I used to think that gifts were best when they were stored away, stockpiled and kept for the “perfect” time, and now I think that gifts are meant to be used, shared and enjoyed.
Growing up I was known as the candy-saver. Any holiday that you get candy (Christmas, Valentine’s, Easter, etc.), I’d eat a piece or two, but savor the stash I had, fully intending to slowly enjoy what I’d been given. In third grade, my teacher gave out Jolly Ranchers for extra credit assignments or as a reward for a job well done. I loved to earn Jolly Ranchers and would keep my growing pile in my desk. Only after I had some back up Jolly Ranchers would I eat them. In fifth grade. my teacher gave an M&M out of a fun dispenser for daily Bible reading. You better believe that I read my Bible every day to earn a single M&M. I kept each one that I earned in a small tin in my desk, while my friends popped theirs into their mouth immediately after receiving it.
Saving candy seemed like a great plan, and I really enjoyed having something to show for my work. It was nice to have something sweet around, when I wanted it. I liked feeling prepared for my candy needs (which apparently was an important goal to my child’s mind.)
But as I think about it now, my candy saving might not have been as good as I convinced myself it was. Often, I would end up sucking on a stale, sticky Jolly Rancher, whose glory days had been missed while sitting in my desk. There were times when I would finally feel free to eat the remainder of my Valentine’s Day stash, now that Easter was here, only to discover that my candy hearts were no longer fresh and did not taste as good as they once did. When I finally pulled out my M&M tin at summer’s eve, ready to enjoy the fruits of my year’s labor, I was a little disappointed to find out not all the M&Ms had fared well in the wait. Some of them tasted a little dusty or stale.
My brother was entirely the opposite of me in his approach to candy. He could often be found eating his entire candy hoard in the first few days of having it. I’d often take pity on him a week later when he had none, and share my candy with him. My mom would sometimes question my actions, wondering out loud why I would want to give him more than his share. It wasn’t that he hadn’t been given any. He had just chosen to eat it right away instead of saving it. Did I realize that he had already eaten his chocolate bunny? I knew I did not have to share, right? What was I giving him what was mine?
I think I shared my candy because of what I’m still learning to be true: the good gifts Jesus gives us are meant to be used and shared and enjoyed. Jesus doesn’t give us things so we can hoard them. Jesus gives us things so we can believe who he says he is: that he is good, he is kind, he is our Father and he can be trusted.
I think about God’s people in the history we find recorded in Exodus 16. God provides food, literally falling from heaven as provision for his whiny, complaining people. But he told them how this gift worked. They were to gather as much as they could eat for that day, no more and no less, with the exception of the day before the Sabbath. They could gather double that day, in order to rest the following day. But not everyone did this. Some took extra on a regular week day and the result was worms and a horrible stench. I love seeing God’s kindness to his people, by making it possible to store the food an extra day in order to celebrate the Sabbath. It wasn’t that the heaven-bread always went bad. It was that God loved his people enough to teach them about how his gifts work. They are meant to be used. They are meant to instill trust in us. They are meant to be shared.
I was given a wonderful gift this fall. I had told my mother-in-law about my love of blackberries, having grown up in Washington with the prickly bushes overtaking our backyard. From the day we moved to the house when I was two years old, I had fallen in love when the dark fruit, warm from the sun. What a glorious treat it was to pick something so delicious in my own backyard! I don’t remember much about moving at such a young age, but I do remember feeling like I was in heaven as I stained my toddler’s mouth with berry juice, as I picked berry after berry, in the September sunshine. What a special surprise it was to be given a box of blackberries after sharing that story weeks prior. As I held the box in my hands, my first thought was, “something this special needs to be saved.” As I played out the logic of that statement in my head, I realized that saving these berries would be the wrong way to receive this gift. There were not enough to turn into a batch of jam or enough to freeze for a pie. There were just enough to eat and enjoy now. I know it may sound silly, but it was an internal struggle to allow myself to enjoy the gift in front of me, as is. I know that I would have been so disappointed if I had ended up saving my berries, only to discover that I had missed the opportunity to eat them, because they were now moldy and ruined.
Shauna Niequist has a post from January 2015 that she entitles, “Burn the Candles.” As almost a charge for the new year ahead, she shares her own propensity to save and her desire to enjoy:
“I have fancy lotions that have gone unused for years, given to me by people who know how much I love all things lavender-scented. Instead of using this fancy lotion—slathering it on my cracked and dry knuckles, smearing it on my neck or elbows, I keep it all untouched, and I use the bottom of an unscented bottle of hand cream I bought at the grocery store who-knows-how many years ago, or a tiny bottle from a nameless hotel so many months ago. Listen, I’m not saying be fancy and spend crazy money on candles. You’re talking to a girl who keeps hotel soaps. What I’m saying is that when people give you things—and most likely, in the last month, people have given you things—allow yourself to receive them.
Burn the candles. Not just when people come over. For you, because someone gave them to you. Open the wine and have a glass tonight while you fold laundry. Wear the perfume, the pretty scarf, the whatever that you have tucked in a box, too fancy for you.
This year, brew the good coffee, wear the sparkly jewelry, crack open that fresh journal. Gifts are to be loved, to be burned, to be eaten and used up completely, reminders that someone loves us, that someone thought of us.”
I truly believe what James says about gifts, “Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light.” (James 1:17, the MSG) If I truly believe that the gifts I receive originate from heaven, I have no reason to hoard up things. If I really believe that Jesus is a good dad, I won’t wonder if I need to save some for later. I’ll trust that he will care for me then, as he cares for me now. I won’t need to look out for myself, because he has my back.
Time and time again, I fool myself into thinking there is joy in eating my stale, sticky hoard of candy alone. The joy comes from delighting in the gift and sharing it with someone else. The joy comes from making baked oatmeal sprinkled with the gift of blackberries, and eating it at the breakfast table together. The joy comes from breaking a favorite candy bar in half as we snuggle in for a movie. The joy comes from breaking out the “good” coffee to enjoy on a Saturday morning in. The joy comes from burning the candles on a cold afternoon. The joy comes from using the good dishes with your family and friends. The joy comes from using and sharing and enjoying the gifts we’re given. That’s what they’re made for.
I’m not trying to make candy or blackberries overly spiritual, but I think the mundane is spiritual. I think the spiritual is mundane. We find Jesus in the dirt and grime of life. We find him healing and giving a man his legs back and forgiving his sins. He’s in the physical and the spiritual. He’s in both, because humans are both. We are made with bodies and souls.
I think this is what Jesus talked about in Matthew 6. He tells me to store treasures in heaven, because I can’t protect or save stuff here on earth anyway. And when I don’t hoard here on earth, I become the kind of person who isn’t anxious or worried, because I know Jesus will take care of me.
“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.” (Matthew 6:30-33, the MSG)
This isn’t easy for me. I still want to stash my blackberries. I still want to hoard my “good” coffee and candles and journals, and never use them the way they were intended to be used. I still want to be in control and trust in my stockpile of stale candy, rather than trust my Dad who gives me good gifts.
But I’m working on remembering how it felt to share strawberry marshmallow puffs with the boy who had already eaten all his. It was always better than eating them stale and alone. I’m working on remembering what gifts are meant for. They are meant to be used and shared and enjoyed.
So, I’m scribbling in my journal.
I’m savoring a piece of dark chocolate.
I’m enjoying the sweet burst of a blackberry in my mouth.
I’m drinking the good coffee.
I’m burning the candle.
I’m wearing my favorite dress.
I’m underlining in my book.
And I’m trusting that Jesus is who he says he is: he is good, he is kind, he is our Father and he can be trusted.
I’m thrilled to be part of Sarah Bessey’s synchoblog today in honor of her new book, Out of Sorts, following her prompt: “I used to think____and now I think ____.” What a gift to be part of this communal effort to share stories of growth and transformation.