The Rusty Table

Today is tax day. And I’m thinking of owing people stuff.

Several years ago Benny and I borrowed a folding table from some friends. We really did mean to return it. Our friends asked about it several times and we said, “So sorry! We’ll get it back to you!”

Honestly, at one point when they asked I thought, “You live five minutes away. Can’t you just come by and pick it up?” But I didn’t say it. I just told them we would bring it back.

But we didn’t. We hunted around for it one day and couldn’t find it anywhere. Frankly, we assumed we had returned it and they must have loaned it to someone else. They said we hadn’t returned it…but they stopped asking.

A few years later we were packing to move. We found the table in a storage shed rusty and covered with junk. Our friends had moved out west and we couldn’t give it back. Besides, it was ruined.

I talked to my friend on the phone and apologized. Her words pierced my heart: “Oh, Sheree, it’s fine. When we loaned it to you we knew we may never get it back.” In response to my questions she explained that they had come to realize over the years that allowing people to borrow things required being willing to never get them back. “After repeatedly becoming resentful that borrowed things got lost or were never returned we realized we had two options: to stop loaning things to friends or be willing to let go of our stuff.”

Gulp.

Recently these friends came to mind as I mused over expecting love in return from someone. I had been loving and patient…and I expected those things to be returned to me. When they weren’t, I realized I hadn’t given anything away — but had only loaned my kindness.

Please understand I don’t feel badly for expecting to be loved back. The problem was I expected to be love in the exact way I had shown love. What if they person was being loving to me — just in different ways than I had shown love? Or should I say, loaned love?

Our friends asked for their table back a couple of times. But when we irresponsibly didn’t take it back they chose not to resent us. Rather, they focused on the ways our friendship was a blessing to them. An unreturned table didn’t mean as much to them as not getting frustrated and angry with us. By the time I called them many years later they had actually forgotten about it. What good friends.

Remembering the rusty table has been good for me recently. It’s helped me to realize that loaning love isn’t the way to live. It not only tempts me to withhold more love until what I loaned gets returned, but could also blind me to ways love is being shown to me in ways unlike how I show love. I want to be the kind of person who doesn’t insist that love to be returned to me in kind, and chooses not to punish the person with silence or resentment or angry attempts to wrestle “my kind of love” from them when maybe their way of showing love is just different.

Or perhaps they simply can’t find the love I’ve loaned them because they think they already gave it back.

Do you find yourself, like me, loaning love to people? A rusty table is reminding me that love is best given, not loaned.

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13 thoughts on “The Rusty Table

  1. Sheree – I just read your post on the “old rusty table”. OMG – how profound. I never thought about love in this way. This tidbit of info will forever change the way I relate to the people I love. THANK YOU! Visiting from UBC.

  2. Oh!! I love this post! You are absolutely right–what an amazing gift that table turned out to be!! When we expect something exactly as we give it, it is indeed like loaning it instead of giving it, which s so freeing! Kudos for those amazing friends you have!! Thank you for this!

  3. Ouch. I feel touched and guilty all at the same time, cos I’ve done the same thing–borrowed something and then have not been responsible about getting it back. I love your analogy, though. Unconditional love is what we want, but we aren’t always easy about giving that away—we want to “lend” it as long as the recipient deserves it. Thanks so much for your insights.

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