Kicking the Mardi Gras Habit: Wisdom For the Wife of a Self-Made Man
It happened just as our second child was born. My husband was a talented Pre Med student, working full time to support our growing family. We had just purchased our first house, our car died, and we decided it would be a great idea to start a business. Not necessarily in that order — mostly all at once!
It has not always been easy going. We have endured lean and prosperous times, experienced the coming and going of business partners, dealt with dishonest and delightful people, and seen just about everything else. After more than a decade and a half — against the odds — the company is still around, providing what we need. Our marriage continues to thrive and our children remember their youth with wonder. They say they never knew we were poor. Maybe we weren’t.
Early on, we recognized a trend among people with irregular paychecks that we termed The Mardi Gras Syndrome. You know Mardi Gras: The Fest before The Fast; the time for gobbling the goods from fear that the Good Times may be gone forever. Mardi Gras is a way of life for many, but it creates in the soul an appetite of insatiable longing; it wreaks havoc through disruption to lives and destruction of financial stability. While both partners in a marriage are responsible for their decisions, I discovered that my husband’s happiness (and his success in his business) could be profoundly influenced by my willing ability to eradicate Mardi Gras from my heart.
Put The Fast first. Originally, the real celebration was supposed to be The Fast of Lent, a sacred time of purposeful sacrifice, which Mardi Gras has since eclipsed. Our lives sometimes have “Lent” seasons which are necessary for the achievement of our goals, and which draw us closer to one another — and to God — if we let them. Rather than bitterly coveting what you “can’t” have (or finding ways to consume it anyway), look for creative ways to magnify the abundance in your life. I am not kidding when I say I have seen miracles; I am actually more likely to notice them when times are hard, for my eyes are then more open to the fact that we must rely on God. Being obedient, serving, and giving the best we have — especially when money is in short supply — not only opens our eyes, it makes us better people than we might otherwise become. This is what fasting — and life — is about.
Create a “pool of still waters” in your home by deliberately building a reserve and living consistently below your means, instead of from paycheck to paycheck. Boom and bust cycles are like the crashing turbulence of waves on an ocean. When payday comes every Friday, this may not seem like a big deal, but living high when a big check comes in fuels a crash that leaves the family feeling oppressed and helpless when there are months in between each cash windfall. You create a haven of peace for your family as you even out the highs and lows by conserving your resources and living modestly on what you have. This means Provident Living — a way of life that provides in advance for the needs of your family. Consistently approaching this with enthusiasm, confidence, and creativity (instead of with the desperate air of downtrodden deprivation) is a key to your success — and your husband’s. Many excellent books have been written on this subject (available for free in your public library) and there are people waiting in the woodwork around you who can mentor you. Like a person on an extended fast, your survival depends on reserving your resources for what is needful. Wisely prioritize the essentials for your family’s happiness, and cheerfully invest your time, talents, and energies accordingly. Then relax and let everything else wash away in the tide.
Real life Lents are not limited to forty days. When my children fast for one day, they are counting the hours. With that paradigm, a forty-day fast from all food would be interminable! Sometimes that is how life seems when we are watching for improvements in prosperity. When the company started, I figured I could endure the initial “deprivation period” for six months; when it approached three times that length I experienced the hopelessness of discouragement. After some soul searching, I realized that I had been viewing paychecks as some kind of regular allowance instead of as a symbol of my husband’s love and the tangible evidence of his daily sacrifice of life, made for the good of our family. I erased scheduled paydays (and all accumulated back pay) from my calendar (and from my heart), and instead marked our family’s life with genuine celebrations of personal successes. I still express gratitude and rejoice with my husband each time he is financially rewarded for his labors. This is a beautiful way the blessings of the “fast” have lingered longer.
Unlike times of famine, participating in Lent is a choice — and it’s OK that not everyone is fasting. It is hard stay focused when it seems like everyone you know is living in Mardi Gras mode, but it helps to remember that your circumstances resulted from the best choices you could make. Respecting a husband’s privacy and maintaining his self-respect as he struggles to provide in difficult times can leave a wife feeling isolated and vulnerable to temptations to compare her life to what she sees in the lives of others. Looking for evidence that people are profiting at your expense or noting that they seem to have an endless supply of money and no consequences is unfair and destructive to everyone involved. Focusing on your family’s long-range goals and letting go of comparisons allows you to view your situation from a wider perspective and opens the way for you to feel love for everyone, whether they are “fasting” or not. This frees you to rejoice in the personal successes of others and grieve with them when they experience hardships — with no hard feelings.
Choose your companions wisely. Anyone who has fasted for an extended period of time has not done it alone. Because of common interests and shared challenges, it may seem natural to socialize with co-workers and their families. If this becomes a time to dwell on the negative, however, it leads to personal discouragement and erodes the basis for good relationships. An experienced family member taught me that my husband’s business associates are an essential component of his work environment, not my personal support network. He advised me, for the sake of my husband’s happiness, to cultivate my own friends and to refrain from any natural tendency as a wife to protect my husband from challenges with people at his work. True friends reciprocally strengthen one another to meet their trials, and do not offer bitter exchanges of cankering complaint. Christ Himself derived strength from heavenly and earthly sources in His sufferings.
Mind your own business. The stewardship of a wife and mother is more than a full-time job, proffering unlimited potential for the development of every good talent one can imagine. Her essential role in the success of her family is different from her husband’s. Minding your business means focusing on excellence in your own responsibilities, while still taking counsel from your husband, not telling him what to do. One woman thought she had the right solutions for her husband’s business challenges and she continually pestered and argued with him about it — even in public. When she let go of the problem and humbly assured him that she supported his decisions, no matter what they were, he was free to act. Interestingly, he came to the same conclusions she had, but he took responsibility for them.
Listen, express confidence, and then let go. A self-made man often wrestles with self-doubt, so doubts expressed from the outside may come as heavy blows. I try to express confidence that my husband has the capacity to find the right solution. Though incredibly talented, he did not start out knowing everything about running a business, but he has learned well through the years. He does not usually need advice from me (it is, after all, his study and not mine), and he wants it even less! On occasions when he brings problems home, I offer support through reflexive listening, cite past examples of his competence, express confidence in his capacity, and then watch and listen as he forms his own conclusions.
Make God your partner. This does not mean trying to pray God onto your side; it means finding God and drawing near to Him. He alone has the unlimited well of resources that can not only meet your proximate needs, but fill you forever and make you sufficient to accomplish all things needful. To the degree that we rely on Mardi Gras to satisfy us, we undermine our ability to be deeply nourished. He is the One who turns what would otherwise be a hunger strike into the season of rejoicing that we call The Fast.
©2011 Daunell Clarke/www.houseoforder.com
Photos courtesy of sxc.hu and used with permission of xoashleigh, biewoef, bjearwicke, and planetka.