Note: During the month of December, my weekly reflections have been loosely based on the themes of the Advent Wreath: hope, peace, joy and love. Due to both illness and holiday travel, I wasn’t able to post on Thursday this week. However, here is my final Advent reflection. May the new year ahead be filled with love for all!
I’m a middle child, sandwiched right in there between the oldest child and the oldest boy (separated from each by 13 months). Growing up, I was known for my repetitive catchphrase: “That’s not fair!” Whether whatever was in contention at the time was or wasn’t fair hardly signifies at this point. The fact is, I perceived that I received less (whether it was my fair share of cake, attention, or Christmas presents). As we all know, perception IS reality, especially in the eyes of a child.
As an adult, I haven’t always found it easy to set aside this childish perception of the world as a place where I will not “get” the things that come easily to others. That there’s a cosmic deck somehow stacked against me. But the truth is that, although it is a deeply ingrained worldview, it couldn’t be more wrong.
In a child’s worldview, love is something you get. It comes to you freely and in abundance, and you don’t know any differently, so you assume it is your due. And it is – but we don’t just leave it at that. We look around and we begin to compare. And because love is not easy to grasp in a tangible way, we look for tangible markers to stand in for it, as we attempt to measure how much love we are receiving. For example, when we were kids, my siblings and I often judged who was loved more on the basis of who got the leftover food. After feeding 8 people, there might be something left of dinner, but definitely not enough to split 6 or 8 ways. So who was going to get the extra (pie, cookie, cold roast beef, etc.) became, for us, a measurement of love. If Mom gave me permission to eat it, I was loved. If not, then the lucky recipient was “Mom’s favorite”.
Funny how this early perception of the world carries with us, sometimes long past time we should know better. I know far too many adults, myself included, who continue to carry around an internal ledger in which we track the evidence for whether we are getting our fair share of love. We keep track of gestures, invitations, visits, gifts. I’ve heard grown-ups complain about unfairness in gifts given/received, I’ve seen them make mental hashmarks to count up who gave more, did more, showed more love than whom. All of it – every bit – is wasted energy.
I don’t claim to have the inside scoop on truth – but as Oprah would say, this is one thing I know for sure: love doesn’t work that way. Love is not something we passively receive and store up as treasure. It is not part of a capitalist exchange of goods and services (I did this, now I get your love). Love is NOT finite. If someone gives love to another, it doesn’t mean there is less for me.
In fact, it is quite the opposite. The more love one gives, the more one finds they have to give. Its like that magical Santa-bag of gifts – there’s a never-ending flow as long as we keep reaching back inside for more. Love is a decision, an action, and a commitment of self. Too often, we look at love as if looking through a peephole backwards. Normally, using a peephole allows you to see through a small hole into a much larger viewing space. Turn the peephole backwards, though, and everything looks smaller and more cramped. When we look at love only through the lens of what we are receiving, we make the love in our lives look cramped and small. A right-view of love is from the inside outward. When we look from this perspective, we can see love as expansive and expanding. We have the right view of love when our focus is on the love we are putting out into the world.
One night last week, I was at my parents’ dining room table playing Yahtzee with my nephew, my brother-in-law, and Mom and Dad. I shook the dice and rolled…a miserable conglomeration of dice with no points value in the game. I started to say, “I am so unlucky! I have always had the worst luck my whole life.” But I caught myself, and kept my mouth shut. Because it isn’t true – and I suddenly knew that with overwhelming certainty. Viewed from the right perspective, I have always been incredibly lucky in life! What an amazing shift in perspective that was – especially considering the context! I started laughing, and when my nephew asked why, I just shook my head. How could I explain that sudden clarity? When we spend our time and energy making comparative lists and tallying scores, we will always come up with the wrong total – the math will always be off, no matter how many times we refigure it. Because we are starting with the wrong premise – we are looking for proof that WE MATTER MORE. Instead, we should look for the ways we’ve expressed how much others matter – for proof that WE’VE GIVEN MORE.
There’s an old Christmas carol, from a poem by Christina Rosetti, called “Love Came Down at Christmas”. As we close out this Christmas season and look to the new year, it is definitely a good time to reflect on the Advent promise’ fulfillment – love is promised to us, but it is also expected from us. The last stanza of Rosetti’s poem says it well:Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.