…to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God….
On Christmas Eve, my Mom and Dad did what parents do. They stayed up late and placed gifts under the tree. Then, on Christmas morning, I did what young children do. I got up early, making as much noise as I could to rouse the family. I was the youngest of four, the first to grow impatient about receiving, but the last to lose the innocence. Eventually though, I lost that too.
But as a boy, I was all about receiving. I anticipated the gifts for weeks. My gifts, that is. It wasn’t that I didn’t care what my brothers and sister received, but they didn’t get any good stuff. My sister got clothes. My brothers, eight years my senior, would get tools or watches, not a toy in sight. I felt sorta bad for them and acknowledging their gifts seemed like rubbing it in.
But I got the good stuff, an electric train set, a space command center with deployable rockets, a slinky! That’s where the magic was. And I had someone my age to share the thrill. My neighbor Doug and I would meet up as soon as we could on Christmas afternoon.
“What’d you get?” was the first question, followed by a list of our booty from the worst to the best. “I got an orange, some M & Ms (the peanut kind), a Monopoly game and… a Johnny 7 Rifle with A GRENADE LAUNCHER!”
We’d grab our heads and say, “Cool!” and “Wow!” (“Awesome” hadn’t been invented yet). It was an enchanted story. Gifts had simply been granted to us. It felt a little like we were getting away with something, something too good to be true. Yet, here we stood, our hands full of someone’s generosity. Picture two little boys, pondering in their little hearts that grace could really, really happen sometimes. Standing there in canvas Keds, we realized together, This Christmas thing… it’s really real.
Then I shot Doug with the grenade launcher. He exploded in laughter.
We spent the afternoon lying on our stomachs setting up the electric train, racing slot cars or playing board games, pausing only for a slice of leftover pecan pie. Time hovered like a dove. The afternoon was aglow with ambient innocence. We’d been blessed; we knew it and we soaked it in. Looking back now, it was a sweet spot in life. We were old enough to know that gifts came from someone above us, but still young enough to trust that being below someone who loves you is an OK place to be. It was, in fact, THE place to be. For a few favored holiday seasons, Doug and I allowed ourselves to simply receive.
After all, it was Christmas. We were kids. We were supposed to receive. This is how things really are.
Yet slowly and surely I lost touch with this “sweet spot.” I lost the ability (or the willingness) to see things as they really are.
I know this because I don’t receive gifts cleanly anymore. Even when I know someone genuinely wants to bless me, I get all itchy and uncomfortable. Trust is scary. So, I fake a response, “Oh, thank you…you shouldn’t have…” Then I duck into a complex mental algorithm comparing what they gave me to what I gave them. I factor in the cost of each gift, multiply by the thoughtfulness quotient, add their degree of excitement, and then divide by how well the gifts are wrapped. Did I do enough? Do I owe them? Are we even?
This compulsion “to be even” drives me. To simply receive feels too… naked? Too needy? I know that doesn’t make relational sense. If someone loves me, they naturally want to give to me. They would be most thanked if I were to genuinely receive it, maybe even be a little excited. But to my needy-phobic brain, exposing my desire for love is weak. This is my deepest fear. My ever-alert limbic system activates into immediate evasive action.
I feel hot and intensely self-conscious. Opening up to joy feels imminent, so I block it with mental defenses. I either doubt my worthiness or the giver’s sincerity. I think of ways to pay them back and even things up. I thank them a little too much. Or maybe I pretend that it’s no big deal. Incredibly, I can’t simply accept that when someone loves me, it’s OK to like it.
Now this story of Doug and I is a bit idealized. Our “innocent receiving,” even as kids, wasn’t pure. But it was an approximation. When I try to imagine what really trusting God’s love might be like I think back to that sweet spot, to those Christmas afternoons where I seemed to trust love.
There was something then (and now) about Christmas that lights up how things really are. There is Someone, bigger than my mom and dad, who is above us. And for reasons buried deep in eternity, He longs to give. Giving is who God is and the guiding theme of reality. He gave the starry cosmos. He granted the breath of life. God wanted to give so badly, that He gave His only begotten, laid him in a manger and hung Him on a Cross.
Therefore, if God is by nature such a Giver, then we by nature are receivers. Receiving is our place and our dignity. He made us to wonder at the stars, to breathe in His life, to receive His Son. To be ashamed to receive is to be ashamed of who we really are.
So, this Christmas, pray for that sweet spot: “God, grant me the wisdom to acknowledge that there is Someone over me who loves me. Grant me the humility to trust that it’s OK to receive.” After all, this Christmas thing is real. God is our Father. We are God’s kids. We’re supposed to receive His love. That’s the way things really, really are.
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. He works with both individuals and couples, helping people confess their need and embrace their available choices to lead healthier lives. Roger also teaches and leads discussion groups and retreats applying the Gospel to everyday life. He is a licensed clinical mental health counselor (LCMHC), holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean; they have seven children and nine grandchildren.
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