Dedicated to my wonderful, persistent mother who always tried so hard to get me to write thank you notes on time and with the right emotion. I’m sorry I failed you. I will try to write you a really nice thank you note for the delicious turkey dinner you bought us when we were sick for Thanksgiving this year, but in case I forget (which I probably will), please allow this to suffice. I love you so much
Alright. Confession time.
I have always hated being told to be thankful. It just rubs me the wrong way. And sometimes Thanksgiving feels like I am being forced into this emotion of thankfulness by our culture. Furthermore there has been a culture of thankfulness gradually infiltrating the church lately. Did I say infiltrating? I mean…beautifully inspiring the church lately.
Why have I not been able to just get on board with Thanksgiving this year…and it kind of rolls into Christmas too with the gifts thing and being thankful for the gift of Jesus coming into the world. Why have I not been able to get on board with thanksgiving in general? The more generous reader would cut me a break and say it’s just been a tough year, but nope.
Truth is, I have been low-key grouchy about thanksgiving my whole life. I don’t know why I am so touchy about being told to be thankful. It’s not that I am rude, or spoiled, or ungrateful or ignorant of the many ways I have been blessed. But there’s something irritating to me about forced thanks. But from the time I was a little girl, I always felt rushed out of the experience of receiving to say “thank you” before I would need to be reminded (Mama, this is not your fault, I was just trying to impress you). And getting a gift meant having to write a “thank you note” or I would be seen as ungrateful. Anyone else out there taught these kinds of things? It’s called manners.
I was also never good at this thank-you-note writing task. It felt obligatory and strange. In fact, my mother recently reminded me again how that I am terrible at writing thank you notes (it’s ok, Mama, it’s true). But it got me thinking about why I hated this practice so much. That’s when the Lord showed me that I saw gift-giving and receiving and thankfulness as always being completely reciprocal. Like a business contract. And He wanted to change that. God is not interested in forced thank-you notes.
RECEIVING THE GIFT WAS ABOUT THEM, NOT ME
The thing is, from my perspective, receiving a gift could never be just about me getting the gift, but how I reacted or responded that mattered most. It was tied to others’ perceptions. I remember wondering, did people just give me things because they wanted something back from me? Or to feel good? Or because they had to? How strange it seemed. This was just something that went on in my sensitive little girl’s heart that no one knew about. Even at my wedding shower I made a comment to my mother about how strange it is to receive all these gifts just because people were obligated and now for my whole life I would have to give everyone else wedding presents. My mother looked confused and said, “well, what if they just want to give you something and celebrate with you?” It did not sink in. In my mind, they gave because they had to, because they knew my parents and my parents had given their kids wedding presents. And I had to be thankful even if I didn’t love the gift (I liked most of them-except for a couple weird ones-you know who you are!! Stop pretending). My point is this: Forced giving. Forced receiving. Forced thanks. This is how it has felt for so much of my life, especially in certain seasons of difficulty.
When I was given gifts, people were trying to make me feel loved. But I resisted, chalking up gifts as being generic and mandated by our materialistic culture. Ah, perfect, just what I needed. A slow soul-death by cynicism. Why do we resist receiving love? Jesus was right. The love of many will grow cold.
Maybe it’s just me.
Compile this with the very biblical idea, which I heartily want to support, of giving thanks and being content in death, pain, sickness, and hard circumstances and I felt forced into this “thankfulness” response that I believe has been false for quite a while, maybe my whole life. I was in trouble.
Unless, maybe…what if I am inherently valued and desired by someone and that person gives me a gift because they love and know me and chose me?
WHY WOMEN STRUGGLE WITH THIS (And men too…especially fathers, pastors, and teachers)
At this point, I have been a wife, mother, and teacher for years and over that time I have sometimes felt almost completely depleted. Some women sometimes adopt this weird expectation that we, as women, should ENJOY giving everything we are to everyone sacrificially. It is implied that we are supposed to feel this way practically from birth. This expectation is built-in to so much of the conversation between generations, at work, among other mothers, sermons at churches about the selfless Proverbs 31 mother (who can find!? I’m telling you men, you need to get women to preach your Mother’s Day sermons.)
In reality, I have learned so much about self-sacrifice that I really treasured as a mother, but I think I grew resentful of that expectation being on me all the time—that I was supposed to enjoy giving CONSTANTLY AND SELFLESSLY, to my family, to my friends, to my church, to my kids schools, to God. I didn’t like it being an assumption like that. Women have been worshiped as this selfless, sacrificial being who provides everything for her “children,” (who can be just about anyone!) This reminds me of the Asherah religion (the mother goddess), it is not Christian motherhood. I am a mother to four children, not the entire world! It was too much for me, though it may not have been too much for other women.
For me, I noticed a resentment growing. And when you grow resentful, it’s really impossible to be thankful for anything. Because you kind of feel like all your gifts from others are contractual, symbiotic relationships at best and parasitic at worst. I began to feel like people only wanted me when they needed things . And when they didn’t need anything they rarely came close to see what my heart needed. I believed the lie that people only loved me because of what I gave them. Even if they gave something to me, whether it was time, service, attention, compliments, prayer, food, or a gift (even a drawing from my children) I kept thinking about them and if I had remembered to thank them enough or pay back the favor. Receiving and accepting a gift from anyone started to feel meaningless and obligatory. I didn’t like it.
OK, quick caveat. Here’s an interesting thing. Most of the time this did not affect my giving. Through this most recent season, by asking God to only allow me to nurture those I was meant to nurture, I gave frequently and honestly and with a cheerful, generous heart, expecting nothing in return. But on the receiving end, even gifts and words of kindness and acts of service from my friends began to feel mechanical, not because they were, but because my heart was so inexplicably resistant to receiving, and feeling valued and beautiful and worthwhile.
I felt like I was missing out on something.
Remember that first thrill of getting romanced by an admirer? Or being a kid and having someone give you the best gift they knew you would like? Or your friend bringing you coffee that is made the way you like it? Isn’t that such a great feeling? That feeling had been stolen somehow.
As a friend put it, they have their mom’s voice on repeat in their head saying, “It’s better to give than to receive.” This statement may be true, but it is also true that receiving can be pretty sweet too. In fact, I think to be honestly grateful, you actually have to learn to receive well first. You have to die and then receive the life of Christ into you and His Spirit and His gifts before you can pour out thankfulness to God for His gifts. Being thankful and pouring out before you have actually received and relished the gift is just a lie and you will become dry. Being thankful when you have not processed the gift and are prematurely forced to give thanks is also a lie. True thankfulness comes from realizing that you have been truly seen and known and loved.
When someone gives a gift to me that fits me because they know me and love me and picked it out from that place of just loving me, that’s actually really special. I realized that I had not allowed myself to feel that way in a really long time.
If I’m actually beautiful to someone and worthy of love, as in being seen, remembered, and chosen and worth thinking about, doesn’t that change things? The idea that God sees me, knows me, and likes me matters. He is a person.
And He has found me beautiful!
He gives me things that I need, but also things that I actually like. He gave me spiritual and artistic gifts that I find fun and that I can offer Him with joy. He gives me people in my life daily that I find genuinely interesting and joyful to be around, sisters and brothers that will drop anything to come be with me if I need it or bring me food when I am sick, and old friends that I still love so much and miss, a growing family of tent-making missional believers spreading out and discipling the nations. He gave me a truly amazing husband who is genuinely in love with me, who loves to be with me, and finds me beautiful. And He gave me these four crazy children who are actually such cool little people. They have their little quirks, which makes them even more fun. I really like them. God gave me all those things.
And realizing He gave me gifts that fit me and that show His knowing of me and what I would like produced genuine thankfulness. Finally. True fruit from my lips from an honest heart. NOT forced. Thankfulness should be a natural fruit of our lips, from a pure heart that means it. “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” Hebrews 13:15
But here’s the cool thing. God is not interested in forced thank you notes.
With God, thankfulness is not the end point. He loves my thanks but He doesn’t want meaningless offerings. He wants me to actually receive the gifts in a way that makes me feel loved and known and enjoy them and love Him too, not because of what He gives me but because I know and enjoy Him too as a person. He wants the naturally yielded fruit of my lips. Like the way a kid loves a present, takes their time to admire it, and then rushes into the arms of the giver.
What has he given you I’m wondering? They will be different from my gifts. What things does He give you that shows that He knows you really well and picks things out for you that you like and enjoy?
He thinks you are really beautiful.
He thinks about what would make you happy.
He finds things to put in your life for you to notice His love. His attention to you personally. His seeing of your heart. Your desires. Your personality.
Can you soak in that for a minute? He really does pursue us.
It’s funny to think of all the things that have kept us from coming into the light of Jesus’ love. If we were to be completely honest, being loved and known so completely can sometimes feel like judgment because we see our shortcomings. Sometimes being loved exquisitely makes us feel painfully ashamed and unworthy. Love like God’s love sees us and addresses our core need. How does it make you feel to know that the God of the universe sees you and still is pursuing relationship with you? Where do your insecurities stem from? We all have them. Which of your ideas about God might need to be rewritten by the One who gives you good gifts that fit you because He knows and loves you? Be honest.
What would need to happen in order for you to receive again like a child—I mean, like a child who is too young to write thank-you notes? What would it be like for you to believe that you are worth someone choosing you to buy a present for, a present that fits you perfectly. Just believe that you are actually loved. Could you respond to a love like that?
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:11-13
Can you ask, receive, and accept into you, like a seed in soil, the One gift that would change your life? Can you receive Jesus’ life into your own? His blood to cover your inadequacies and sin and shame. He wants to cover you and make you instantly holy and pure in His sight. Can you ask to receive and accept the Holy Spirit? Take it into yourself like the gift He has intended for you. Don’t get hung up on whether or not you’ve already done it or said you’ve done it. For me, thinking of Jesus like a seed changed everything for me, even as someone who had been trying to follow Him for my whole life. Let it do the same for you. Whether you are new at this or you have been a Christian for years.
You are. Accept this gift. Receive it and relish it. Take your time to unwrap and explore it! You are totally and completely loved. And He takes pleasure in you!
Not because you are worthy of it—none of us are.
Not because you have earned it—none of us have.
But because you have a Father who loves you, finds you innately valuable, and wants to give you an extraordinary gift, a relationship with Himself filled with so many gifts (often wrapped in the fragile paper of pain, persecution, and suffering) you will not be able to contain them.
God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it, “He throws caution to the winds, giving to the needy in reckless abandon. His right-living, right-giving ways never run out, never wear out.” This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.
You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
2 Corinthians 9:11-15 MSG, NIV
P.S. The above an excerpt and slight elaboration from a book/album project coming soon by the grace of God! I can’t wait to tell you guys the whole story. Stay tuned…it’s been a long time coming! Subscribe to not miss a post.
This is one of my favorites to sing to Him these days, from Laura Hackett. Enjoy!