Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Receiving to Give

This is my tenth post in a series on Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. Each post will cover one of the eleven chapters of this book on seeing God and learning how to live fully... right where you are. Each post will be tagged 05/2014 and One Thousand Gifts. All quotes in italics are from the book.

Chapter 10: Empty to Fill

I suppose you could think of this counting gifts thing as a type of hoarding. Gathering up all the moments and scooping them in close to keep -- mine, mine, mine. But God didn't make it that way. The incredible thing about gifts from Him is that they are never only for you. The money He blesses you with, the joy He fills you with, the patience and gratitude and love and gentleness -- even the blessing of the sacrifice of Christ, it is yours, it is for you -- "This is my body, which is given for you" -- but it is not yours alone. Treasuring it, reflecting on it, keeping it close, it is a kind of joy hoarding, but it is also the kind of gift that fills you to overflowing. It is the kind of gift that will undo you so far that you cannot help but share. And suddenly the burden of your joy is to bring joy to others, to share the joy you know.

Chapter 10 is about giving.

"Eucharisteo is giving thanks for grace. But in the breaking and giving of bread, in the washing of feet, Jesus makes it clear that eucharisteo is, yes, more: it is giving grace away. Eucharisteo is the hand that opens to receive grace, then, with thanks, breaks the bread; that moves out into the larger circle of life and washes the feet of the world with that grace."

We started off here seeing the sermon of our lives. Who you are, what you do, it preaches everything about you. It tells the world what you truly believe. And in this searching for life, searching to live the message we want to preach, we named the mysteries and we redeemed time and we learned about the true grace that God gives in all things (yes, really, all things). We started to learn how to see God around us, to focus  on Him, and to learn how to trust Him. We changed our positions from one of worthy demanders to one of humble receivers. It makes us different. We cannot be the same.

If all is grace, then all is gift, and all we have is not ours. Our stuff, our money: God's. Our children, our loved ones: God's. Anything good in us -- love, patience, peace, joy: God's. And He has graciously given, lavishly bestowed. But these are things that cannot be fist-clenched into security. You cannot lock them in a closet and throw away the key, sure to have them forever and always. Every moment of your time with them is continuing grace from God. And the reason for the giving is, what? To bring glory to God. God gives to you that you might give to Him. And we give to Him through our praise, but we also give to Him by giving to others. "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me." (Matthew 25:40) When we feed and clothe and visit those who need us, we are serving Jesus, and it is no coincidence that this passage comes right after the Parable of the Talents, after words considering what you will do with what you have been given. 

"Passionately serving Christ alone makes us the loving servant to all. When the eyes of the heart focus on God, and the hands always on washing the feet of Jesus alone -- the bones, they sing joy, and the work returns to its purest state: eucharisteo. The work becomes worship, a liturgy of thankfulness... Spend the whole of your one wild and beautiful life investing in many lives, and God simply will not be outdone. God extravagantly pays back everything we give away and exactly in the currency that is not of this world but the one we yearn for: Joy in Him."

When you look into the eyes of any person and say, "You are gift to me from God Himself," you cannot help but love them. And that love compels you. This person is more than a mouth to feed or a body to clothe; this person is a soul and a spirit and a flame to nurture. They are not a someone in and of themselves, but rather a vessel, an image of God. And even in the most difficult situations any one person could find themselves in, they can be blessed by God... through you.

How do we do this? How do we make this real and move it beyond words and thoughts and heart-tuggings? Well, good question. This living to give, this reflection of the gift-giver, will look different for all of us. My momma life forces me to confront this every day. Every day, I give my time and my love and my patience and my joy to two sweet little people. And in the tantrums and the giant messes and the frustrations, I remind myself to see through the tears and attitudes and see Jesus there. As I rock and wipe and wash and mend, I remember: all is grace, even this. All is gift, even this. And I remind myself...

"Jesus Christ still lives with a towel around His waist, bent in service to His people... in service to me, as I serve, that I need never serve in my own strength."

I'm not alone. I'm not fighting for joy by myself. I'm not mustering up gifts to give from the pits of my heart. I am serving Christ. And as I serve, I am being served and the cycle just keeps on turning, giving and giving and giving, emptying myself to be filled again. And every time I think that I can't possibly give one more moment, one more grace, one more drop of anything, Jesus turns my water into wine and there I am again, receiving and, in turn, giving. And the deeper beauty of this reliance on Jesus is that then, my children, the ones I serve, do not see me in all my strength, but rather Christ. My very service to them points their eyes to the One I serve.

"I reach out and touch the reflection in the splattered mirror over the sink and whisper into those eyes: Yes, today, again, yes, you can bless! Here you can enact euchariesteo; here you can become a current in a river of grace that redeems the world! ... God can enter into me, even me, and use these hands, these feet, to be His love, a love that goes on and on forever, endless cycle of grace."

We have to be reminded. Just as we have to be reminded of all the gifts we have been given, we have to be reminded of all the gifts we can give. We have to return to God daily, preaching to ourselves these truths. And God, the God who gave us life in Christ, is faithful. He is faithful to use even the hardest days to bring glory to Himself. "You received without paying; give without pay." (Matthew 10:8) We have been so richly given, and now we give, not from the energies of our own hearts and bodies, but from the sustenance of God through Christ.

My own words keep ringing in my head: "Whatever life you lived today? It was from God." And I think, Really? This? Sometimes it feels so small, so insignificant. No one sees half (or way more) of the things I do; how can this be from God? How can this be important enough for Him to see, to care about? Maybe all you accomplished today was not yelling at your friend. Maybe all you accomplished was finishing that one little thing at work. Maybe every last thing you did today has already been undone. (All the parents of littles are raising their hands.)

Here's the thing: The life you lived today was from God, whatever it held, however it felt, whatever you did. Whatever that day brings, it holds people you can bless, no matter whether the world says they are unworthy, whether the world says you are unworthy. Newsflash: we are all unworthy and yet God gives and gives and gives... and so should we.

Tune back in on Thursday, 5/29, for my post on Chapter 11: The Joy of Intimacy

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