Sunday, April 22, 2012

Everything Is a Gift

You gasp. Surely I can't mean that—everything is a gift? Hah!
     But I do mean it.
     Not only do I mean that every thing is a gift but also that every circumstance and situation is, on one level at least, a gift.
     Yeah, right. Tell that to those in the hospital or who are unemployed or...
     Yes, I could (delicately) share that view with someone in a hospital or who's unemployed. I tried to remind myself of that reality when I was in the hospital and when I was laid off.
     Granted, not every gift appears to be a gift. Not every gift brings joy to the recipient upon its arrival.
     Some gifts are obvious. Beauty, wealth, health, friendship, love, success, admiration, intelligence, talent, material things—house, car, food (in no particular order). These are the kinds of gifts that we desire to have, recognize easily as gifts, and (one hopes) are thankful to have.
     The word gift implies a Giver, something we sometimes forget. Nor do we ponder why we were given this or that particular gift. We take it for granted that we deserve these things or at least that God is like Santa Claus—He likes to give out of the goodness of His heart; He gives to His children as a good father should.
     Beauty draws people's attention and admiration. It can give a certain weight to the beautiful person's words and actions. Most beautiful people use their gift simply to soak up attention and admiration for themselves. Once in a while someone uses it for God. 
     Archbishop Fulton Sheen once (actually twice) saw a beautiful stewardess in his travels. The first time they met, he told her, "You are a very beautiful girl. Did you know that of all the gifts that God gives, the one that he gets back last and least of all, is the gift of beauty? He gives money; owners use it for the poor. He gives the gift of song, and people sing for his glory. But too often, when God gives beauty, he gets back nothing but a pile of old bones. So, inasmuch as you are so exceptionally endowed, why don't you give your beauty to people who have never seen anything beautiful?"
     Two years later he saw her again, and though he didn't remember the encounter, she remembered every word. She told him she was ready to "do anything". So he sent her to serve at a leper colony in Vietnam. And she went.
     I know a young lady who is not only as beautiful as a model, but also has a lovely singing voice and a charming innocence coupled with a deep love for God. If she can hold onto those spiritual gifts and her goal to bring others to Christ, I have no doubt that her gifts will powerfully help build His Kingdom.
     But beauty has its drawbacks too. Sometimes it draws unsavory people and unwelcome conversations and situations. Sometimes, people don't take a beautiful person seriously: either they are so enthralled with the person's looks that they can't hear what he or she is saying, or they assume beauty and brains don't go together. So plainness can be a gift as well.
     In The Hiding Place, two sisters are sent to a Nazi concentration camp where, among the other difficulties, they find all the beds are infested with fleas. Betsy, obeying St. Paul, gives thanks for even the fleas. Corrie can't go that far. The sisters, having smuggled in a Bible, share God's word with the other female prisoners, drawing many of them to their bunk for Bible studies every night. Later, they discover that they were able to get away this because of the fleas: the guards didn't come into the barracks to avoid the fleas. In that sense, the fleas were a gift.
     I've heard that in some languages the word for crisis is the same word for opportunity. When we don't have an obvious or tangible gift like prosperity or health, we usually don't recognize its lack or its opposite as a gift. How is poverty or illness a gift?
     It is the gift of opportunity. The opportunity to grow in trust in God. The opportunity to exercise patience. The opportunity to offer up suffering as reparation for sin and/or a prayer for someone else. (See my earlier blogs on penance.) The opportunity to grow in charity. The opportunity to ponder the mysteries of human existence.The opportunity to be served.
     That last one could be misunderstood. What I mean is this: Each Christian is called to be Christ to others. Most of the time, being Christ means serving and loving others as Christ would if He were in my shoes. We are also called to see Christ in others: in the sick, in prisoners, in the hungry, etc. And when we reach out to them, Christ views our service to them as done to Him as well ("Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto Me.") But sometimes He calls us to be the least ones. (A very humbling experience.) How can people serve Christ in their brothers and sisters if none of them are in need? Sometimes being Christ means being Christ in need; sometimes I must accept being the needy one. My need is a gift of opportunity for someone else.
     God is very generous. But He doesn't give us gifts merely for our own pleasure. He wants us to use them and share them with our brothers and sisters. That's the point: to imitate and share His generosity, His love.