gifts

tbb-ring-moon

Funny How a Gift is Just a Gift

Halfway out the door, I saw that giant, ethereal circle around a small, white moon in a creamy velvet, slightly orange sky. My friend asked me what it meant, and I told him I thought it meant that it was going to snow. Since we both work at the same elementary school, we joked about how awesome it would be to have classes canceled  because of snow and get out of school an extra three days for Christmas break. Funny how even educators (and their assistants) can look forward to being out of school.

As I walked to my car, though, I was struck by the question of whether or not it actually meant that snow was on the way. I had heard that bit of farmyard wisdom from someone somewhere at some time, but I never really looked into it. Funny how we can be so eager to share something that we only took at face value with someone else who would take it to heart.

Snow or not, I enjoy that ring around the moon even if I don’t know what it is or what it means. I enjoy it just because I think it looks really cool; it’s almost like a gift. After some quick browsing, I came across the Wikipedia article on what it is and what causes it – something to do with the refraction of the moonlight off the atmosphere. But it doesn’t necessarily mean anything; it doesn’t necessarily mean that bad weather is on the way. Funny how quickly we question what something means before we even know if it’s supposed to mean anything more than what it is.

I juxtaposed the whole notion with something I’ve been chewing on for while: that God gives us gifts all the time, and though those gifts can take the forms of both good things and bad things, we should be thankful either way. If such gifts mean anything, they mean that God thought we needed it…whatever it may be. Funny how we like to question God’s decisions.

It’s an idea I got from studying Archibald MacLeish’s J.B., the Pulitzer Prize-winning adaptation of the Book of Job. The controlling theme of the play and the source material seem to be the God gives us gifts all the time and that we are to maintain a thankful heart all the while. Funny how we covered The Muppet Christmas Carol on Finding Christ In Cinema and spoke on that same theme around this same time.

Something else that sticks out to me from the Book of Job and J.B. is the belief that anything good that happens is a gift for something good we’ve right and that anything bad that happens is a punishment for something we’ve done wrong. This countering ideology is reflected in Job’s wife and his three “friends” Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar. They all persistently urge Job to confess to whatever secret sin he had committed, curse God, and die. Funny how they were all so sure that Job had done something horrifically wrong that it prompted God’s immediate and terrifying judgment.

The danger of that kind of mindset – of asking what a gift means instead of just enjoying it – is that we then really start believing that God is watching us with a microscope just waiting to either reward or punish us. And once we start having that view of God, we start having that view of our fellow man. It harbors jealousy, mistrust, and suspicion of other people – and it ultimately reflects a lack of integrity and virtue within ourselves. Funny how a trivial thing like questioning a gift can show us so much about ourselves.

Here’s an example from just the past two weeks. A couple of friends and I were fortunate enough to land a spot performing for the local community arts center’s dinner theatre production. We played music while the guests wined and dined. We enjoy playing music, and we thought others would enjoy it if we played, too. On the first night, however, we made a last minute decision to put out a tip jar. It felt awkward at first just because we hadn’t planned on it, and we knew the guests were already spending a lot of money to be there anyway, and we didn’t want to impose, but we figured, “Eh, what the heck?” Funny how a small decision like that can have such an impact on the following performances.

On the first night, it was just two of us (our percussionist had a prior engagement to attend). Imagine our surprise when we each got $27 a piece from tips alone; it was genuinely exciting, and we were thankful for such a great gift. We went out to Buffalo Wild Wings in the next town, ran into some old friends, went to a fabric store (I’m a theatre guy and I was looking for muslin for building a set, get off me), did the rounds at WalMart – you know, the things you do in a small town. Funny those simple things can bring so much joy.

But then, over the following performances – and this is not to chide my friends or shame them or anything like that – I felt like we started basing our decisions on the prospect how we could be given more tips…how we could “earn” a bigger and better gift. We set out a bigger “jar” with the hope that we’d get more money. We waited to play “church” songs until people we presumed to be “church” people walked by with the hope that they would show their appreciation by leaving a tip. We even “dressed up” with the hope that looking more professional” would open people up to giving us a tip. Finally, when we counted the totals each night, we were mutually disappointed that we didn’t “earn” as much as we did on that first night. Funny how we think we have to “earn” a gift when the reality is that it is no longer a “gift” if it is earned but a wage.

My point is that a gift is a gift and that if a gift is given at all, it is to be understood as a show of appreciation and love from the giver to the recipient. To question what a gift means to question the motives of the one who gave it. Thankfully, there is a God that will patiently and lovingly put up with our questions and doubts. That’s what Job learned (or arguably knew the whole time). What’s not okay is letting that doubt and questioning fester unresolved…letting it remain a question without seeking an answer…letting it remain doubt without seeking the faith. Funny how we all tend to do that sometimes.

For this Christmas, let’s remember to have a thankful heart…I need to remember to have a thankful heart. Don’t question the gifts we’ve been given, don’t doubt them, don’t over-analyze them, and don’t look too much into it. So whether it’s getting to see a ring around the moon, getting tips, or getting Christmas presents – simply say “thank you,” don’t compare it to other gifts you may have been given before, be content, and move on.

Funny how that’s so easy to type.