Earlier this year I turned forty. I actually felt excited to embrace this milestone birthday. Excited to celebrate all that God has done in the first four decades of my life and all that He will yet do. Plus, I’m never one to shy away from presents. (It’s okay that there’s still a giddy little girl with freckles and pigtails inside me, right?)
I felt so loved by the thoughtfulness of friends and family, and elated about two presents in particular: a gift certificate from my sister for an hour massage, and a TJ Maxx gift card from my mom. I rarely splurge on myself in these ways, so the opportunity to kick off my forties with melting muscle stress and a new outfit thrilled me.
Given my gift-receiving delight, you’ll probably be as surprised as I was that ten months later, those gift certificates were still in my wallet.
What was my issue? I chided myself. It’s not like I don’t like having new clothes! It’s not like I don’t have plenty of knots in my neck aching to be tended to. So why hadn’t I enjoyed the benefits of these generous gifts?
This was the internal dialogue game I played. But I actually already knew the answer — I just didn’t want to admit it. Not even to myself.
The truth was, I hadn’t gone shopping, I hadn’t scheduled a massage because I felt like I had to earn it.
I realized turning forty brought with it a wealth of blessings – greater wisdom, gratitude, and patience. But it also had ushered in a shift I wasn’t so keen on – a greater waistline. Over the year leading up to my birthday, I had slowly gained twenty pounds. Every time I thought about the joy of perusing the racks of TJ Maxx, looking for a great deals and styles to suit my new decade of life, I thought about those pounds. Do you really want to go up a size? Just wait till you slim down, I’d tell myself.
A similar “just wait” game continued when it came to my massage. Just wait till you finish that project. Just wait till you reach that milestone. Just wait till you overcome that hurdle. In other words, Just wait till you deserve it.
You probably already see with glaring clarity what took me ten months to untangle: a gift is never meant to be earned; a gift is simply meant to be received.
Somehow I felt like I had to earn – had to prove that I deserved – these gifts of extravagant care and kindness. The reasons are probably layered enough to warrant several sessions back in therapy: societal expectations of beauty, misplaced sense of identity, misbelief that my value lies in how I look and what I do, and the list goes on. While these issues are definitely worth me exploring, I also realized what a picture this was of how so many of us often treat our gifts from God.
We know that God has given us the gifts of His extravagant love, unconditional forgiveness, amazing grace, peace that surpasses understanding, relentless hope, boundless joy, and abundant strength. But . . . how often do you hold His gifts at arm’s length? How often do you leave them tucked in your Bible, hidden in your proverbial wallet because you secretly feel like you have to do more, clean up, get it together before you really embrace all God is offering you?
Scripture is super clear about God’s gifts: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV). For the people in the back (including me): NOT YOUR OWN DOING. There is no grace plus. No God’s grace plus our effort. No God’s grace plus our grit or morality or smaller size jeans.
We were never meant to work for God’s favor, His love, His forgiveness, His acceptance, or His saving grace. We simply get to show up and receive. Show up happy or sad. Show up fit or flabby. Show up acknowledging our own sin and brokenness and neediness and how we can’t fix any of it on our own and we don’t want to try to anymore!
I love the reminder in 1 John 3:1 (NIV): “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
It’s hard to break old patterns of thinking in order to accept gifts of lavish love. But in the same way my mom never intended me to lose ten pounds before buying a new sweater, and my sister never intended me to sweat, struggle, or strive before enjoying a massage, so God never intended for us to try to earn His love.
Are there any “just wait” stipulations swirling in your mind, holding you back from receiving God’s good gifts for you? Just wait till you’re stronger. Just wait till that relationship is fixed. Just wait till you prove yourself. Just wait . . . [fill in your blank.]
What if today you took that “just wait” and tossed it in the trash or put it firmly in God’s hands? It’s not yours to hold anymore. What is yours to hold? God’s lavish love.
After ten months, I booked a 60-minute deep-tissue massage and relished every minute. I let myself feel pampered and cared for – by the massage therapist, by my sister, and by my God from whom all blessings flow. The next day I spent a couple hours roaming the aisles of TJ Maxx. I didn’t rush myself. I chose not to berate myself for the changing shape of my 40-year-old body and larger jean size. I delighted in the opportunity to buy things that felt fun and pretty.
And I wondered why I had waited so long to simply receive it all.