When I was a boy, going to bed on Christmas Eve was always a frustrating experience. I was eager to fall asleep so Christmas morning would arrive sooner and I could unwrap the wonderful surprises under the tree. But my anticipation made sleep almost possible.
Many of us are in a similar mode right now. We’re either fretting over what gifts to buy for family and friends – or whether what we’ve already gotten is the right gift – or looking ahead to the gifts we’ll be receiving. The trouble is, all of this future expectation often makes it hard for us to appreciate the gifts we already have.
I began thinking about this in 2006, immediately after my open-heart surgery. Until then I was probably like most folks: I’d start each day either excited about what I planned to do, or dreading what I would be facing. But I never regarded a new day as a “gift.” Upon awakening from the surgery, despite expected pain and soreness, I realized God had given me the gift of a new day.
This kind of surgery is among the most complex and serious, and patients don’t always survive – strokes, heart attacks, occasionally the heart that was stopped to perform bypass grafts doesn’t restart. So everyone who survives open-heart surgery, or any similar kind of procedure, should recognize just the act of waking up is a gift.
My recent encounter with brain surgery, having a mass removed from my pituitary gland, served as a vivid reminder of this reality. One day you’re cruising through life, experience what seems to be a minor headache at first, and a few days later you’re consulting with a neurosurgeon on unavoidable surgery.
Even without having to undergo surgery, we can be grateful for the gift of good health if we have it – because many do not, as I know so well. If we’re able to move about with a minimum of aches, pains and limitations, that’s a gift. No question. Because not everyone has that gift.
The list of our present gifts could go on: Family members we love. Friends we enjoy being with. Enough money to pay our bills. A job that supplies enough money for paying those bills, especially if you can find some measures of satisfaction and fulfillment in that job. The capacity for pursuing and appreciating favorite hobbies and pastimes.
Eyesight for witnessing a sunrise or sunset. Hearing to listen to babies giggle and birds chirp. The gift of smell to revel in the aromas of the holiday season. Tastebuds that enable us to enjoy the flavors of this season – or any season – whether it be ham, potato salad, pecan pie, or the menu item of your choice. Touch for hugging loved ones, petting a puppy, feeling a warm shower.
In the Scriptures we read a lot about gifts. James 1:17 tells us, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” After reading about humankind’s plight – our separation from God by sin for which we can no way atone – we read the Good News, that God is offering the greatest gift of all: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
No wonder the apostle Paul doesn’t mince words when he writes in 2 Corinthians 9:15, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”
So as we’re fretting over what gifts to give and building expectancy for gifts we might receive, let’s be sure to do one thing: Not forget about the gifts we’ve already got!