The 24-Hour Rule

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This past Christmas, I was reminded of one of our family’s rules.  My youngest received a gift that was interesting to her siblings.  Soon after it was unwrapped, her brother was asking to “see” it (which really means hold it and play with it until you beg for it back).  Big sister came to her rescue and reminded everyone of our time-tested rule, “You don’t have to share on the first day!” Everyone nodded. It’s true.

In our house, on the first day that you have something new, you are not required to share it with anyone.

This is a big deal in a family of six crammed into a small house.  With limited space and resources, sharing is expected at an early age: toys, books, clothes, our one TV, your bedroom, the bathroom, ice cream, etc.  But during that first 24 hours after receiving a gift, you can grip your new toy in your greedy little hands, ignore everyone’s jealous stares, and play your uncharitable face off.  It’s a license to be selfish for a time.  No one can ask and no one can chastise you.  From sun-up to sun-down, you are left alone with your own bad self.  But once the 24-hour time limit has expired and the timer dings, you are expected to release your sweaty grip and let the turn-taking begin.  We made this rule years ago and it has served us well.  It sets a clear boundary for both the prosperous and the poor.  Everyone gets turns to be on both sides, and it works.  It has kept the peace.

Shortly after this practice was put into place, I observed something interesting.  Usually, long before the time limit, the privilege is willingly declined.  Toys are handed over, coloring-book pages are torn out, and group games begin. The have-nots are rarely kept at bay for a whole day. After an hour or so of sweaty egomania, the owners of the 24-hour license decide that sharing is more fun.

So, in the name of good parenting, I pretend that I’ve orchestrated it all, and I pat myself on the back.

At Christmas time, after being reminded of the rule and the result that I’ve observed, I started thinking about the things that I’ve been given lately.

What if we receive something new that we don’t like?  An unwelcome “gift”?  Does my observation hold true for those things?  Does sharing these “gifts” make them better like when my kids share their toys?  Will the lame toy become awesome when we share it with friends? Will the ugly sweater gain beauty?  Doubt it.  How to receive these unwanted gifts is a difficult lesson; one I’m just starting to explore. He draws me deeper into the mystery.

We readily share the good things in our lives. We are proud of those:  weddings, new jobs, graduations, upgraded decorations, bargains found, spiritual truth grasped, etc.  But what about the other things that God allows:  lay-offs, disappointments, failures, conflicts, sickness, spiritual valleys…  are these meant to be shared also?  Can we even call them gifts?  I don’t like it when my name is found on the tag of these kinds of packages.  I want to leave them unwrapped and disassembled.  I don’t post them on Facebook.  I don’t take pictures.  My thank-you note is forming in my mind:  Dear God,  I got the “gift”.  I shoved it under my bed.  I have no use for it.  It’s ugly. Thanks for nothing.

On these days, the timer ticks and I shut others away,  afraid and ashamed to share what I have.  I’m stooped low from hunching over these things alone, but God uses this lowly posture to give new vision. With new vision comes new understanding.  In His perfect timing, His signal sounds and slowly some fog lifts.  I open the door.

Reluctantly, I invite a few friends over to my pile of unwanted things.  Not a big group.  Not acquaintances.  Not just Facebook friends.  Not merely Twitter followers.  Real, trusted, worn-with-life, honest friends.  Friends with souls.  Friends who know me -and God- well.  Friends who, I’m sure, will point me to Him.  To these I unlock my door. With trembling hands,  I peel back the wrapping paper and reveal the things that I’ve been hiding in the corner.  I open up and ask them to help me unwrap, explore, and understand what I’ve been given. They bend to match me,  and together we work to find some beauty in the ugliness, some value in the worthless, and some gratitude in the pain.  We find some.  Some.

There are other parcels that stump us. We don’t get very far with those.  None of us claim to understand or pretend to know what to do.  We work humbly among the unsightly things I’ve been given, yet the ugliness remains.  Crumpled wrapping paper, torn boxes, and pain surround us.  It’s a mess. The only thing we have to show for our efforts is a new thank-you note.  As I stoop over to write, my friends massage my stiff neck and whisper the words for me to pen:  Dear God.  I got the what you gave.   I don’t understand it, but I know you do. Please remember your promise to use it for good.  Help me find the beauty in it.  Help me to be grateful and trust you.I sense that they are clinging to the words and struggling with me.  I am bolstered and can write a few words of my own:  And, God, thank you for giving me these friends.

Is this why Jesus asked his friends to stay awake with him in the Garden of Gethsemane?  He must have known that His companions would not have been able to provide any answers for Him, but He asked them anyway.  I’m sure He was not counting on them to whisper words of truth beside His blood-sweat brow, but still He invited. Would it have eased his human suffering to have his friends with Him? How sad that they slept instead of responding to His invitation.  Jesus knew that the presence of caring friends make a difference in our suffering. 
In light of our family rule, my observation holds true.  For wanted and unwanted gifts, sharing them changes our view of what we’ve been given.
You’ve been given much.  Take your time with your gifts.  Enjoy the ones that are beautiful.  Like my children, you won’t need to set a timer before you’ll be sharing those.  It’s more fun that way.  Post your pictures and announce your victories.  Your trusted friends are celebrating with you, for sure.

But for the other things you’ve been given…the ones that you have hidden away, unwrapped or boxed up, the ones that make you choke when they are called a “gift”… let the timer tick for a while.  Hunch and cry over them, clench your fists and shove them under your bed, ignore them and pretend they don’t have your name on them. Just know with each tick of the clock, He is at work.  In His perfect timing, He will sound the bell.  When you hear it,  open your sweaty grip, unlock the door, and invite trusted friends into your garden.  They are wide awake and waiting for you to share.

Rules are rules…

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