The Problem of the Gift

You stand between your people and a raging sea. An army chases you. The crowd shouts, demanding, panicked, angry. They wail. They accuse you. Yesterday you were their hero. Today you wonder if they might toss you in those frigid waves.

You stand at the edge of a pit, looking down into deep shadows. Feline rumblings rise. Pacing figures lift hungry eyes. Your enemies watch, triumphant. Your heart pounds and you struggle to contain your fear. This is what comes from your obedience?

You stand before your master as his wife hovers behind him, a malicious grin on her face. She holds your jacket, the one you left in her grasping fingers as you ran. Your master fumes, purple with rage. You can tell by his face that he knows you speak truth, that he is convinced of your integrity. But he must save face. Once again you are betrayed. He strikes you over and over until you fall. He calls the guards to take you away.

You stand at the doorway of your house, looking out into the road. Empty, just as you hoped. You walk, head bowed, through the stifling afternoon heat, bearing this loneliness, just one more burden of your shame. It is no less than you deserve, you know, but still you wonder what people say behind those doors forever shut to you. You will never tell those morning women at the well how you long to join them in their giggling, intimate chatter. They know what you are. Sighing, you lift the heavy jar and trudge on.

You stand alone in the dark. You long for death. If only someone would come and strike you down, as you deserve. You wish for anything to obliviate the memory of your words, rising into the night like sparks from the fire, destroying everything. You close your eyes and see again his look. You can never forget it. His eyes filled with anguish, not for himself, but for you. Even as you betrayed him, he loved you. He wept for you. He died for you. You crumple to the ground, knowing your sobs will change nothing.

IMG_E2453The stories we write for ourselves never—never!—go the way we want them to. Why do we still expect this? Hopelessness is the one thing easily obtainable these days. Why try? Why even care? Loss, rejection, failure, disillusionment—these are the sure things.

Except.

Except when someone else takes up the narrative. And the problem becomes the gift. Our Father delights in changing our story, in giving us what we never looked for but desperately needed.

A sea to part. A pack of hungry lions to keep their mouths shut. A prison life full of dreams and people who need what you have. A conversation at the well that transforms the entire town. A breakfast on the beach after long nights of despair. And grace. Restoration. Forgiveness. A new calling, one born from his gift and your brokenness.

These are the gifts that change everything.

I still don’t understand (and some days I don’t want to), but he doesn’t ask me to. He just asks me to receive.

After all, a gift does you no good unless you receive it.

Maybe receiving is the problem. Receiving the gift requires us to release clenched hands and let go of the story. The gift asks us to open to something new, something that could be even better, if we would let it be. If we would let pain share its dark blessing.

But maybe you don’t believe in everyday miracles? Maybe you think those Bible stories are no longer relevant, if they ever even were?

Maybe you’re not looking. You’re closing your eyes to what you don’t want to see, because it’s too hard to hope. I struggle with this daily. But daily he is showing me story after story—including my own—of gifts born from pain. He’s showing me it all depends on who you choose to look at and what voice you choose to hear.

Some days those choices seem impossible. Like all the people through all the hundreds of years, standing before the impossible, and choosing anyway.

Open your hands. Accept the gift.

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