“There can be only one permanent revolution—a moral one; the regeneration of the inner man. How is this revolution to take place? No one knows how it will take place in humanity, but every man feels it clearly in himself. And yet in our world, everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.”
Gratitude: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness
Almost two months ago, I made a list of personal goals that I shared with a close friend here at Pepperdine with the intent of mutual encouragement and accountability. I made it very clear (mostly to myself, the likeliest person to arbitrarily “misunderstand” this particular caveat) that my goals were intended to become habits—and as such, were eventually to be as thoughtless as showering (the personal frequency of which might be debated, I suppose). Naturally, the process of habitualization is just that—a process—but the joys experienced along the way are no less real.
For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into all my goals here, but I will highlight one for now (more to come, possibly): a personal mandate that I write a card a week to somebody, very candidly confessing to them how grateful I am for their unique influence on my life. And that “somebody” is just as vaguely defined as it reads. More often than not I will literally sit tableside and wait quietly for someone to come to mind. They always do. There is no lack of individuals who have had an impact on my life, directly or indirectly, briefly or otherwise.
My initial experience with card writing was somewhat absurd. Admittedly, a great deal of my post-script satisfaction stems from an inherent love of ink and page. Yet what means everything to me is the impact I have on the hearts of others. The resultant effect on my own heart would be grossly diminished if it were to be confined to words. The responses I have received are overwhelming; in both reciprocated gratitude, but also in the tears-of-joy-worthy exuberance of my own soul. I even received a box of lavender shortbread in return from one of those “somebodys.” To me, it always seems that they outgave. And what they gave was simply this: raw, thick, gratitude. This responsive mutuality in love is perhaps the most humbling and staggering thing I will experience in life.
What’s come to dominate my thoughts amidst it all is this: somehow it seems that true love reciprocated is actually, in some sense, selfish. For a long time this has confused me about loving others. I find it so incredibly easy; I know this is a gift He has given me, and there is joy ineffable in pouring that out on others. I was raised knowing that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), and that greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). But how does one even separate giving and receiving?
Interestingly enough, the John Piper devotional I read every morning (http://solidjoys.desiringgod.org/en, also an iPhone app) addressed this recently, and I think he brings out a very interesting point (emphases my own):
“…love is the pursuit of our joy in the holy joy of the beloved. There is no way to exclude self-interest from love, for self-interest is not the same as selfishness. Selfishness seeks its own private happiness at the expense of others. Love seeks its happiness in the happiness of the beloved. It will even suffer and die for the beloved in order that its joy might be full in the life and purity of the beloved. This is how Christ loved us, and this is how he calls us to love one another.“
What I have learned is this: I cannot, nor is it appropriate or realistic, to negate the authenticity of my active love for others simply because it seemingly brings me an absurd amount of joy to see them edified as well. This is the only way I can describe the magnitude of the bliss serving others brings me.
Is this not the beauty of walking in faith? Every time I trust His ways are best, I am weighted down by the substance of His grace. I bless others, and I am blessed five hundred fold. I pour my gratitude, love, and joy out in small ways, and in seeing the effect it has, I am ignited with a desire to give everything I have. The more I seek His ways, the more the desires of my heart come in line with the ways of Christ. This is what the Psalmist meant: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4)—in reality, because they are becoming His own.
Most importantly, this is what God desires of us in relation to Himself. We cannot give what we do not have. The more I give the more I understand the magnitude of what He has given to me: first and foremost, His very life. If He never did another thing for me (or you), He has already done too much. Do we really understand this? We seem to think God is here to construct our lives and His ways around our own happiness.
We are so, so wrong. God is to be the Object and Source of our happiness. Of course He desires us to be happy; but we have settled for countless stupid things that fall tragically short of that divine joy. How do we even fathom that His happiness is in seeing us wholly contented in finding our desires in Him, in finding our joy rooted in simple worship?
Last Friday, I was in line getting lunch at the cafeteria at school. I struck up a conversation with a middle-aged couple in front of me whose daughter was in class—it was parents’ weekend on campus—and who were using the short break to grab a quick bite. The conversation lasted maybe 30 seconds. They bought my entire lunch before I could so much as protest. I walked away with eyes welled up with tears. I had seen the joy I have felt so keenly over these last few weeks reflected vibrantly in their own eyes. They understood.
How do we miss this??? How is it so easy to lose sight of the joy that comes with living lives of purpose and sacrifice, when they only serve to bring us joy? We should have this goal in life: to outgive. We never will. Especially not God; but the point is that we try, recognizing that all we give has been given us by Him, and in His bewildering grace He grants us joy in giving what is not our own back to the One whose it rightfully is.
Perhaps I am simple. I do not care in the least. What I do know is I have found myself dancing amidst the ocean waves each morning, arms thrown out and head thrown back, peals of laughter the only way I can think to release this distilled, pent-up life inside of me. Molten sunlight gleams on the frothing ocean, and as a string of wizened pelicans glides just in front of the next cresting wave, my heart’s song joins a chorus of gratitude that drowns out every other whispered worry.
This is truth, and it has set me free—to love, to worship, and to give. They are more often than not essentially the same.