I love giving gifts. Not expensive or elaborate gifts, but things I think the recipients will enjoy or appreciate.
Whenever I traveled, I would pick up gifts and tuck them away until the next birthday or special occasion. As I explored new places, I was thrilled to find just the right thing for someone in my life.
Last month the twin children of good friends turned sixteen. I wanted to do something fun for them since they’d spent most of the spring in online learning and now all their summer plans were cancelled.
After opening the gifts I’d sent, my friends’ son told his mom, “I don’t know if I deserve all this.”
His comment made me think about how often I’m reluctant to accept gifts from other people. I often chalk that reluctance up to my not wanting anyone to feel they need to make a fuss. After all, why should someone spend money when I don’t really need anything?
But I wonder if there isn’t something else at work in my reluctance to say yes to gifts—especially when they come in the form of someone offering to help with something. Would saying yes to such gifts mean I’m not as independent as I like to think I am? Would it make me seem needy at a time when lots of people have far greater needs? Or perhaps saying yes to help would take away some of the control I like to maintain in most aspects of my life.
All those thoughts were rattling around in my head last week as I participated in a virtual chat with folks who are in the third third of life. The topic for our chat was the most important lessons we’ve learned.
One of my conversation partners that morning shared that she’s learned to let other people help her. She said that while accepting such help can be good for her, it also can be good for the person offering the help.
So now I had even more things swirling in my thoughts as I finished my sermon for Sunday. The scripture text was the parable from Matthew’s gospel about the farmer who sewed seeds.
I invited the congregation to consider the possibility that the parable offers an unexpected glimpse into the realm of God. A realm that is like a farmer who has an abundance of seed. Who tosses it out without first checking whether the recipient is worthy. Who reveals the nature of God to be one of overwhelming abundance and extravagant generosity.
Then I asked the congregation to imagine what it might mean to read the parable in that way.
For me, one possibility is that—by encouraging us to trust in the abundant love and grace that God offers—it might allow us to be honest about ourselves. We could trust that we don’t have to fake being good enough or believing certain things in order to receive God’s love and grace.
While it can be important to take a close look at our motives and intentions, as well as at our practices and priorities, we can do so in the context of a loving and gracious God who offers second and third and fourth chances. That context might free us to focus on the positive possibilities that exist rather than get bogged down in all the negatives we identify in our lives.
And perhaps that approach is especially important during these days when we’re trying to find a new normal—or, as I like to say, redefining our reality.
As I consider how to redefine reality, I plan to include saying yes to gifts more often. I want to say yes to gifts of God’s grace, of friends’ care, and of strangers’ kindness. I want to say yes to gifts without worrying whether I deserve them, need them, or even really want them.
In my redefined reality, I want to learn to receive gifts as well as I give them.