I know that few have ever lived with the opportunity and convenience given to me. I know that few have known such steady love of parents, family, husband, children, friends. I know that few have been able to trust their minds and bodies to work so well, and without due attention.
I know that my rare bubble of life is a gift.
I almost feel guilty for such gifts – a sort of survivor’s guilt. But such guilt, if passively acknowledged, simply robs me of power, even as it mollifies responsibility. “Sorry does not absolve responsibility,” a friend once counseled me. Too much ‘sorry’ just gets annoying. Even to God, I suspect.
And when the emotion is not survivor’s guilt, it tends toward false modesty and introverted escape, relinquishing power with the false notion that using power is somehow wrong. Of course, it is not power, itself, that is the problem – it is the way it is used and the purposes for which it is employed.
The better emotion might be an active sort of gratitude. Freely receive – freely give. But that still leaves the question: what is it that I should give?
Should I give away all my possessions, taking the path not taken by the rich young ruler? Was it actually possessions that Jesus was asking for? This young man was not just rich – he also had vigor and power and apparently enough curiosity and compassion to see that Jesus offered a new way. Jesus invited the young man to follow him. Perhaps we focus too much on the pre-requisite (the possessions to be dealt with, first) rather than what the invitation offered. Perhaps he did, too.
We forget that the invitation was to a whole new way of seeing the world; to a whole new set of priorities; to a whole new understanding of where power lies. Could it be that Jesus was not really interested in the possessions at all? Perhaps Jesus wanted this young man to find himself, to find his deeper gifts, to give what only he could give to the world. It is interesting that we never even learn the young man’s name – just the role and circumstance into which he had been born. Had he taken up the invitation, that might be different.
Perhaps it is the gift of me (that sounds a bit grandiose, doesn’t it?) that I am called to freely give. I cannot give away my opportunities, but I can open them to others, as well. I cannot give away my relationships, but I can act in greater compassion and generosity because I am held within them. I cannot give away my body but my health provides time and energy that I can devote to those around me. I cannot give away my mind, but I can engage in thoughtful conversation, opening ideas to others even as they open new ideas to me.
Perhaps I should start small, and learn my way in. At least, in starting small, I am more likely to actually begin. There is a parable that suggests as much, at least if you read it at a slant. ‘You’ve been faithful over little, I will make you faithful over much.’
Here, another wise friend gives me counsel, “Give a gift to everyone you meet.”
Perhaps the opportunities that come my way each day might open up the lesson plan. Perhaps I could pay a bit more attention to the opportunities that cross my path. Perhaps I could see the places where a gift would grace another’s day – even if my gift to them is just a simple smile, an acknowledgement of their existence, of their giftedness. Perhaps if I could begin to see my encounters as an exchange of gifts, and, introvert though I am, that it is in such encounters that life multiplies.
Truth is that many of my gifts multiply in the giving. Smiles yield smiles in return. Ideas open new ideas. Perhaps I should start there … and remember that the place to start is not the place to finish.