Saturday, 15 October 2011

Accepting the good gifts

Hello God.

You know what?  I've been thinking about the fact that you did something amazing for me, knowing full well that there is no way that I could repay you.

You died for me. You love me so much that you died to save me, and there's nothing that I can do ever in my life that will be nearly enough to say thankyou.

As the cliche goes, I am forever in your debt.

You knew that, and you did it anyway. Billions of times over, because you did it for each one of us.  Whether we turn to you or not, whether we love you or not, whether we say thankyou or not. You knew how every last one of us would respond and you died for us anyway.

It's a strange thing to understand, really, because it's not the way it works down here in this world, is it?  I mean, we do do things for each other, it's just that we don't do them for nothing in return. Not for long, anyway. The odd occasion that I've found a friendship is all one way it sort of petered out after a while. I had a friend in school; we sat next to each other in a couple of lessons. It was always me who phoned her, me who arranged to meet, me who sent postcards from holiday and then from university. I did it less and less often and after a while we lost touch. Even as a Christian on those all too rare occasions that I keep on giving because I know that its the right thing to do, it isn't really a proper friendship. It becomes something that I do, usually with bad grace, I'm afraid.

It's easier to keep on giving to people that you have no relationship with. Charities where you can be faceless and uninvolved, distant. How hard it is to have a sustained relationship with a person from whom I can expect nothing in return. Yet you keep on loving us - even those among us who never at any point realise what's real and true and come back to say thankyou.

It's their loss, and what a loss. But instead of withdrawing your affection as I did with my schoolfriend when it becomes clear that there's nothing coming in return, you love and you love and then you grieve that they never understood.

I have friends and we look after each other. I have a down day and my friend is there for me. She has a problem and I try to help. We both struggle at the same time and we support each other. It's an even sort of thing. That's mainly how we work; we give and we get.  We need balance, because it's what we understand. With work colleagues, in business and everyday life we call in favours. You owe me, I owe you. I'll make it up to you. We'll straighten things out. It's my turn next. We hate imbalance.

Even on a more fundamental level, in our world you don't get something for nothing; I want a loaf of bread, I buy one. If I don't have any money, I can't have one. If someone offers us something that we need that they don't use any more we say 'Can I give you something for it?' because we don't expect to receive for nothing. It's not easy just to take it, to accept it. We hate to feel beholden. We like it all to be even. We hate to be at a disadvantage.

So you come along and you say forget about that - this is for nothing. There is nothing you could give me in exchange for this. The biggest gift we could ever imagine is ours and we cannot deserve it.  There is no human achievement so great that we can say that what you have done for us is our due. We can't ever hope to break even.

So what do you want in return?  Well, I suppose you want everything. Nothing and everything. You want our lives, nothing less, and yet you leave us free to carry on living them. You won't force it - you won't manipulate us. We can hold all that we are and all that we have tight in our hot little fists all our lives if we want to and never surrender a minute of our attention or a tiny bit of our love or a single effort but still you go on loving us. You don't revoke our privileges because you don't get back a fraction of what you put in.

Wow. How do I get my head around that? I find it hard to receive at the best of times.

It's hard. It's hard for me to accept something from someone else even in everyday terms, to be honest. Whether it's a compliment:

'You look nice today.'
'Really? You must be joking. I'm having a fat day.'

'You're good at that.'
'No, not really. I don't think so.'

Or perhaps it's a good turn. Someone did something wonderful for me a few months back; something really thoughtful which required time and effort and really touched me. It was out of the blue and unexpected. In a conversation a few days later I wanted to redress the balance but there's no real way that I can. At least not in the foreseeable future because we're not close enough for me to offer anything that an equal would offer.  It's uncomfortable for me to be on the receiving end like that. All I can say is 'Thankyou' and mean it.

I need to learn to say 'Thankyou' instead of deflecting compliments. Sometimes people just want to do something nice and that's that. What is it that always makes me think I'm unworthy of random acts of niceness? Why do I always tell people, 'You shouldn't have.'? Why shouldn't they? Why do I find it so awkward to be a recipient?

Maybe it's easier to give than to receive. I think perhaps for me it's a control thing, like so many things in my life. I know where I am when I'm giving, when I'm deciding. It's nice to make someone happy, to step into the breach when there's a problem. It makes me feel good. I get a warm fuzzy feeling when I do something nice for someone. Is that just me?  Whereas there's an element of vulnerability in accepting from others that maybe makes me uncomfortable. I don't like to feel at a loss. Needy. Perhaps I see neediness in myself and that's why I hate to draw attention to it. Maybe I need to just step back, smile, say thankyou and appreciate that other people can get the warm fuzziness too.

Or maybe as always I'm over-thinking. Sometimes I need the grace to say, 'Thankyou' and take something in the spirit in which it's meant. I don't do something for someone with the intention of recouping my loss at a later date so probably neither do other people. They don't have some sort of tally of who owes who what in terms of time, gifts, kind words or thoughtful actions. And in accepting graciously I am honouring the person who gave. In attempting to deflect them with 'Oh, you shouldn't have,' I'm rejecting their kindness because they clearly thought that they should, and that's why they did. It's a rebuff to tell them that they shouldn't have.

And then there's you. You did the biggest thing for me. Nothing I could ever do could pay you back and I will never be worthy of what you did for me. I can't earn it. Not with a lifetime of sinlessness (yeah, right) and a lifetime of good deeds and holy thoughts and scripture read and neighbours converted. So much less so with part of a lifetime grudgingly meted out to you for your purposes and measured against my own plans and ideas.

'If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!'

Matthew 7:11

I would give my two daughters the world if I could. I love to make them happy. I can't do it all the time because their idea of what will make them happy is somewhat different from mine. I don't give Katy as many sweets as she'd like, or Lizzie a new stuffed toy every time we walk past a toy shop but I am guilty of wanting to please them. I am quite sure that I get it wrong sometimes and make bad decisions. I love them and I love seeing their faces light up when I have a surprise for them or when I am able to give them what they want. Their joy is all I need. It makes my day.

How much more then....

I think that much of the time you are longing to give me good gifts but for some reason I'm reluctant to let you. I don't know why; maybe I'm just focused on the sweets and the toys and the things that are bad for me and instead you have something better, but to me I don't recognise it as a gift and I turn away.  Maybe I'm afraid that you're going to ask me to step out of my comfort zone, or maybe I just feel comfy as I am, familiar with my own insecurities and difficulties but confident that I know what I can and can't do, so there's no use you asking me. If I actually allowed you to equip me for a new job, then a new job would need doing.

Maybe it's safe and comfortable here on the mountain after all. Maybe that river looks too deep and too fast and too wide. It looks nice over there on the other side but this side is alright after all. Familiar. Safe.

I don't know if this is true. I just have a suspicion that you have so much more for me. Are my hands full of the trivia of my life and so you can't give me something else, something better? Am I too used to the familiarity and comparative safety of my imperfect and damaged little life to accept the upgrades that you want to install?  Or are you just trying to meet my eye and I'm looking anywhere but you?

As I write the children are squabbling and dinner will soon be ready so my thoughts are starting to scatter. Time to go.

Show me, Lord. I do want to grow. I want to be useful to you. I want to be all I can be. The last few months have bruised me a bit and made me take steps backwards instead of forwards. Deep down in the middle of this mess there's a light that never went out and I want you to help me make it shine brighter.

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