectations with this overarching principle, you not only open the door to greater personal satisfaction, you open a whole new dimension of life balance. It empowers you to see both work and home as avenues of contribution. It empowers you to move beyond competition and compromise by making work and home complementary. It sparks creative third- alternative solutions to traditional work/home dilemmas. It empowers you to recognize that, bottom line, the issue is not either/or, but and. It’s living and contributing in the unifying and encompassing whole of which work and home are both parts. Aligning with the principle of contribution also opens your eyes to ways in which you can contribute that will make a difference. Whether you’re a husband, wife, parent, grandparent, son, daughter, niece, nephew, uncle, aunt, or cousin, there are things you can do to make your family better. They may be the “little things” we suggested earlier: remembering to say “Thank you,” picking up after yourself, taking the time to listen, or putting the toilet seat up or down. Or they may be bigger things: helping your child with an important school project, taking your spouse on a weekend retreat, apologizing to an extended family member, or making the effort to mend a relationship that’s been broken for years.
Keep in mind that quality family life is never an accident; it is always an achievement. It is the result of proactive effort and conscious investment in the relationships that matter most.