I believe stretching is good for a person – stretching beyond our comfort zones, stretching into territory that makes us feel a bit vulnerable. But when stretching turns to stressing, it can be a problem.
Let me illustrate: Providing a meal for a family
I thoroughly enjoyed doing this when I lived in Virginia, USA. It seemed like every month there was a new baby and I’d deliver a meal, sit and talk a bit, bless them and feel like I had really helped. It stretched me to cook for someone, but it didn’t stress me. Packaging comes in large quantities, ovens can fit multiple dishes at once, fridges hold an abundance of food, the extra freezer downstairs is full, pantries store canned goods. Usually, I could create a meal from what I already had at home. Then, I set it in a box or bin that I happened to have lying in a closet, put the meal in the back of my car, drove to the woman’s house, and dropped the food. Often I would stay a little while and chat with the new mom. When we were the recipients of this amazingly helpful service, I had a box in my car with the cleaned dishes people had brought us food in. That way, when I happened to see them again, I could return the dishes.
Now I live in Singapore. Taking a meal to someone stresses me out beyond measure. Why?
First, I don’t have a car. I walk to the store. I carry everything home or wheel it in my “granny cart.”
Second, packaging. At the regular grocery, I am fortunate when I find meat packaged in 500-gram quantities. That’s a little less than a pound. 200 grams is actually more typical. Want salmon? How about one 200-gram fillet? I do have options – the wet market or order from a warehouse – but that requires extra steps. And disposable containers? Must buy them. No “one stop shopping” here.
Third, cooking. Ovens are a luxury here. The majority of cooking is done on the “hob” (think burners). I have an oven. The one in our condo wasn’t working so it was replaced shortly after we moved in. Before the old one was removed, I took the rack from inside. I’m lucky; I have TWO levels in my oven. I can squeeze two 9×13 pans if the contents of both are flat.
Fourth, transport. I don’t have closets where I keep spare things like boxes or gift bags. I could head down to the basement to see if someone else tossed a box or bag. I might find something. Otherwise, my “go to” is plastic shopping bags. I would need to take a taxi because taking food on a bus, train, and walk is just not a good idea. Plus, it’s hot here all the time. Ice cream melts between the grocery store and home.
Do you see my point? Living here – within the choices we have made for ourselves – takes a good stretching thing and makes it a stressful thing. When I am stressed I am a sharp, irritable mom and wife.
So I don’t volunteer for meals for people even though I know it’s a huge blessing; even though I know it is a great way to serve people; even though I like cooking.
But that really isn’t the end of the dilemma.
There are people who do not find gifting meals stressful. Like my friend, Joyce, who just sent me a text saying, “What is the first night in your new place? We want to bring you dinner.” Perhaps it’s because they have a car or a live-in maid. Perhaps they can juggle more things than me. Perhaps they simply do not get stressed about all the steps I mentioned. Perhaps…perhaps…perhaps.
But the dilemma continues…do I feel guilty about my decision? Do I feel jealous of what others have? Am I letting bitterness against other mums of small kids creep into my soul because of all this? Am I getting angry?
Some days all these emotions fly though my being and haunt my thoughts. Some days I choose the high road. Instead of wallowing, I invite people who could use a meal to my home. Or I respond to a neighbor that needs something.
I must learn to live with contentment in the life I have. I must know my boundaries and be open to stretching, and at the same time protect myself from stressing.