QUESTION: My husband (I’ll call him Steve) and I have been married for 15 years and we have two great kids. My problem is that Steve volunteers for anything and everything in our community and our church to the point we have very little family time. He’s president of one organization and attending three meetings a week in others. Other than being a “Star Volunteer” he’s a great husband, good father and provider.
I’ve asked him to drop some of his activities and spend more time with us and his answer is always, “I enjoy volunteering and they need me.” Should I just let him do what he’s doing and not bug him about it?
~ Lonely Wife
Dear Lonely Wife,
There is nothing more inspiring than a dedicated volunteer. Helping others, in a civic or spiritual community, is the cement that holds many organizations together. Without volunteers most communities could not thrive. There are also many personal rewards to volunteering such as developing a deeper sense of spirit, learning unconditional love and forming friendships with like-minded people.
In your letter your husband doesn’t seem to think his volunteering is a problem that takes away from family time. In his mind he is expanding himself by serving a greater purpose and giving back to the communities he’s involved with. His contributions make a difference and are personally rewarding.
You, on the other hand, seem discontent and admittedly lonely. There is a way to let him know how you’re feeling without making him wrong for enjoying what he’s doing. The wisdom of Kahlil Gibran from “The Prophet” might offer some insight: “Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you.”
On a practical note, you need to decide what enough family time looks like to you – specifically, how much and what type of time? Do you want to watch movies together, play board games, or something else? A vague request such as “spend more family time” is going to result in a vague response.
Heaven knows there’s a distinct difference between someone just being in the room and someone who’s present and engaged. Let him know what you want and that your request is coming from love and not neediness. You can also take charge of the situation by scheduling some family events and putting them on the calendar. You can make it fun by sending him an invitation or appointment card. Your husband sounds like the kind of guy who wants to make a difference in the world around him. Give him a clue of what will make you feel content. Then let him decide how to help create it. Acknowledge him for the goodness he brings to you and the family and through the volunteer work he’s doing. Appreciation is everything. Thank him for being the great man you know him to be.
Dear Lonely Wife,
My wife and I can relate. We raised three boys (all adults now) and both of us were doing a lot of things in the ministry in the evenings. The Bible make it clear many times that marriage and children should be your most important human priority (Ephesians 5:22-6:4). At the same time, the Lord also wants us to do the most we can do to help others in our community and our church (Matthew 22:37-40).
Perhaps your best approach is to see if you can come to an agreement with your husband on exactly how you will prioritize your marriage and family. Then you will feel better and he can make his own decision about whether he needs to cut back on some of his volunteer work. This is what my wife and I did early in our marriage. If you have trouble agreeing, then maybe you can get advice from your pastor or a trusted couple who have similar priorities (Proverbs 20:18).
Some of the most important things my wife and I decided were to have a weekly date, to have one night a week when we took the whole evening to do things together as a family, and to have dinner together as a family every night (with very few exceptions). This plan left a healthy amount of time to also do other things with and for other people. We have recommended this to many couples in our ministry and it has seemed to be helpful.
QUESTION: What is to be done with a person who is so steeped in self-pity that they really aren’t participating in life? We have a nephew who has had some serious physical problems and has been hospitalized frequently. We don’t deny that he often doesn’t feel well. We were sad, though, that he totally missed being with our family this past Christmas. This has happened often for other family get-togethers. He manages to work as a consultant which doesn’t require an eight-hour day. Phone conversations are all about his condition. We really do care and would like some suggestions about how to help him turn around his thinking.
~ Loving Aunt & Uncle
Dear Loving Aunt and Uncle,
Often our care and compassion lead us to feel hopeless and ineffective in situations such as the one you’re describing. This is particularly true when someone we care about fails to accept our overtures. Your nephew may be suffering from deep depression that can, sometimes, seem overwhelming. Depression is not an uncommon malady among those with chronic health issues. The fact that he holds a job is encouraging. However, depression affects not only a person’s mental and emotional state, but has very real physical symptoms as well. There is a good possibility that he expends all his energy on the job and has little left for social interaction.
From a psychological perspective, respecting his autonomy and ability to make decisions, while continuing to extend invitations, will show him that you accept him just as he is, thereby encouraging trust. From a spiritual perspective, many miracles happen through prayer. Perhaps you can spend some dedicated time praying for him to recognize your concern and asking for open doors to discuss his solitude. You may consider sharing how much his presence is missed at the family gatherings and inquiring about what might make it easier for him to join you. Both of these suggestions may enable you to open a conversation with him to see if there are reasons for his withdrawal from the family celebrations. You might help him to feel valued or assist in some way you may not have considered. This outreach may also encourage conversations about other areas in his life.
Whatever course you choose to take, there is significance in remembering that you can offer your assistance and love, but he may decline. Should that be the case, consider continuing praying for his guidance, as well as his peace and comfort. We never know what lasting effects may result from prayers that have been offered for those we love.
Dear Loving Aunt & Uncle,
One must be careful not to deny the pain that this person feels. His issues are real, and they are especially real to him. But what I’d do is call him up and maybe pay him a visit. What I would try to say to him is that while he has some health issues that lots of people don’t have, he still has life. I would also tell him the old story about the guy feeling bad for himself because he had no shoes … until he met a guy who had no feet! Again, we don’t want to minimize his problems or his feelings – but somehow we need him to realize just how lucky he is to be alive and to have a job. There are some people in his situation who have no job, no family, no friends.
Ask him out for a drink or a cup of coffee. Tell him how his family and friends miss him. Invite him to dinner and give him his favorite food! And if he still won’t budge, shock him with the question, “How do you expect to die?” Also tell him that the life he is living right now is a living death because nothing is changing. And if he still won’t budge, even after telling him how much he is loved by his family and friends, tell him to have a nice life … and death because what he is assigning to himself by acting the way he is is the same as sentencing himself to his own private hell.