What Being Amish Taught Me About Love

My day started at 5:00 this morning when, through my dreamy sleep, I heard our three-year-old Danny yell “Mom! Mom!” I bustled over to his room, eager to keep our nine-month-old Peter asleep. It didn’t work, and after great struggling, we all got up about an hour later. But that was okay, we told ourselves, peppering ourselves with positive talk. At least now we had plenty of time to get everybody fed and dressed and ready for church at 9 am. It seems like we’re always walking into church late, but this time, we figured, it would be different.

David and his Amish family
David and his Amish family

You know what happens next. Fifteen minutes after church starts,our little caravan of a family stumbles into church, asking the people on the end row to please excuse us as we hurdle our heavy baby car seat, two bags, and two kids into the only available seats in the middle of a row. We’re amazingly late, and everyone, it seems, is noticing. How could this happen? Let’s just say that the car ride into church was not our best marriage moment ever. Also, it didn’t help when the priest reminded us all that, in the Catholic church calendar, today was “joyful” Sunday. We weren’t feeling it.

But you know what? We had a beautiful day, and I dare say that it was even joyful.

Later in the morning, Danny and I were stretched out on the floor, playing with his favorite Thomas the Tank Engine trains, imagining that a massive train of animals bound for the zoo had unfortunately crashed, sending all the animals—bears, lions, zebras, camels, gorillas, and even a T-rex—lost all over the countryside. The job of Thomas and his friends—the talking train engines—was to find those animals. Danny loved the whole thing, jumping up and down with pure boyish delight, as he does that when he gets really excited about something (it’s really cute).

On the couch sat Amber, quietly reading a book and holding little Peter, who was finally fast asleep. Whenever Danny said something really cute, our eyes caught each other, and we smiled. We love this little Danny we created, and this little Peter in Amber’s arms, we love this little family we’re making together, and we love each other, as we will always love each other. I apologized to Amber for making us late to church (for, like, the first time ever, it was actually my fault), and Amber apologized to me for her angry outburst to me in the car ride to church.

How did we get from that angry car ride to family peace a few hours later? I’m sure there are many things we could point to, but what comes to mind is a lesson we’re trying to learn from the Amish.

I was only six years old when my family left the Amish way of life, but that way of life is a legacy I inherited, and we’re trying to be mindful of that legacy in our own family. And one of the most important parts of that legacy is the power of peace. For instance, think of the amazing story—as told in the book Amish Grace—of the parents of the Nickel Mines schoolhouse shooting who chose to forgive the man who killed their children. In my own family, I think of my maternal grandmother (she is still Amish), who has always been a peacemaker. She had an extremely stressful life—for instance, at 30 years old, she had five children, she was poor, and her husband had just died. But during her entire childhood, my mom cannot remember a single time that she raised her voice. Not once. She radiates peace.

My mother took that legacy of peace and applied it to how she and my father parented my siblings and me. There were many stressful times for our family—the death of my oldest brother, my family’s excommunication from the Amish, low-paying jobs for my dad, and the ordinary squabbles that come with family life—but through it all I remember my mother’s constant, simple reminder: “We are a household of peace.” And for the hundredth time, she would remind us of her own mother, and her example of peace.

So instead of saying out loud the angry feelings that we felt in the heat of the moment, we were supposed to think of something constructive to say. The idea was that if you couldn’t say anything about the other person in a peaceful tone of voice, you weren’t supposed to say anything until you could say it in a calm voice.

Choosing a peace mindset doesn’t mean ignoring a person’s faults, or putting off the hard conversations that we as spouses and boyfriends and girlfriends often need to have with each other. In other words, peace isn’t wimpy. But in relationships, peace has a style—a tone of voice—and Amber and I want to get better at practicing that way. We’re obviously a work in progress, but because we want to love each other well, and love our boys well, we want to say yes to peace.

Instead of holding on to anger and bitterness, we want to be quick to forgive and reconcile. Because then, instead of stewing in our own anger, we can share in those daily, joyful moments of being family—like those moments when we get to save the gorillas and T-rex dinosaur with Danny’s beloved Thomas trains.

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