I hate doing dishes—I’m sure this puts me in a solid majority of people. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone who honestly “likes” doing dishes. There is the satisfaction of a job well done when you’ve finished the dishes. You can point to a clean counter top and say, “There, my work did that.” But, that doesn’t strike me as the same thing as enjoying the process of cleaning the dishes. I feel the same way about laundry. Baskets full of folded, clean clothes can communicate that some work was done, but it doesn’t make the process any better. Yet, as I was doing some laundry this weekend I was struck by a thought—if you’re going to have children, you’re going to have laundry. As much as I may hate laundry, I really do like being a father. It has been one of my great joys for nearly the last eleven years to be able to take care of my children. I like being a dad.
There’s a Proverb that gets to this in a roundabout sort of way. Proverbs 14:4 says this: Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox. Let me break that down for you—if you want your barn to smell nice, don’t put animals in it. If you want to get things done, you’re going to stink that place up. Now, while I’ve talked about the cleanliness of my house and how children have the byproduct of being dirty—and the Proverb also speaks about being clean—this isn’t about having things clean. This is about priorities. When there are things we want, we don’t always consider all the ramifications. The Proverb has a direct analogy in how children think about having a puppy. They love the front end of the dog where they get love, kisses, and fetch-playing. They hate the back end of the dog where the mess is produced. But there is also a broader analogy to this—nearly everything in life has a tradeoff. Work is nice in that it can produce a good income to do the things you want to do. Work is tough in that it requires a significant amount of time that could probably be spent doing things that are more fun (hopefully you like your job and it is at least a little fun). Exercise is great in that it keeps you healthy and helps you look good. Exercise is terrible in that it requires movement at high speeds that are generally unpleasant. Even relationships have a tradeoff: you get the company of other people—which can be fulfilling and produce happiness in ourselves. Yet, relationships require work—and if you want them to be healthy, you have to consider the feelings and needs of the other person (shocking, I know).
We could probably keep listing the tradeoffs of life and fill a couple books full of them, but I think you get the point. Being aware of these tradeoffs can help us, though. Some of our biggest problems in life stem from the places at which we refuse to acknowledge the tradeoff. We want relationships to produce happiness in us without investing the work in the other person’s feelings and desires. We want work to produce a large income without wanting to invest the necessary time. When we ignore the priorities needed to get what we want, we ignore the reality that the Proverb is trying to communicate. If you want to have greater awareness of the life you want and its commensurate costs, maybe you should start considering what is required for that kind of life. You might find out you value a clean barn more than healthy crops.