Today’s action is possibly the most quandary-inducing of the whole four weeks’ worth. We are to give a Christmas gift to someone who will not be expecting it, and who will not be giving one to us. Ah, free grace and generosity are fraught with such dilemmas of social ettiquette! What if our gift induces a flurry of last minute reciprocation? Or guilt at failing to reciprocate? Would an anonymous gift solve the problem or intensify it, as generosity goes unthanked, or is mistakenly thought to be more than it is – a simple act of kindness?
Unless I am the only person in the world who worries about such things, then this action could be hugely important, not so much in the act of giving but in the act of receiving. For it may well be more blessed to give than to receive, but it is often far harder to receive gracefully than to give gracefully: This action could teach us how to receive that which we have not earned. And there it is: a little glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.
Today’s action: think back over the last year and say thank you to God for the things that made you most happy.
If I remember correctly (and I’m sure the lovely Paula Gooder will correct me if I’m wrong) the New Testament uses the word ‘Makarioi’ to mean ‘Blessed’ or ‘Happy’ in Matthew chapter 5 (The Beatitudes): Happy are the meek… Blessed are the peacemakers… etc. So at its simplest today’s action is a way of counting (and cherishing) blessings.
There’s a ton of ways you can do this, here are some:
1. Put your happy things in a jar
You remember that pot from yesterday? The one you may or may not have decorated, in order to put money in it for charity? You may be needing another one, if you decide to go with the suggestion on the Love Life Live Advent Action Support page for today. The bonus with this idea is that it’s ongoing – you can use it to store up happy things as they happen, so you can enjoy them again and again, especially when you most need them.
2. Put a tangible reminder of your happy things in your ‘special place’ (See December 1st)
Often our blessings aren’t things, but people, or events (or even moments that might have looked ordinary to the outside world, but were actually minor miracles or shafts of grace breaking through dark clouds). If there are happy things that you want to keep for ever, how about writing them with sharpie pens on small stones? If they are people, why not make yourself some concertina-people out of folded paper, and write the name on each person? If they are events, print out a photograph taken at the time, or use something else tangible from the day (wedding invitation, christening order of service, ticket, baby sock etc)
3. Give thanks online
If you use facebook, set up a photo album of the happy memories you particularly want to treasure, and call it “2014 blessings” or something similar – post a comment on why you’re doing it, and invite others to do the same (this is along the same lines as the ‘three good things today’ idea that was circulating recently). As always, be safe when you’re online, and only share what you are happy for others to see. Don’t forget you can make particular albums private or visible only to close friends. God can see what you’re thankful for even if you choose to keep it private!)
Ask other members of your family what their happy things are for the last year – celebrate together those blessings that you have in common, and enjoy those that are different – you may find that others remind you of blessings you’d forgotten about.
Having tweeted about the fact that we said a hearty thank you for our food at lunchtime, at the ecumenical Lent Study Lunch – and that the thank you was particularly heartfelt because we benefit from soup and bread made by one of our lay ministers, who happens to be a cordon bleu cook – I now have to confess that I was so late for the lunch that I missed it (both the thank you and the food itself).
As it happens I’d also missed breakfast, and only got back home after running from meeting to meeting all day at 7pm, so by that time I was pretty hungry. My ‘thank you’ to God for curry in the freezer and a microwave to heat it up was heartfelt, and made up for the fact that I was too late to meet the rest of the family at McDonalds….
But being hungry today, even for a short time, reminded me, as it always does (fasting is something I find helpful, so I do fast regularly) that in the Western world we don’t experience hunger very often. Mostly we eat because it is a meal time, rather than because we are hungry. We eat out of habit, or for comfort, or because we are bored, or because the people around us are eating and we feel we have to eat with them in order to be polite.
But eating simple food when you’re genuinely hungry or having a drink when you’re genuinely thirsty that is one of the greatest pleasures we can experience. I remember going for a long morning walk in the hills in the south of France and returning to the village where we were staying just as the sun was highest in the sky – the local people, in the middle of picking the peach harvest, saw how hot and sweaty we were, and threw fruits to us as we ambled past, and I think those peaches were quite possibly a foretaste of heaven.
The food for which we are most grateful is often not the most expensive, or the most elaborate, but rather the food that is given to us when we are most in need. During Lent we remember the story of the People of God in the wilderness, learning to trust God for their every need, through the provision of their daily ‘angel bread’, the manna from heaven. It is when we experience need that we are most likely to learn gratitude, but if we can remember what that feels like, perhaps every mealtime can be one that makes us want to say ‘thank you.’
Friday is my day off but it’s really, really unusual to get a Friday when neither my husband nor I have to work in the evening. In fact, before tonight I can’t remember the last time.
So we had dinner together (Mediterranean style chicken, as it happens) and then managed to watch a whole film (Skyfall) on DVD, sitting on our new sofas, and with neither of the children waking up. This, as a way of spending an evening, is almost unprecedented.
And it was also thoroughly enjoyable, and made me realise how blessed I am to have two beautiful children (even though one of them keeps waking me up in the night) and a warm, safe home, and a husband that I love, and some time to enjoy them all. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to Dr B, and to J and D. And may God always keep me mindful of those who do not have what I have – if I ever resent my lack of evenings off, or wish I wasn’t quite as tired as I am, or occasionally wish things could be other than they are then I pray that God will remind me today and of all that is good, and will be good again.