It is nowhere near Christmastime, and that makes me sad. I’m a sucker for Christmas–all that snow, and the carols and fireplaces and twinkling lights and hope and cheer and optimism and finding just the perfect gift and piles of things wrapped in festive paper.
…Also all that rampant consumerism and sense of impending Santa-related doom and obligatory gift reciprocation and trying to remember whether you bought your coworker a lotion basket or a scented candle last year and wondering idly if this is the year that you should just chuck it all and refuse to buy any gifts, period, because if we’re totally honest, you’re still kinda paying off last Christmas. Ahh, Christmas.
My sister-in-law posted an interesting quote on her Facebook the other day, and it made me think. It’s from Jon Courson, and it read, “Quit trying to give God a reason to bless you. It’ll never work because God will be a debtor to no man. Just marvel at His goodness. Enjoy an intimate relationship with Him, and watch what He can pour out on you because you won’t be taking the credit”.
And this got me to thinking about gifts; please keep that quote in mind while you watch this fun clip, from The Big Bang Theory.
One of my biggest challenges is the sense that I have to earn things–that when someone says that they love me, what they mean is just that, that they love me, and that there’s nothing I need to do as a result; but what I hear is the voice of a thousand shrieking inner demons, all demanding that unless I prove my worth right this instant, the love is going to shrivel up and blow away because I won’t have earned it. Ditto for gifts–I’m not quite as spastic about gifts as Sheldon is, but I do have a difficult time accepting a gift (or god help me, a compliment–I’m just atrocious about accepting compliments graciously) without feeling like I need to excuse myself to run to the store and buy something of commensurate value and sentiment.
But here’s the thing: God (as always, I’m using the word “God” as a shorthand; feel free to sub in your deity-of-choice, or “the universe” or “the cosmos” or “fate” or whatever makes you happiest) don’t play that way. God gives gifts/blessings because that’s how God rolls. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience where we’ve been out on a random Tuesday and found something that Person X would just love, and picked it up and given it to them “just because”. It’s a great feeling, no? And that’s how God operates–you get blessings because it’s fun to make people smile. God gives gifts because when you love someone, it’s kinda nice to bring them flowers every so often. God gives us things because He wants to, and when you’re God, you pretty much get to do what you want.
But when we try to earn them, we twist the whole relationship into a weird pretzel that’s got a strange nugget of ego in the center: basically, we’re trying to force God into an obligation loop, where we do something good and in exchange, He just has to give us a goodie.
Pro tip: God don’t play that way, either.
Have you ever seen those dogs who have learned a trick, and have learned that they get a treat when they do their trick, and so they do the trick every flarbin’ time they see you in the hopes that you know the trick = treat rule? Our littlest dog, Mr Napoleon Complex, figured out at some point that the treats are stored in the pantry, and his previous owner appears to have taught him that if he scratched at the pantry door (“Look! The treats are in here! You might have forgotten. You’re welcome”), he’d get one. And so now he scratches at the door every. single. time. he walks past it, just in case. It was cute the first 200 times. Now it’s just vaguely irritating.
You see where I’m going with that. When I’m thinking of getting a “just because” prezzie for someone, I think of the people who make me happy–and 99.9 times out of 100, those are the folks who are just out in the world, spreading their love and light because it’s a good thing to do…not the people who scratch at the pantry door every 10 minutes in the hopes that someone will reward them.
And while I certainly can’t presume to speak for God, I think it’s a safe bet that He operates the same way. All relationships are built on adherence to a contract of some sort: friends know whether or not it’s safe to tease each other about their butt sizes; lovers know whether there are conventions regarding the toilet seat; students know whether the teacher is a stickler for only using black pen, etc. And God has given out a set of rules to follow–each religion has their own phrasing for them, but I’d submit that at the end of the day, they pretty much all boil down to “Play nicely, share the toys, and don’t make me come down there”–so if you need some guidelines for appropriate behavior, you’ve got ’em.
But following the rules of your relationship contract with God is pretty much all you need to do. Sure, you’re always welcome to go “above and beyond” to make the world a better place, but nobody likes a kiss-up, and nobody likes a person who aggressively markets him/herself. It’s lots of fun to be a blessing to someone who is hanging out in the background, being quietly amazing; but it’s really pretty uninteresting to go out of your way for someone who is so clearly invested in making sure that someone will go out of their way for him.
So count your blessings, is what it all comes down to, instead of working so blasted hard to try to earn new ones. Strip your ego out of it; if God wants to give you a gift, He’ll do so, but not because you’ve begged for it. Begging creates an egocentric obligation loop…and God don’t play that.