Christmas gift-giving in our home means each person receives three gifts. The wise men established this pattern for us. It has simplified gift buying and paid dividends of sanity while purchasing online or otherwise.
Each October, in preparation for the buying, Katrina and I open our version of the Middle East Peace Talks. I’m to blame for them being “peace” talks. You see, deep inside me lives a hint of Ebenezer Scrooge. Like Scrooge, I can be grumpy, edgy, easily annoyed and sometimes overly “careful” with money (yes, I’m a tightwad). That’s hard to admit. I do enjoy giving gifts, but my inner Scrooge lives to rob that joy. And it troubles me – greatly.
As I continue, you need to know two things. First, I always pray while driving to work. Second, we had our first snow this week. I’ll start with the snow.
A by-product of earning an engineering degree from Michigan Tech is you also earn a minor in extreme winter weather driving. Thus, I tend to be over-confident, even cocky when it comes to winter driving where we live in West Michigan. My confidence expressed itself this week while traversing an “S” curve at a rate of speed that was a bit – how shall I say it – “aggressive” for the conditions. Frankly, it may have been aggressive at any time (particularly in a minivan).
True to my routine, I was also praying while negotiating the aforementioned “S” curve (no, my eyes weren’t closed). Specifically, I was thanking God for His sovereign care and watchful eye on everything – a baby going through chemo, my father with health complications, my wife, my kids. A normal morning, normal prayers. So I thought. Cue the black ice.
I’ll spare you the details of my slipping and sliding through the curve. Each telling is more harrowing and my recovery more remarkable. Let’s just say there was lots of grabbing and turning of the steering wheel. Frantic brake pumping was accompanied by the “growl” of the antilock brakes. But, I’m happy to report that my winter driving prowess was again confirmed. I’m also proud to say there were no unmanly screams or colorful language. I was cool, calm and victorious. I scoffed at the car-hungry ditch and drove on (a bit more slowly) with thoughts of changing my middle name to “Mario.”
Back to praying. Where was I…oh yes, God’s watchful eye.
Hmmm. Watchful eye…sovereign care…over everything.
What’s that? Yes, I hear you, Lord. Forgive me. Thank you for watching – and caring – back there. For protecting me from hurt or at least a frustrating morning.
Yes? No, Scrooge is not in the car with me. No, really, he’s not. And what’s he got to do…
I’ll stop talking. Yes, I’m listening.
Hmmm. You’re right. Oh, boy. Go on…
The rest of the conversation was personal, revealing and humbling. My early morning ice dance was prologue to a word God needed to speak to me and my inner Scrooge. That word exposed my scrooginess for what it is – pride. Over inflated thoughts of self. Thoughts that, over time, yield dissatisfaction, selfishness, indulgence, moodiness and neediness.
Since that morning of slip-sliding, the Spirit has brought spiritual “medicine” to wither my Scrooge. The first dose came from Scripture. The context is King David making preparation for his son Solomon to build a temple for the Lord. Here are some words from David: “But who am I…for all things come from you… O LORD our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own.” (from 1 Chronicles 29:14-17)
My Scrooge thrives on the lie that who I am, what I have or what I do is because of me (like my winter driving skills). David’s words wake me from that foolish wish dream. There is nothing I call “mine” that was not first God’s. He gives me everything. No room for pride there. Take that, Scrooge.
A second dose of help arrived via this quote from G.K. Chesterson: “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” That’s convicting. How often are my thoughts wrapped with thankfulness? Do I wonder at the gift of my mysterious union with Jesus Christ? Am I happier about my driving abilities, or the daily grace that is given to me freely, willingly and joyfully?
In the story, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge makes a redemptive comeback. I want the same for me. This blog post is a personal Ebenezer, a reminder that, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” (James 1:17) Christmas is about giving – giving because we have been given to. Giving because we are loved, and because we love. I am humbled. Grateful. Thankful. Joyful.