Do you save the best piece of chicken for yourself?
Years and years ago, I heard this chicken analogy on the Oprah Show. I don't remember who the speaker was now. But she described the scene where a mother creates a marvelous Sunday dinner spread for family and friends. In the center of the table she sets an overflowing platter of hot, crispy fried chicken. After hours of cooking and table setting and preparation for guests, the hostess finally sits and reaches for the worst piece of chicken. You know the piece--the one that's overcooked because it had less meat on it than all the others. The Oprah speaker said this was insane! After all that hard work, the hostess deserves the BEST piece of chicken.
Years later I finally realized the message of her plea for tasty poultry. The truth is we teach people how to treat us. The problem is we've been taught for generations to settle for less than we deserve because it's the ladylike, or proper, or loving thing to do. We've mistakenly bought into the idea that to love is to completely empty ourselves out for the objects of our affections, whether that be spouses, children, friends, fellow church members, neighbors, etc... And now, at 40, I'm wondering if it's possible to unconditionally and completely love in another way.
So here's a little quiz. Feel free to post your answers here, or send them to me via e-mail or keep them private. I just hope the answers to the questions make you think.
1. If you want Mexican and you know he wants Italian, do you eat meatballs for dinner? Every time?
2. If you have a hair appointment but your daughter needs a new do or it's the end of her social life, do pull your hair back in a ponytail again tomorrow? Every time?
3. If he says something hurtful do you apologize for your own insecurities or touchiness? Every time?
4. If you love 80's Rock, is Lil' Wayne taking up residence on your car stereo? All the time?
5. If your sister, whom you haven't seen in a year, invites you to visit but your five-your-old has a biddy ball game, are you cheering for the home team Saturday? Every time?
It's only five questions, but I think you get the idea. We may justify our incessant giving as sacrifices we make for love. But, what are we teaching those people we love, especially our kids? Are we saying that to love someone else means to stop loving yourself? Are we presenting the lesson that unless we give in to the desires and wants of another person (even our children), we don't really love them? Are we showing by example that we don't have the right to ask anything in return? Are we sending the message that we are, in fact, unlovable unless we give to the point of losing ourselves?
When our children grow up and enter relationships or have their own children and we see them stifling their own personalities, discounting their own opinions, apologizing for their own feelings, devaluing their own efforts, and questioning their right to the best piece of chicken, how will we feel about that? Will we be able to justify their inability to see their own worth because we thought we were loving unconditionally.
It's a hard balancing act to maintain. We want our friends and family to know we can be counted on. We kind of like the feeling of being the hero, the caretaker, the one who saves the day. But martyrdom is no fun--for anyone. It creates resentment. The martyr feels unappreciated. The mart-ee (is that a word?) feels emotionally obligated. Where's the love in that?
As I said, it's in our nature to give fully, to empty ourselves out in love. But I wonder if it isn't better to leave a little something in the dish. Perhaps it's best, even, to give from an overflowing platter, because once the plate is empty, how do we continue to give?