The 7th and 8th Days of Christmas: The rhythm of receiving and giving!
Day Seven - Unique Gifts from God to You
“Those who have a why to live for can bear almost any how.” —Friedrich Nietzsche.
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” —Frederick Buechner
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” - The Preacher, Ecclesiastes 9:10
“Fan into flame the gift that was given you...”. Paul the Apostle
My wife is gifted at opening people’s eyes to what God is saying to them through creation. Several of my children have gifts of combining food and hospitality to bring people together. My oldest daughter paints pictures with words. None of them are one dimensional beings, of course. They do lots of things. But I’m grateful that they know their gifts, those unique expressions of beauty that have blossomed out from them to bear fruit.
We’re told in the Bible that every one of us has a calling to display God’s character, and yet it’s also clear that each of us will express that differently and, at our best and most fortunate, we’ll find our ‘gift’ and pour ourselves into developing and using it. Whether it’s serving others with mercy, like Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa, or baking really good bread, like my daughters, pour ones' life out courageously in pursuit of justice like Harriet Tubman, or using tools masterfully to create beauty out of wood, like my brother-in-law, the truth is this: Every person has been given gifts enabling them to uniquely display the life of God.
It’s never too late to discover your gift, and if you stopped using it because of a failure, or health crisis, or some other setback, 2021 is the time to get back in the arena and use it, because it’s the expression of the gift itself, not what comes from using it, that's where meaning and joy reside. Some people use their gifts and become rich and famous. Others, too many to name, get arrested, or mocked, even killed. Everybody has a part to play in a story of hope, beauty, healing, hospitality and justice and will only ripen as an expression of God’s heart to the extent that people discover and use their gifts.
There’s much more to say because there are always questions like “How do I know my gift?” “What about people with deep limitations due to illness or injustice?” For now, though, know this: Using the unique gift(s) God has given you is the surest path to joy that I know of. It simplifies our lives because we become more focused. It’s life giving because it aligns with who we are by nature. And, significantly, as we’ll see next, using your gift(s) is the single best way to make the world a better place.
Do you know your gift? How did you discover it? Please share your thoughts freely in the comments so others might benefit!
Day Eight - The Gift of Capacity to Give
Whatever gifts God has given, you are intended to bless others. Yes, this means that on the eighth day of Christmas, God has given you the capacity to give. Our minds run to money immediately, and if you live in the developed world, that’s usually a good thing. Ours is a culture of commodification, where almost everything is for sale. This has the sad affect of turning many people into nothing more than consumers, viewing nearly all relationships as transactional; “I’ll help you now, and (though we won’t say it, there’s a tacit expectation that) you’ll help me later.” After this happens enough times, it becomes abnormal to consider giving with no strings attached.
But then along comes Jesus. You might argue that he favors capitalism over socialism, but “What contemporary economic model does Jesus like best?” is the wrong question. Better to ask, “What economic model did Jesus illustrate through his life and actions?” because, after all, he’s our example! The answer is obvious: Jesus favors a gift economy! (Defined as: - offering services and goods to other members of the community without the expectation of monetary reward). We’re so steeped in capitalism that many are surprised the gift economy is even a thing.
It’s been right in front of us all along though, through the life and teachings of Jesus.
“If you throw a party, invite people who can’t pay you back”
“Love your enemies”
“Freely you have received. Freely give”
“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
Older wisdom says it this way: “A generous person will be richly blessed” (Proverbs 22:9)
I’m all for boundaries, and it turns Jesus is too, for there are examples of Jesus leaving places to move on to a different town while needs were unmet. None of us are called to meet every need. Yet, I’ll also be honest in declaring that for some of us, “boundaries” and “self care” have become cover for a lack of generosity. What’s tricky is that you can look at someone exercising their boundaries and call them selfish, while looking at another who’s serving yet another night in the shelter and call them exemplary, and you could be wrong on both counts!
So quit looking. Your job isn’t to judge another person’s level of generosity or whether they’re using their gifts wisely. Your job is to learn your gift(s), and invest them lavishly and freely in the world.
This will look differently for each of us, of course, but we should all be applying the principles of “gift economy.” Those who make a priority of discovering their gifts, exercising them so they develop, and sharing them freely are usually moving in the right stream. May we be such people, more than ever in 2021 - because the world is thirsty for what we, collectively, have to give.
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