God is the gift that insists on giving

  • January 9, 2014

“What’s wrong with you?” the young woman asks her co-worker, Joe. She’s been trying to convey a message from their boss, but Joe seems to be on another planet.

She goes out, returning with another message. Seeing him no better off, she leans forward: “What’s the matter with you?”

Joe looks back. “I don’t feel good.”

It’s a movie scene, but it voices a question that echoes in plenty of work places, homes and other spots where humans interact. Not always as directly as this woman, we wonder what’s wrong with each other. More hidden, like Joe, we wonder: “What’s wrong with me?”

So goes the human refrain. Though we may think otherwise, it’s not the divine refrain — not the voice of God whispering, “What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with him?” The divine whisper is on another wavelength.

Before his death 10 years ago, I used to have coffee with a priest who was a friend and mentor. We’d chat about his favourite topic: God. Now and then he’d fall silent, watching the people hurrying up and down the street. “They have no idea,” he’d say eventually. “No idea of what?” He’d look at me with that little smile of his. “Of how loved they are.”

Why is it we humans, loved into being, so readily wonder what’s wrong with us? Why are we convinced our Creator sings in the ears of His little ones, “What’s wrong with you?”

Recently someone surprised me by saying: “I want to be a gift.” How different from the usual “I want to receive a gift” or “I have to get a gift.” And different from the post-Christmas “I got/gave the wrong/right gift.”

Often, we don’t know the gift we are. We know more about being bought and sold than being given. One of the agonies of growing old is the pain of no longer being valuable. An alarmingly common — though hidden — anguish is the practice of stealing, renting, buying, selling bodies and body parts, one’s own or someone else’s — from kidneys to wombs, from sex to fetal tissue.

What is there to remind us of the truth we each carry, that we are loved, we are given?

Often, we don’t know the gift we are. Or the gift someone else is.

The early Christians didn’t appear to think much of the gift God gave them in Saul of Tarsus. “I have heard reports about this man and all the harm he has done,” says an alarmed Ananias, in response to God’s request that he go and heal Saul from his blindness. Saul, as the Christians well knew, had been “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (see Acts 9:9-17).

“This is my chosen instrument,” replies God, and Ananias might be forgiven for answering, “If you think that guy’s a fine choice, please spare us your gifts.” When it comes to giving gifts, God’s taste does seem ... odd. After all, He chooses you and me. He gives us, us, as gifts to the world. Do we know we’re His gift?

Those whispering, lying voices tell us otherwise, convincingly. The suffering in our lives, and all round us, gives “evidence to the contrary.” It can also show us where our self-gift is needed. Meanwhile the longing in us — to be given, to be heard and seen and known — teaches us we really are His gift... if we dare to listen.

Do we want to be given?

It’s no joke to say Yes. Ask St. Paul, who Saul became, and whose gift of himself changed the world, but cost him everything. Ask the protagonist in Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, who discovers his real affair is with God, but whose story ends with the prayer: “O God, You’ve done enough, You’ve robbed me of enough, I’m too tired and old to learn to love, leave me alone forever.”

The problem is, God doesn’t leave us alone forever. He’s the gift that insists on giving. In every corner, every down and every up of our lives, He’s here, among us, within us, speaking, being silent, caring, exhorting, holding, leading, following. If we kick Him out, He wants back in: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). Where can we run from His love (Psalm 131)? Not to Tarshish, as Jonah discovered. Not fleeing the cross, as His disciples learned. Not by directly opposing Him, as Saul realized. He is completely given.

We often “don’t feel good,” like Joe in the movie. We forget our goodness, how to draw on it and give from it. Maybe we can change the refrain from “What’s wrong with you?” to “I want to be a gift.”

Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Jan. 25.

(Marrocco can be reached at marrocco7@sympatico.ca.)