Making incremental and intentional changes to the way we eat, exercise, and make time for a true friendship with God can be tough. Individually we must fight against our interior desires and sometimes physiological longings for certain foods or drink. It is an arduous uphill battle. We must intentionally make the choice to fit a workout into our day.
We struggle against the tendency to habitually hurry into the busyness of our lives only to leave out the time necessary to get to know our Creator. We may feel isolated in our goal of self-mastery, unless we have sought out and been blessed with Battle Buddies.
We do not forge on in this life alone, however. Our new decisions and intentional way of living affects our loved ones perhaps even more than ourselves. We cannot think with the mind of a bachelor, but with the heart of a husband and father. So where do our families fit into our wellness plan, especially at the dinner table?
I’d like to propose that the launching point for this discussion begins with Charity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Charity as the “theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his sake, and our neighbors as ourselves for the love of God” (CCC 1822). In this definition the words charity and love can be seen as interchangeable.
St. Paul unpacks the charity in which we are speaking most profoundly when he says,
Love is patient and kind, love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor 13:4-7).
This is the lens with which we ought to view our relationship with our family in all things, and not become focused on ourselves even in our quest to conquer self-love.
For some, the transition to eating healthy, real foods at home has been seamless. Perhaps your wife is used to cooking whole foods and is grateful you’re finally on board. This is a blessing, as the two of you inch towards self-mastery in a united front.
Often however, especially in large families, asking your wife to share in your new found enthusiasm for healthy eating can become a source of division, an imposition that is met with great resistance and stress on her part. This is where charity comes in. As the husband and leader of our families, it is our duty to take a look at these issues and work towards unification rather than further shoving a wedge of division. We must carefully examine our marriages and discover where the resistance lies. Often it isn’t that your wife doesn’t want to live a healthier lifestyle, but rather she may see this as just another imposition, another task on her never-ending check off list. It may be the proverbial straw that breaks her back.
If you have a large family like mine (5 kids ages 10 and under), then it is likely your spouse stays home with the little ones and has the task of running the household which includes preparing meals. Even more, if your wife works outside of the home, she is really doing the job of two people. It is imperative that we take a look at these tasks and the constant self-donation that is required of our spouse and appreciate her gift of self.
While I work in a relatively high stress career of law enforcement and chose to gravitate towards the highest stressed situations within my industry as a SWAT operator, I don’t pretend as though my job is as demanding as that of my wife’s. The pressure of staying at home and raising children of various ages while keeping up with the many tasks of a household can become overwhelming and stressful.
This my brothers is where the rub comes. You have all of a sudden found a new zeal for wellness and it is paying dividends. You feel better, look better, and think everyone around you should be doing what you are doing. It’s important to know that your wife probably supports your new passion for wellness and wants what is best for you. However, if you begin to insist on a clean meal prepared for the whole family because of your new habits, without considering her efforts and the amount of stress that she is under in taking care of a large family, then be prepared for the wheels to fall off.
This is where charity comes in. If you get home from work and your wife has prepared a carb rich dinner of pasta and butter loaded bread, we must see the meal that will be shared with your family through the lens of charity. The important part, or rather the imperative part, is that you are sitting down together and sharing a meal.
It defeats the purpose to hold your nose up at a meal that your wife has prepared and grab a salad from the fridge. It is more important and an opportunity for you to show who Christ is to your family to demonstrate that you appreciate the effort that your wife put into preparing the meal. We men can have tunnel vision, so we must step back and look at the greater good of sharing a common meal together. While your weight loss and fitness goals might be slightly stunted by eating clean 2 out of 3 meals, God will bless you for your effort in loving as He loves.
If you want to help implement cleaner eating within your family, here are a few practical places to start.
- Take on the task of meal preparation for your wife. Talk with your spouse about planning meals for the week and take steps to help out in the kitchen, including making a shopping list and helping with the meal prep as much as possible.
- Make a plan for a crock pot meal the night before that you put together and turn on. This can be your one meal a week to prepare, giving her an evening off from cooking.
- Start a garden at your home. Learn with your kids how to grow your own real food that you can share at the family dinner table.
- Invite your wife on this journey with you. Discuss your desire that you both make this new journey together and your willingness to help in any way possible.
- Make this a family lifestyle change, not only a change for yourself. Demonstrate to your kids and encourage them to try new vegetables. Speak to them at the dinner table about charity and eating what is placed in front of them. Remember, it takes 10 tries before an unpalatable taste becomes acceptable.
While our personal journey towards self-mastery and ultimate freedom is an important part of God’s plan for us as men, we must never forget that charity within our families is our primary goal and obligation.
I often think to a particular night where my family was hosting group of friars for dinner. We served them a dinner rich in meat and dessert, not knowing they were abstaining on that day. Later when I discovered my folly, I asked the priest why he didn’t tell me so we could remedy the problem. His response has stuck with me and has become our family motto.
He simply said two words: Charity First.