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A Necessary Gift

A Necessary Gift

It’s September. The local newspaper was recently encouraging people to book restaurant space now…for Christmas parties! I thought the season always started a bit early in the US, now that it appears right on the heels of Halloween…but apparently, here in the UK, we are well ahead of America in terms of holiday spirit.

The notion of Christmas parties got me thinking about gifts.

All I want for Christmas is...

All I want for Christmas is…

There are all kinds of gifts. There are generous gifts. There are polite gifts. There are thoughtful gifts. There are extravagant gifts. There are surprise gifts. There are expected gifts. There are wished-for gifts. There are etiquette gifts. There are thank-you gifts. There are thinking-of-you gifts. There are returnable gifts. There are “just because” gifts. There are romantic gifts. There are commemorative gifts. There are collector gifts. There are homemade gifts….

There are also necessary gifts.

Most gifts, in some way, are extra, optional; they can be refused, set aside, or forgotten about without much detriment…except perhaps to your relationship to the giver.

But there are some gifts which are vital, requisite even.

The Bible speaks of sleep as a gift (Ps 127:2).

A quick search on Amazon didn’t reveal sleep as an item on anyone’s wishlist. In fact, it doesn’t even look like you can buy sleep on Amazon…or on eBay…or the Home Shopping Network. Even Costco doesn’t seem to stock any sleep.

I’ve realized that, for all our ability to control our environments and our actions, we actually can’t make ourselves rest. There are times when I find myself in excellent circumstances for resting–no obligations on my time, plenty of physical comfort, little stress…and yet, I still cannot seem to rest.

I’ve come across nights where my body is tired, my mind isn’t racing, and yet still I cannot fall asleep.

For all of my skill at managing life, for all of my learned habits to exert control, sleep and rest are something that we cannot actually manufacture for ourselves. We cannot force them. We cannot create them.

They must be given. As a gift.

And they are necessary.

I’m not sure what the etiquette books say, but I expect that asking for a gift is usually considered a cultural no-no. Such a request would likely come across as rude, greedy, selfish, or as implying that your intended giver wasn’t naturally very generous, or thoughtful, or caring.

But I find myself asking for rest, asking for sleep. Because I need them.

The Bible talks about other gifts as well, and God is identified as the giver of good gifts (James 1:17; Matt 7:11). Some gifts are optional, blessings that aren’t actually needed (Ps 127:3).

But others are crucial. Like salvation. His Word. The abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. And faith.

Will God find me rude, demanding, or infantile if I ask for these things?

If He gives them, will I receive them, hang on to them, enjoy them, cherish them? Or will I set them aside, or even try to return them?

What’s my role in the acquisition of a necessary gift?

And what do I do with it once I get it?

And how do I respond to the One who gave it?

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2013 in Life

 

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Modern Alchemy

For centuries, humanity was fascinated with the prospect of changing one thing into another.

In the classic example, there was a deep, mystical pursuit for how to turn one material (lead) into another, ostensibly more valuable one (gold). This journey became the stuff of legend for some; a lifelong pursuit for others.

And in many ways, I don’t think that pursuit has ever really ended.

A friend’s recent trip to Costco came with the summary: “the wallet is now empty, but the larder is full.” The empty wallet may hurt, but the full bellies will be a blessing.

We live in a transactional society. Many of our interactions are based around the premise of changing one thing into another. Our labor turns into dollars, which in turn become food…or electricity…or clothing…or movie tickets.

Our party invitation to a friend becomes a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers…and perhaps a reciprocated invitation as well.

There is even a model of organizational theory known as “transactional leadership.”

From business to relationships and back to business again, we act, expecting to change one thing into another.

Modern alchemy.

True enough, not all of our “ingredients” are necessarily offered for the purpose of transformation or exchange. We likely don’t invite a friend to dinner so that we get wine or flowers, but often times, there is that expectation, that cultural norm of responding to an overture by giving something in return.

As social conventions, as acts of politeness, no problem; as sincere acts of gratitude and blessing, even better.

But what about when the intent is otherwise, when there is a desire, a seeking, to get something in return? An expectation, a sense of entitlement attached to the investment?

I think of how many areas of life I function realistically as a modern alchemist. I certainly have expectations. I think of how often my sense of fairness and equality is based upon a tit-for-tat mentality. “I did this for you, and I expect you to do something in return.”

Now, rarely do those words actually get said. But I think them.

I work, and I expect salary and discretionary time (aren’t I a shrewd investor to obtain such a multiplicity of returns!). I take care of the garbage, and I expect meals. I clean dishes and I expect meals. (I have an apparently high demand for meals in my economy.) I give time and I expect thanks. I listen and expect a chance to speak.

A certain degree of expectation is reasonable, necessary, even healthy. But it becomes twisted when that expectation becomes demand, becomes greed.

The alchemists of ancient times are often depicted in such sinister light: their pursuit of the unnatural, the quick and easy way to achieve desire, the lusting after power, wealth, and knowledge…their sense of multiplying the ordinary to become the majestic.

Such behaviors sing of discontent and avarice, of ends justifying the means. Selfishness, rather than service, becomes the primary motivator.

How easy it is for us to point out such lusts in our ancient ancestors, and yet somehow disregard the modern manifestations of this generational sin.

I don’t want to be a modern alchemist. I don’t want to look around my home, or my life, wondering which items I can claim as ingredients or inputs or investments in order to obtain something even better.

I would much rather look around, seeing my resources–material and immaterial–as the raw materials to use in serving others.

But I’m not there.

We all come from a long line of mystics…who are ironically uncomfortable with mystery, and instead want machinery. We want predictable outcomes and many happy returns on our investments. We don’t tend to want the ambiguity of relationship, or the possible disappointment of unrequited altruism and service.

Alchemy, sadly, hasn’t passed away. We simply read our incantations from a different book…but expect oh so similar results.

 

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2013 in Life

 

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