Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Peanut Butter Theology

I don’t like peanut butter.  Some people get very upset when I tell them that.  It’s nothing personal.  It's not a character flaw.  I just don’t like it.  I don’t even like the smell of it.  My mother told me I ate a lot of peanut butter when I was young, so maybe I just reached my limit.   My two daughters, however, do like peanut butter and that caused a bit of a problem.

When they were elementary school age I would on occasion make their lunches and one of their favorites was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I dutifully made their sandwiches making sure that I would use the knife first in the jelly, which I like, so that there would be no peanut butter residue in the jelly jar.  I abhorred (that may be a little strong, but you know the feeling) when I would put jelly on my toast and detect that faint but distinct taste of peanut butter that was a result of some careless peanut butter lover contaminating my jelly with a peanut-butter-infected knife.  I was not going to let that happen on my watch!  Anyway, I would make their sandwiches and send the little darlings off to school knowing that come lunch time they would enjoy their sandwiches and give thanks to God above for their devoted father who so lovingly prepared their lunch.

One day one of my daughters said she needed to talk to me about their lunches, in particular about their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I was prepared to hear my praises sung as the world's greatest PB&J maker when I was shocked to hear her complaint.   Apparently I had been going a bit overboard with the jelly and skimping on the peanut butter.  Jelly was oozing out the sandwich drowning out the taste of the peanut butter.  That, of course, was my intention!    My rationale was the more jelly the better.  I loved jelly and shouldn't everyone else.  I was thinking that in order to offset the nastiness of peanut butter one needed as much jelly as two pieces of bread could possibly hold.  I was giving her what I liked, not what she liked.  I was being influenced by my preferences and oblivious to hers.  Her simple and reasonable request was less jelly and more peanut butter.

At the end of my freshman year in college I began dating a girl.  During the summer we exchanged letters and it was her custom to end each letter with a scripture, not the whole scripture but just the reference.  One of her letters ended with Philippians 2:3, 4.  I eagerly opened my Bible anticipating that this was some verse in the Bible extolling some virtue she had seen in me (by this time you probably see I suffer from delusions of grandeur, both as a father and a boyfriend)  only to find these words:  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

It hit me that day that I often, if not always, look out for my interests above the interests of others.  The same feeling hit me that day when my daughter asked me for more peanut butter and less jelly.   So often I impose on others my likes, my preferences, my desires rather than consider their likes, their preference, their desires.

I don’t understand how anyone can like peanut butter, but this little encounter with my school-aged daughter taught me that in order to be a good PB&J maker, or for that matter in order to be a good father or a good husband or a good friend, I need to sometimes get past that terrible smell and spread on the peanut butter good and thick!