A Pessimistic Lenten Reflection (part 2): Giving The Gift

The Temptation In The Wilderness by Briton Riviere

In the Church calendar the season of Lent extends 40 day from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday, the day of Christ's resurrection. Lent is a season of drawing back and simplifying, of penitence and repentance, of learning to walk the way of Jesus, the road that leads to the cross, of learning to give up what we cannot keep in order to gain what we cannot lose.

People often "give something up for Lent", but really Lent is about getting rid of the things that detract and distract us from God. So the call goes much deeper than merely not doing some petty thing we know does not do us any lasting good. Instead, the call is to consider what in our life causes us not to see and hear God. So we "giving something up" not to punish ourselves—though in the short term we may be doing that—but to take on a posture where can begin to draw near to God.

As a way of helping others get to that place, I now offer part 2 of a Pessimistic Lenten Reflection:

Giving the Gift...

I am in a perpetually fluctuating state between denial and acceptance of any of a number of ideas, objects, events, and people that come in and out of my life. 

In approaching all people (who are almost the sole bearers of all ideas, objects, and events worth considering) I carry with me a risky assumption: that I have something to offer them and they have something to offer me; a gift of some sort, a mutual exchange. Even if the quantitative value of each gift is uneven, the mere act of the exchange itself is reason enough for rejoicing, of living in a constant state of gratitude for each other and for the gift that is life. I assume I will be a blessing to you and assume you assume that you too will be a blessing to me; that our relationship will be a mutual exchange; that our time together will be pure gift. Sometimes the gift is a simple word of encouragement or a hug or an introduction to a powerful work of art or a meal or a simple act of service. I give to someone and they give back to me. Free gifts given in unattached generosity. Mutual beneficence. 

It is a miracle in and of itself that you and I in our journeys have been given grace enough that our paths should cross for this moment in time, how could we not give ourselves as Gift, one to another, a surplus of love freely out-poured. 

Though I speak in lofty idealistic ways, it does surprise me when my assumptions are not reciprocated, when the person across from me in a given moment of time does not carry with them the same assumption, which is that I am there to serve them and they me. 

Ah! The weight of sin and the legacy of Adam!

But oh! There is a most disturbing conflict, a most unattractive self-inflicted self-destructive tendency within me which I nearly always offer instead of the Gift to the Other. In other words, I too am prone to not give the gift. It is my prior knowledge that all relationships should consist of the beauty of mutual exchange one to the other that holds me back from actually freely giving said gift, for to offer all of oneself all the time is exhausting and daunting and depleting—and thus I hold back. I do not let others see me as I am; I do not remain open to the Exchange of Gifts. Thus, I do not allow them to Gift me and I certainly do not Gift them. Most of the time it is far far easier to simply Not Engage.

Here is how it happens: a friend of mine posts something of the tragedies occurring in our world, something about the great suffering of others, of people in need. The call is to pray for them and to consider providing for them in some way. I know about these tragedies already and the needs there, but at that present time I had put it and them out of my mind. In the midst of my day I do not want to have to deal with the incredible weight of these people and their suffering. If I did deal with it I would have to stop everything and deal only with that, and if I do that it might lead me down another life-path altogether, one where my whole life has been refocused on the needs of those particular people and their particular tragedy, for to truly address their problems and woes how could I not give the whole of my life to that cause? 

But I cannot do this. There is too much to be done today on my own part (emails, numerous little jobs at work, supper to be made, dishes, laundry, Facebook to be checked). And so, I turn away from their images and stories. I scroll past and consciously forget it. Now, I simultaneously resent my friend for recalling these sufferings to me, I resent those people for being in suffering themselves, and I resent myself for not embracing their suffering. I reject all and help none.

My initial inaction leads to evermore inaction.

But I make another assumption as well when it comes to Giving the Gift: I assume everyone else is also giving in to their tendency to turn away from others and Not Give The Gift. And thus, while I assume everyone else approaches all relationships as pure Gift, I also assume everyone else is tired and overwhelmed and dealing with their own lifelong issues that in their limitations they are constantly turning away from the Gift they know they should and do indeed want to give to others.

I know this is not always the case, that Gifts are constantly being given, that love wins out, but surely the rejection and denial of the Gift to others is the most common reaction (or should we say non-reaction?).

I think we have become a most distracted society and the technology that assists us in every aspect of daily life has given those of us who can afford such technology an opportunity to live in everpresent denial of 1.) the great universal needs of the world, 2.) the most specific and personal needs in our own lives, and 3.) the lives of those we live with. How do we escape? How do we hear God in an age of permeating oppressive Noise? How do we begin to love and serve others in our own limited way when the world's suffering is so vast? How do we Give The Gift?

Certainly, Lent is about turning away from sin, but more than that Lent is about turning to God and the people in our lives. We do not turn away from sin into an empty void. We lay down our sin in order to live for God and others.

The season of Lent is about laying down our inability to Give the The Gift. It is about opening ourselves to God and opening ourselves to what he has for us in the present moment. What is God calling me to now? And to whom? Lent is about looking the Other in the face and then continuing to look, until we embrace them and help them and see God's will done in their lives. Lent is about learning how to Give The Gift. The Gift is often so difficult to give, Lent is simply about giving up our inability to give it.

Let us pray and let us turn to God, that we may receive his grace, our only hope to be the kind of people who embrace rather than deny, who give rather than withhold even in a paralyzed and calloused world. 

Oh God, help us:
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
+++Eph. 5:14-21

From the Lenten Prayers of the People according to Common Worship:
For peace in the world …
that a spirit of respect and reconciliation may grow
among nations and peoples,
let us pray to the Father.
Lord of compassion,
in your mercy hear us.

For the poor, the persecuted, the sick, and all who suffer…
for refugees, prisoners, and all in danger;
that they may be relieved and protected,
let us pray to the Father.
Lord of compassion,
in your mercy hear us.

For those whom we have injured or offended,
let us pray to the Father.
Lord of compassion,
in your mercy hear us.

For grace to amend our lives and to further the reign of God,
let us pray to the Father.
Lord of compassion,
in your mercy hear us.

God our Father,
in your love and goodness
you have taught us to come close to you in penitence
with prayer, fasting and generosity;
accept our Lenten discipline,
and when we fall by our weakness,
raise us up by your unfailing mercy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Read part 1: 
A Pessimistic Lenten Reflection: Living in Denial

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Lenten Devotion (2007)
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