We would rather not receive them. We’d rather mark them “return to sender” and move on with things as they are. But we don’t get to choose our gifts. The Wise Gift Giver chooses for us. At first it looks like a mistake, or at least a white elephant. This? For me? Never! It must be some kind of joke. This doesn’t belong in my life! But in fact God sees far ahead, and he knows just what we’ll need to make it through the seasons to come. So he starts working well ahead of time to get us ready.
I don’t mean to say that God is the author of suffering. He’s not. But he treasures the opportunity that suffering affords to meet us in a special way and to refine us.
As I look back over my life these ugly gifts are some of the most vivid, and (in time) most precious.
The gift wrapped in rejection was confidence in who I am in Christ.
The gift wrapped in the blackness of sin was a profound appreciation for God’s holiness.
The gifts wrapped in poverty were dependence on God and resourcefulness.
The gifts wrapped in illness were dependence on others and sensitivity.
The gift wrapped in the ache of homesickness and culture shock was a thirst for more of God.
2013 has been a year rich in gifts—
The gift wrapped in pressure is productivity.
The gift wrapped in spiritual conflict is heightened discernment.
The gift wrapped in mismanagement is wisdom (for next time).
The gifts wrapped in waiting are perseverance and trust.
The gift wrapped in failure is grace for others and myself.
The gift wrapped in confrontation is humility and grace.
The gift wrapped in injustice is identification with Christ.
The gift wrapped in isolation is the sweetness of His presence.
The gift wrapped in correction is growth.
The gift wrapped in suffering is empathy.
The gift wrapped in layer after layer of disappointment is a well-worn path of prayer to the throne (a path that gets easier and easier to find).
These are gifts I wouldn’t wish on anybody. They are miserable to receive. On the other hand, once we receive them with thanks we become stronger, richer, deeper, and softer. At some point we see ourselves in the mirror and realize that we are not who we once were. These gifts we didn’t want have transformed us. Most importantly, we are profoundly aware that we cannot do life on our own. We need Him. Desperately. And that’s the best place to be.
What gifts has God given you this year?
[note: If you clicked on any of the links in this post, you probably noticed that God started preparing me for 2013 a long time ago. As hard as it was, 2004 cleared out the underbrush so that I could find a path to God through suffering—a path I have trod repeatedly this year. He is a good God, and His gifts are unmatched.]