ValueSpeak

A Weekly Column

By Joseph Walker

 

CHOOSING BETWEEN CHERISHED VIRTUES

My cyber friend, David, has a problem.

His parents divorced when he was little. He and his brother lived with his mother in Kenya, where she worked hard to provide food, a home and a family for her boys, with precious little help or support from their father.

"Our life was hard, but there was much love in our home," David said.

But recently, David's father has re-entered their lives. "Now he wants to be our father," David said. "He says he is sorry he left us, and he wants to be with us."

David is now 25, and is still searching for something to do with his life. His father wants to take him into his thriving business. After a lifetime of struggle and want, David's father holds out to him a glimmer of hope for a secure future. "He seems to be sincere in his desire to make things right with us," David says. "To have a job, to have a father -- it is appealing."

But perhaps not to David's mother. He hasn't said much about how she feels about the sudden re-emergence of her ex-husband. But it's pretty clear that she's at least threatened, if not outright outraged. David feels that he has to make a choice between loyalty to his mother, who has been there for him all his life, and forgiveness for his father, who may represent his hope for the future.

"I ask you for advice," he writes to me. "I do not wish to offend my mother, especially not after all she has done for me. But my religion teaches me to forgive all men -- including my father."

Loyalty or forgiveness -- which is the greater value?

It seems to me that life's most difficult choices are not between right and wrong. Ultimately, those calls are pretty easy to make. But choosing between cherished virtues puts our souls on trial.

My wife, Anita, has been a full-time homemaker for most of the 22 years that we've been married. It's the only career she's ever really wanted, and she's very good at it. If I were as good at my work as she is at hers, we'd be fabulously wealthy. But I'm not and we're not, which bring us to something else Anita values: financial integrity. Several years ago she took over our finances (I'm sort of an idiot when it comes to money, in the same sense that Slobodan Milosevic is sort of an idiot when it comes to human rights). She has done a remarkable job of keeping us solvent and up-to-date.

It's important to her that we pay our obligations, and that we pay them on time.

I'm amazed that she's been able to do it so well -- until this year.

She somehow managed to get us through last year's unemployment crisis. She even kept us going through the loss of a major monthly freelance fee earlier this year. But when our two eldest children announced that not only were they both going to be married this year, but both weddings were going to take place in June -- well, our financial structure, already tenuous, crumbled like a house of credit cards.

Anita had to make a choice between two things she valued. If she continued to stay home full-time, we wouldn't be able to pay our obligations (including our share of two weddings). But if she went to work outside the home, she would miss important time with our three remaining children. It was a tough choice between positive virtues, requiring much thought, discussion and prayer.

I'm not going to tell you what she chose. That's not the point. But I will tell you that it has worked out pretty well. We've had to make some sacrifices, and there have been some tough times. But things have a way of working out when you make values-based decisions. It's like I told David: "Trust your instincts. Listen to God speak to your heart. You'll know which choice is right."

Even when both choices are right.

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--- (c) Joseph Walker

 

Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.