I’m tired. I can’t think of one area of my life that isn’t taxed nearly to the breaking point. Energy is gone, finances are three days from following suit, and my pool of creativity is being used by some kids on skateboards. As I write, one of my boys is sick on the couch, zoned out on cold medicine and Leap Frog cartoons, and I just received the call that my 2-year-old is still crying at his new day care. I’m behind on everything except my firm commitment to procrastination. Also, though you wouldn’t have known it had I not told you, I was supposed to publish this article two days ago but illness got the best of me. To top it all off, I’m secretly loving every, single, yawn-saturated, hypertensive minute of it.
Why? Because of a schmancy thing called the “hermeneutic of the gift”. A key point in the Theology of the Body, this concept of “gift” teaches that since the entirety of the universe, everything from creation to marriage, exists singularly because of God’s sheer goodness and desire to give, then real life consists in participating in that “dimension of gift”, that economy of giving. Much like the laws of nature dictate that a two-minute bike ride with my boy will exhaust me and that OK Computer incites ecstasy in anyone who listens to it, the law of gift determines that the outcome of manipulation and lust is dis-satisfaction, and the outcome of sacrifice and deference will be redemptive satisfaction.
The created order, finding its pinnacle in humanity, lives, moves, and has its being fundamentally through the gift of God alone. No inherent merit demanded creation; it was not needed, it was given, not one string attached. You and I weren’t necessary, we were desired “for our own sake”. As a result, this gifted life thrives, is set ablaze, when it responds in like kind and, consequently, suffers when it grasps in selfishness. That is why no one truly finds beauty in greed, or no one but a few Rand-ians find virtue in selfishness, but most everyone finds beauty in the selflessness of Mother Teresa or the intense sacrifices made by a single parent. We find true, real life when we give of ourselves; and we find discontent and frustration when we take from the world.
It isn’t self-help or wishful thinking, either. Why does it feel rewarding to bring food to a soup kitchen, or even to give small pocket change to a beggar on the street? Some would say that it appeases the guilt that is heaped on us as a result of religion, but those of us who know Christ and live His religion know better (yes, I advocate religious organization, largely because I’ve seen the inside of my backpack and would never want the body of Christ to look like it). We know that there is intrinsic goodness in letting go of our time, treasure, and talent, even if it is only $.43, because the widow who gave her last $.02 was lauded by Jesus and “it is better to give than to receive”.
What cracks me up is that, though we agree there is a goodness, both in the act and the accompanying feelings, to giving to the poor or helping someone with their groceries, we don’t play it out logically. If it feels/is so good to do the small, random acts of kindness, why don’t more of us take the plunge and allow that “posture of giving”, to quote Rev. David Dale (Father-in-law), to be our everyday posture, our minute-by-minute mentality? Why not commit intentional acts of sacrifice as an all-encompassing lifestyle? Instead, most of us stop at the niceties, and even those fall by the wayside when the going gets tough. At least, that’s what is true in my life.
For instance, I have always had the unspoken policy of putting my shoes on the bottom of the rack so that my wife could put hers on the top and reach them easier. It has always been my personal, quiet way of preferring her to myself. However, at one point in our marriage when things had gotten quite tough for us and our relationship was upended, I subtly started placing my shoes on the top of the rack. Now, I don’t think she even noticed it, to be honest, but what it reflected about the state of my heart spoke volumes, and it took me noticing my minuscule moments of selfishness to show me where I was causing the harm in the relationship. The small act was an indicator of the general attitude of grasping I’d begun to hold, both toward my wife and the world. The shoes took an altitude plunge in a hurry, as well as placing my loofah on the back of the rack and my toothpaste in a harder-to-reach place than hers, for good measure.
Mind you, I know very well the hesitancy you might feel when facing the possibility of giving it all away. It’s daunting. After all, you just might find yourself exhausted due to the emotional chaos of the kids you adopted from a tough home and penniless for the same reason. You could end up homeless as you move from one missionary situation to the next. All this and more awaits those who decide to attempt to live gift with each breath, but, I can assure you that real, vibrant, exciting, miraculous life set on fire awaits, as well.
In the book of Judges, we meet a man of insignificant background named Gideon who was asked by God to do the impossible. When he responded with doubt and claims of ineptitude, God’s response was, “Go fight with the strength you have. I am the one who is sending you. I will be with you.” We are strong, good, and able because of Who gives us strength and goodness, Who sends us and goes with us. We can give everything because we’ve first received everything from the Giver of all good things.
Keep in mind, we don’t have to quantify our success, we just have to live the law of gift, the rest is inconsequential. Just give, dangit! One of my favorite songs of all time, both for the content and the fact that it’s the perfect running tempo for me, is Needtobreathe’s Nothing Left To Lose. One line states, “Love is just like a war you can’t win. You can give, you can give, you can give.” In the dimension of gift, if you give, you’ve won, even if you lose. In the closing minute of the song, Bear Rinehart sings, “When there’s nothing that you can’t afford to sacrifice, there’s no way they can put out your fire.” Whether you see success or not, by living gift, you can let go of fear of the outcome, join with The Killers, and sing, ”From the summit’s edge to the cutting room floor, I will be afraid no more.”
Ladies and Gents, we were made to live lives of transcendent inexplicable gift, keeping the loosest of holds on that which everyone else holds dear. Each of us had our life simply gifted to us, and we find peace when we give the reins, and ourselves, to God. As soon as we do, we find ourselves able to readily give everything else to others, including, but not limited to, the winning position in a Facebook brawl, adequate sleep, and your preferred iPod playlist.
So, let us stop taking and grasping, and begin giving and receiving. Let us cease taking communion and begin receiving the Eucharist. Let us put our shoes, loofahs, and toothbrushes at the back. Let us make sure each word is a gift to others, not a dagger, knowing that “life and death is in the tongue” (Prov 18:21). May we let the coins of each area of our lives trickle through our fingers with gladness. Let us empty ourselves for all, breathe our life into all, and bleed out for all.
I’d start with the shoes.