Until three years ago, the glass of my life was always half empty with a hole at the bottom where everything leaked out. Then, during Advent that year, I began to make a gift list. Not a list of gifts I wanted, a list of gifts I already had—and for which I was grateful. At the time, this list was a way to cope with a whole lot of professional disappointment and an unexpected pregnancy.
The list turned out to be a whole lot more than I bargained for. It has taken my glass-half-empty view of the world and upended it: my glass has never been half empty; it’s always been filled to overflowing. There wasn’t a hole in the bottom at all: it was spilling over the sides.
But until I started counting the gifts, I simply couldn’t see that. I fixated on my problems and never noticed all the ways God was meeting me in the midst of them. I fixated on what I wanted that I didn’t have and missed the many gifts I did have, gifts I took so for granted that I didn’t even notice them.
I now see the error of my former ways. The problem with someone like me entering into a practice like this and discovering something like that is that it can make me smug and judgmental: people who are still stuck in the cultural mindset of more, more, more sometimes strike me as pathetic and annoying.
They whine too much. They complain too much. They don’t see how good their lives are. They don’t see that the way they work/spend their time/spend their money/parent their children/view the world is making their lives harder than they need to be. If only they could be more like, well, me.
Luckily, God is hell-bent on destroying my smugness, and into the midst of my judgment and gracelessness he sends these words from William Willimon:
The first word of the church, a people born out of so odd a nativity, is that we are receivers before we are givers. Discipleship teaches us the art of seeing our lives as gifts. That’s tough, because I would rather see myself as a giver. I want power—to stand on my own, take charge, set things to rights, perhaps to help those who have nothing. I don’t like picturing myself as dependent, needy, empty-handed.
The words are a smack in the face of my smugness: “we are receivers.” All that I have learned and become—any spiritual health and whatever wisdom is in me—it’s all a gift. It’s all grace from the hand of God. The only thing that separates me from anyone else is that somehow, by God’s grace, God got my attention, shook me by the scruff of the neck, hauled my eyelids up, and said, “See!” And—again, God’s grace—I saw.
I can take little credit for this—it is God’s work, God’s grace working in me. My only role is Mary’s: “Be it done to me according to your word.” That is all. Perhaps I could even manage to feel smug about saying yes—but how many times have I said no? How many times have I refused to see God’s grace, refused to receive God’s grace, refused to give thanks for God’s grace, God’s gifts?
I spent the better part of 34 years blind to the giftness of my life. That’s a lot of no’s. And now that I have begun to glimpse the gifts and the grace, I have no cause to be smug about it. Even the ability to say yes to God’s grace, to open my eyes and see it, is a gift. A grace in itself. Another item to add to my gift list.
Oh, Jesus, thank you for this reminder that it is all grace, that even my yeses are gifts from you, the grace to receive your grace! Forgive my arrogance. Forgive my gracelessness. Help me to see and believe and live the truth that even my desire to say yes to you comes from you, much less the ability to open my lips and proclaim your praise. Help me to inhabit this place of grace, of gift, of receptivity, of open-handedness, of submission. Help me to live and write and think and speak and parent and pray from this place of grace.