The Gift

I’ve had a couple of requests to re-post a particular blog from an old site. And since the topic of singleness was a hot discussion at our Neighborhood Group tonight… I thought this might be as good a time as any. Please feel free to comment. I am glad for an y feedback and/or commentary.

THE GIFT

Normally, I avoid this topic all together. But for several reasons, I now find myself more and more compelled to cover the topic of “being single”. First, for the inevitable inquiries I constantly receive from various, well-meaning family members. If you’re single, you know how it goes… their voices get a bit higher, they scrunch up their faces and breathlessly eke out those ever-hopeful words, “So dear, anyone one special in your life?”
And second, for old friends and new friends, young friends and not-so-young friends, married friends and unmarried friends… all who have found themselves on the same self-appointed mission — to find my perfect mate.
And third, for those of you whom I’ve yet to meet… just in case you get any ideas.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful to those of you who “just want me to be happy”. I know your intentions are genuinely heartfelt. But please let me try to shed some light on where I am with this whole issue of being “single”. But in order to do that, I’ll need to back up a few years to my childhood.

When my younger sister, Brenda, and I were kids, my mom worked hard at teaching us to value the people in our lives. She told us that family and friends were “gifts from God” and that we should treat them with great care because He’d spent a lot of time and effort picking them out for us. Mom said it was important to put the needs and feelings of others before our own, because greed was one of the main reasons people hurt each other. Her own childhood had been filled with greedy people scheming to hurt and manipulate one another for the sake of fulfilling selfish desires. She’d seen and felt first hand how that kind of thinking destroys lives and how easily it can be passed from generation to generation. So she refused to be a conduit for greed.
Part of Mom’s training meant that we weren’t allowed to make a list of things we wanted for Christmas — even in our letters to Santa Clause. She did urge us to write to Santa, but instead of asking him for toys or bikes or games, we were to “encourage him” and “ask him how his year had been”. And we always had to send Santa thank you letters for the presents we’d inevitably find under the tree each year.

The lessons in Greed 101 continued. Whether it was for Christmas, birthdays, Easter or Graduation — any occasion where you’d receive gifts, we were not allowed to ask for anything. “Gifts”, according to Mom, “were to be given freely, from the giver’s heart. If no present is given, it doesn’t matter, the friendship itself is the most valuable gift, anyway”.
Although Mom’s standards for giving and receiving were constant throughout my childhood, it wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that it began to make some real sense.
Mom was going through a very rough time financially. It was my birthday and a group of family and friends had gathered at my sister and her husband’s apartment to celebrate. It was late March in Southern California — which meant bright blue skies and warm air (of course, that could be any month in Southern California). Our family get-togethers are the usual hubbub of kids running in and out, screen doors slamming, burgers on the grill, and constant bursts of laughter and jokes that are never funny outside our family circle.
After the burgers were gone and the cake was cut, the presents began to pile up around me. One by one, I began unwrapping each carefully chosen gift. There were assorted personal items from a few cherished friends. An unidentifiable, handmade art project from my three-year-old niece. And of course, the traditional gag-gift from my brother-in-law. When I finished opening the presents, I couldn’t help but notice that there had been no gift from my mom. I knew money had been tight, so I tried to tell myself that I shouldn’t be so greedy and that I should just be happy that she was at the party with all of us. Yet something inside me still felt disappointed.
At the end of the party, after everyone had gone home, Mom pulled me aside and in a hushed voice said, “I do have something for you.”
Reaching inside a brown paper bag, that had been kept hidden until now, she pulled out a small, rectangular box covered in pink wrapping paper that was sprinkled with tiny blue hearts. No ribbon, no bow, no card, no nametag. Just some tape, and paper with hearts. I smiled, as I shook the box and began trying to guess what was inside.
But Mom, rather soberly, just said, “Honey, I wish I could have bought you something at the mall… a nice sweater or a new pair of shoes. But I don’t have the money to do that this year.”
“So what’s in the box?”, I said, eagerly pulling at the tape.
“Nothing”, Mom replied quickly, as she stopped my hands from unwrapping the gift.
“Excuse me?” I asked, sure I’d heard wrong.
“There’s nothing in this box”, she repeated. “It’s a merely a symbol of my love for you. That’s all I have to give you this year — just my love. And since there’s no box big enough to hold all that love — I’ve put just a little bit in this box, as a reminder. So don’t open it. Leave it as it is, and set it out on a shelf somewhere so that every time you see my gift, you’ll remember that I love you.”
I just stood there, staring at the box. By the time I looked up at my mom, my eyes were spilling tears on the tiny blue hearts, and my bottom lip was doing that quiver thing. I could barely stutter out the words, “I love you, too, Mom”.
That was more than ten years ago… but I’ve not forgotten that warm, Spring day. I was given a gift that continues to serve as a reminder of the value I should place on the friendships, or the gifts, that God has given me. It’s taught me to value eternal things over temporary things, such as love in a box over a sweater from the mall. That seems almost simplistic or elementary as I write those words. Valuing love over a sweater. It seems so obvious. But, if you’re like me, our choices and decisions don’t always reflect the things we say we value.
The box covered in pink with blue hearts still has its place on my shelf. I can see it from where I’m sitting now, as I type these pages. It’s become quite faded and worn over the past ten years. But the love inside that box, or the love it symbolizes, continues to grow and shine brighter with each year’s passing.

So what does all of this have to do with being single? My mom’s lessons have greatly impacted the way I see marriage and how I chose to live my life, whether single or married.
Marriage is a gift that is to be freely given from the heart, from the Gift-Giver of all gift-givers. Not because I requested it. Not because I sit around waiting, hoping and wondering ‘when’ and ‘if’ He’s actually going to give me the gift. And not because I hand a check-list to God and say, “Here, this is what I want! Can You get it for me, please?”
Once again, that brings me back to Mom’s words about not asking for gifts. God knows the innermost parts of my heart, the parts I haven’t even discovered myself yet. It would be ridiculous for me to try and dictate to God how to satisfy its longings. I have lost count of how many times people have asked me, “So, what are you looking for in a man?” There is a real danger in that kind of thinking. It would be incredibly selfish of me to focus on what I want from a husband instead of what I have to offer as a wife; what I can gain instead of give. If my mind and heart are set on having all my longings fulfilled by my future mate then I’m setting myself up for grave disappointment, and setting him up for a life filled with unfair expectations. That, to me, is the epitome of greediness.
We will always have unfulfilled longings, for as long as we dwell on this planet. There is, within each of us, is a hunger and desire to be with our Creator. But until we cross over Jordan, we will never feel completely whole. Feeling incomplete… longing to be made one with someone… is not a result of being unmarried… it is our deep longing to be with Jesus. Looking to be made complete by anyone or anything other than Jesus, is adultery.

“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
–2 Corinthians 5:1-5

So instead of making a list of the specific kind of things I want in a husband (as I have been told to do so many times), I would rather make another kind of list. A list of questions I want to regularly bring before the Lord.

1. Does my character show evidence of God’s grace at work in my life?
2. What changes still need to take place in my heart?
3. Is my life being spent serving others or myself?
4. Am I more concerned with the well-being of my friends & family than my own?
5. Does the way I love others glorify and honor You or me, Lord?
6. Am I continually being shaped into the kind of woman you want me to be, Lord?
7. Am I ready to be a “gift” to someone else?
8. Am I more focused on receiving a gift from God than on my relationship with Him?

These are the specifics I should pray about, and leave the “other” list up to our sovereign God.

Philippians 2:3-4 says we are to “…do nothing our of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” To me, that doesn’t sound like I should make a list of my needs, but rather look to the needs of others.

I don’t casually date. And by that, I mean, I don’t go out with guys just to have something to do on a Friday night. I’ve only had a couple of serious romantic relationships in the last twenty years. Because of this, I realize there will always be people whom, in an attempt to be helpful, will try to offer their suggestions of how to resolve my ‘problem’.
But you see, I don’t think it’s a ‘problem’. Ever since I fell absolutely-madly-in-love with the Creator of this Universe, and discovered that He is more than I ever dreamed He would be, I’ve found that there is no longer a loneliness in my heart and that there is no longer any emptiness in my life. God has designed me perfectly for the life He has given me and I could no more waiver from that, than I could waiver from breathing. If (and yes, hopefully when), God chooses to add someone to my life, then He will. And I’m convinced, that if this does happen, it’s only because it’s all part of God’s original design for my life. And it will be obvious.
I do appreciate the heart that’s behind some of the well-meaning words of encouragement I receive. It’s just that sometimes I struggle with how to respond to comments like, “It sounds like you’re passing your time of singleness wisely”. “It’s good that you stay so busy”. “Don’t worry, God will bring the right man someday”.
The only “time” I am “passing”, is the time I must spend here on earth, physically separated from the only One who truly holds my heart. But honestly, I want to do more than just pass that time — I want to live that time! I want to pursue the things that capture His heart. I want to fervently seek ways to bring Him joy. Some how, some way, I want to bring a smile to the face of Jesus… for all the times He’s caused mine to burst into a ridiculous ear-to-ear grin.
I can’t help but smile. No more than I can help falling madly-in-love with the King of kings. The One who breathed life into all mankind. The One who’s capacity to love is utterly, endlessly, ridiculously flawless and without boundaries. Because this is the One who’s madly in love with me, too!

Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t want to mislead anyone into thinking that I’ve got this super-spiritual-Mother-Teresa-I-don’t-have-any-needs syndrome. I am a girl through and through. I get crushes on guys. I have romantic notions of my hero galloping in on a white horse to rescue me (kind of a Braveheart thing). And yes, I’ve planned a mental wedding or two in my day. I admit that there are times when I ache from wanting someone with whom to share my life. But my deep-rooted, core desires changed when I said good-bye to the pursuit of things temporary in my life, and allowed Christ to hold my heart captive. I’m occasionally entertained and amused by the above romanticisms, but I can’t let them rule or guide my life. Only when I breathlessly chase after the heartbeat of the Almighty, do I find the freedom to really live.
Someone not too long ago, after hearing my view on this topic, asked me if I expected a man to compete with my love for Christ. Compete? Could any man or woman compete with perfection? Of course not! But the greatest gift a husband could give me, is for he himself to be madly in love with Jesus, too. What absolute bliss it would be if together, side-by-side, we could race into the arms of our Savior!
So, I know for a fact that I will get married… at least once. Maybe even twice! I’m certain of at least one Wedding that will take place… when Jesus comes back for me and for the rest of His Bride. The second will only happen if God decides to give me that particular gift here on earth. Maybe it’s the hopeless romantic in me, but I kind of see earthly marriage like an engagement present from Jesus. “Here my beloved, I give you this man as the promise of our being together someday”. Marriage is a gift to us, from the hand of God, given as a foretaste of what’s to come.
Marriages on earth don’t continue once we’re in Heaven. Our jealous Lover won’t allow someone else to stand in His place. If you’re married, I’m sure that’s hard to think about. It’s hard to imagine being with someone more wonderful than whom you’ve married. A good friend of mine who’s been blissfully married for 25 years says, “I know I can’t be married to Jim in Heaven, but I want to at least be his roommate!”

But there will come a day. The day of all days. That long-awaited moment when I finally, FINALLY, get to look into the eyes of the Bridegroom and I will fully know Him, as He has fully known me. And I will say, “I Do”.
So, for all of you who mean well and have been trying to help with the shopping of the “gift” that God may or may not choose for me… relax. Instead, you can pray for me. Not for a husband, but rather that God would help me see things in the light of eternity and make me brave enough to face all the changes that this type of vision would entail.

And if I receive the gift of “someone special” in this life, it will be given from the Giver’s heart. If I don’t, it doesn’t matter, because the friendship I have with the Giver is the most valuable Gift I could ever receive, anyway.

Just like Mom said it would be.

© 2000 Debbie Barnett / All Rights Reserved

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One thought on “The Gift

  1. Pingback: why am i still single, you ask? « of bravery and brokenness

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