I was already going to be late, and I knew it. Skimming through the house, I tried to piece together all my essentials before running out the door for work: purse, phone, coffee.
And then I saw them. The dishes, stacked precariously in the sink, grimy and forlorn. Waiting patiently for me.
I glanced at the time, remembering I promised my husband I would clean them the night before.
I briefly argued with myself, a decision between the priorities of being on time, or keeping my word to my husband.
I set down my belongings and opened the dishwasher. He’s my husband. My word to him matters more, I encouraged myself, as cups and plates clanked into place along the racks.
I wish I could say I always choose my reputation with my husband over my reputation with others. But I don’t. Too often I take him for granted, assuming I can keep my word or make a marriage-centered choice later.
So this moment was a win for me. I chose my word, my character in my marriage, over a few seconds of being in another place. Keeping my word cost me something that morning, and it costs me something every time.
Sure, if I were better organized, perhaps I wouldn’t have to make this particular choice of timeliness over reputation. And I can’t argue with that. But that wouldn’t prevent me from making a hundred other choices, all day, every day.
From waking in the morning until tucking in at night, I choose between important options again and again. Whether to write or play with my son; whether to read or finish a conversation with my husband; whether to catch up on sleep or spend time in prayer; whether to finish one project at work, or start another.
For only a few seconds, the decision forces itself upon me. Two paths, both good, but which to choose? I feel the tension of the choice, knowing I will have to give something up either way I go.
Tonight I wanted to take my son to play outside. But I also needed to get ready for an event. I had a choice, and I chose to spend more time getting ready. When I got home a few hours later, I chose to lay with him on his creaky bed in the dark, under his glow-in-the-dark stars, a few extra minutes of quality time before I started writing for the night.
The second, relationship-centered choice felt really good. In minutes, I added value to my son and prioritized rest for myself.
When I think about it, it’s the little moments that make up our relationships. I remember this weekend, my husband cut an orange daisy from the yard and handed it to my son, directing him to bring it to me. I remember his little face looking up toward me, outstretched hand clutching the plucked flower. I smiled and hugged him before placing it in a tiny vase on the kitchen counter.
I remember the night I got home from work, and there was my husband, standing in the kitchen, oven mitts on, as he pulled a pumpkin pie from the oven. And he already cooked dinner.
Seconds or minutes long, these tiny gestures of choice, the moments of sacrifice hardly seem to carry weight. Yet when we look back through the hallways of life, these are the images we see. The choices we made to demonstrate love through the tiny, insignificant things, and the times when others did the same for us.
Aristotle said, We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
The same is true of relationships. The stuff of relationships is fashioned through one tiny, seemingly insignificant choice after another.
And as the days turn to years, the moments stack up to make a history for us. They craft a reputation in the minds of our children and spouses, our friends and co-workers. They become who we are, together and individually.
Instants of generosity, kindness, and being fully present with our loved ones are worth the loss of the other things we might gain.
Because the absence of the good moments builds relationships too, but they’re not ones we want.