By Bob Poczik
A retreat at my church started me thinking about gifts. We all are familiar with the giving of gifts, where someone gives something to someone else. It can be a material gift, something bought in a store, something made by hand, something found on a trip that lets someone back home know you were thinking of him while far away. Sometimes the gift is an experience, such as when grown children give a cruise to their parents as a way of showing their love and appreciation.
Not all gifts are given out of love. Sometimes they fulfill an obligation, are given out of guilt, are intended to make someone think well of you, to impress or to get something back. In the worst case, it is getting someone to do something for you he shouldn’t do, as in graft, bribes and corruption.
But gifts are most often given out of love. We search for something tangible, something special to let people know how much we care about them. There is a magnet on our refrigerator that captures this distinction: “You can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving.”
But that gift giving, for good or ill, is not what I am thinking about today. I am reflecting on gifts that we have, not gifts that we give. We see all around us people who have particular gifts – someone who has a beautiful voice, someone who has the right touch for baking, someone who can coax roses to grow up the side of a house, someone who can run with speed and grace. I am very appreciative that I have the gift of writing.
I observe three things about my own gifts and the gifts I see in others. The first is that one should not be proud, but thankful for having a gift. The very nature of such a gift is that it was given to us, I believe, by God. The second is that we have an obligation to develop the gifts we were given. They don’t always manifest themselves without the great effort that enables them to reach their highest form of expression. The third is that the gift needs to be given to others. That is the fulfillment of a given gift, when it is shared.
But the retreat has caused me to think beyond those God-given gifts. It alerted me to gifts that lie somewhere out there, out ahead of us, out of reach, beyond our consciousness.
As our retreat leader told us, we have yet to unwrap those gifts. We have to think that out in the wide world there exist people who could be tremendously special to us, who could add so much to our lives, and who we may never know. So we have to be open to others, to be willing to see beyond the surface, beyond differences – to always be on the lookout for such special people.
Perhaps those unwrapped gifts will only come to us through a life experience that lies ahead of us. And it may be a difficult life experience. It may involve loss – loss of health, loss of mobility, loss of a job, loss of status, loss of a loved one. Then we will learn things about ourselves and about those around us, and realize vulnerabilities and strengths we did not know we possessed.
These may be winter’s gifts, when leaves and flowers are gone, branches are bare and the landscape is bleak. In that environment, the gifts we find in ourselves and the gifts of themselves that others give to us may be great treasures, unwrapped at last.
I am thankful for the gift of the retreat I attended and for what I learned from the people who were there. I have tried to share that with you today. To paraphrase the lyrics of a song by Elton John, let me end by saying: I know it’s not much, but it’s the best I can do. My gift is this column and this one’s for you.