It was a beautiful winter’s evening, and I was on the couch in tears.
I’d just come home from a long day of work to discover my sweet husband of one month had decided to “help out” by doing a load of washing in our brand-new washing machine. The reason for my tears, however, lay in the fact that I was viewing the results of his labours. You see, I’d had the misfortune of viewing the way he’d done his washing before we were married. Basically it involved throwing every dirty item into the machine, regardless of fabric, colour, or temperature setting, shutting the door and pressing the start button.
As a result, two of my favourite tops that I’d bought overseas on our honeymoon now rivalled maternity tops. Never mind the fact that every room in our house was spotless and clean, and a hot dinner was waiting for me on the stove – this was a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.
While I sat on the couch lamenting the fate of my beautiful shirts, my husband’s confusion quickly turned defensive.
“Well, maybe if you’d taught me how you like the washing done I wouldn’t have gotten it wrong,” he told me. “I was only trying to help.”
In there lay the real issue: I hadn’t wanted to give up my control over the washing, hadn’t bothered to show my husband how to operate the machine and, consequently, hadn’t given him a chance. It seemed so simple when we figured it out, but in reality, how many of us do the same thing?
With Valentine’s Day upon us, I’m reminded of the story of a friend. She’d been watching how her parents celebrated Valentine’s Day for years, she told me, and couldn’t wait until her very own Prince Charming came and spoiled her. The day finally came when she celebrated a Valentine’s Day with her soon-to-be husband. When morning came, she was surprised to discover neither roses nor chocolates awaited her upon rising. Lunch also passed without any surprise, and she began to console herself with the thought that dinner would be it, the spectacular extravaganza. At 6 pm, when her fiancé knocked on her door, she was dressed to the nines, ready for an evening of romance. But her fiancé simply entered with Chinese takeaway, ice-cream and a DVD in hand.
The night—or, rather, the day—was ruined. It didn’t matter that the food, dessert and movie were her favourites. All she could do was sit there and sulk. Finally, halfway through the movie, her fiancé paused the disc and asked, “What’s wrong?” They spent the better part of an hour discussing how she’d hoped for so many things, only to be disappointed when she received something less. It was a Valentine’s Day that has never been forgotten (or repeated), because now, instead of building up expectations, she gives him a chance.
A lot of us grew up hearing 1 Corinthians 13 recited, particularly at weddings. It’s known as the “love chapter,” because it describes all the things that love should be—patient, kind and not selfish, and it is not provoked, to name just a few. But in my own translation, I’ve added a further attribute: Love is giving others a chance.
I don’t just mean a second chance. The Bible, and life itself, is full of those. What I’m referring to is a first chance: a chance to let love manifest itself in whatever capacity it be rendered. It means sacrifice, a willingness to let go, and a complete removal of expectations and judgement. As family counsellor Nakya Reeves puts it in regards to marriage, “It’s unrealistic to expect that [your spouse] interpret the deepness of your sigh. FBI experts go through years of training for that.”
Put into practice, it means that I should have given my husband more credit for doing those household chores performed in love and to lighten my homecoming, instead of assuming he couldn’t. At the gym, I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions about that thin girl because she happened to glance at me sweating away on the treadmill for a little too long. Or at work, I should’ve let go of my pride and given the choice assignment to the new colleague so they could have a chance to shine. And the list goes on.
American psychologist and author Susan Krauss Whitbourne gives six reasons as to why people don’t give others a fair first chance, including jealousy, a bad mood and an unwillingness to give up control. But she also writes about the importance of giving that chance, explaining that we may be missing out on expanding our horizons.
And she's right. One of the most important lessons I ever learned about love came from a man named Antonio. I’d just graduated from university and was ready to take the broadcast journalism world by storm. God, however, had other plans, and I found myself working in a church media organisation in another country. On my first day, I met the journalism team, but one colleague stood out: Antonio. From the minute I met him, I struggled to understand how he had achieved his degree in journalism, let alone his job in our department. He took nothing seriously, and I often ended up with part of his workload on top of my own. He didn’t understand social graces and spaces, and would often be loud, offending people. He’d introduce himself to visitors as the Executive Producer of the show we were working on, despite his actual role as an assistant.
With each passing day, I despised working with him more and more. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I took myself to our supervisor's office in a whirlwind of indignation, my angry words bubbling out like hot lava. The supervisor listened attentively.
“I understand what you’re saying, Maritza,” he told me kindly when I’d finished my rant. “But have you given him a chance?”
Had I given him a chance? I couldn’t believe the question. Of course I’d given him a chance—for six months I’d been giving him chance after chance, and he’d disappointed on every occasion.
I left the supervisor’s office with a heavy heart, but as I walked home, I thought carefully about what he’d asked me. Had I honestly given Antonio a chance? I remembered back to my first day—those first few moments of meeting people. Too quickly I’d decided I didn’t like Antonio, and things had gone downhill ever since. I realised that I hadn’t given him a first chance, but rather, second chances that by then had my bias and judgements built into them. As hard as it was to swallow my pride, I resolved the next day to give him the first chance he deserved.
Things improved a lot after that day. His work ethic did not, unfortunately, which eventually saw him leave the job after I'd returned home to Australia. But I gritted my teeth through the work and determined to see at least one positive thing about his personality. I learned that he was a committed father and husband, speaking lovingly and often about his wife and daughter. His patriotism was evident through the stories he’d tell about his country and his upbringing there. I even discovered that we had something in common—we shared a weakness for certain foods. And all this was learned by simply giving him a chance; one that should have been given from the very beginning.
Love does not envy, it does not boast, it does not act improperly and does not keep a record of wrongs. Rather, what it does do is give others—spouses, children, colleagues and even strangers at the gym—a first chance.