Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What We Want; What We Need

I overhead an interesting conversation while out among the Christmas shoppers the other day. A couple of friends were talking about how difficult they were finding it to decide on a gift for a mutual friend. "I just don't know what to do!" one of them said. "She refuses to give us a list of things she wants." "I've about decided to give her a gift card and forget about it," the other one replied. I know that sometimes having a list or suggestion makes gift giving easier, but there is still something to be said for giving gifts we've picked because we know they're something the receiver will like. I also know that's a lot of trouble and can take a lot of time. My late mom was the world's best (or worst, depending on your perspective) at providing Christmas lists. Every year, right after Thanksgiving, my sister and I would get the same list of things our mom wanted. The list usually included at least two things that were not available. One year it was a bottle of perfume that hadn't been made in ten years. Her note said we could find it at a flea market if we looked hard enough. For several years it was whatever the most sought-after and not to be had kids' gift was that year: Tickle Me Elmo one year; Holiday Barbie another. No, I don't have any idea what she planned to do with Elmo or Barbie. We knew what the intent of the list was. It was not intended to be a suggestion. It was all the things she wanted, and our job was to divide it up and provide the goods. She never got either Elmo or Barbie, and we didn't knock ourselves out looking for well-aged perfume. I'm sure those experiences are part of the reason that Christmas lists still leave a sour taste in my mouth. I don't always get it right when I buy gifts, but I don't miss it often.

Overhearing that conversation and thinking about the things I still need to get bought helped me to think about another giver. As long as there have been people, we have been pretty good at telling God what we want. Our ancestors wanted freedom from bondage in Egypt until they discovered it meant living in the wilderness for a time. Another generation longed for home during the Exile and wondered why God didn't respond more quickly. We've all gotten pretty good at following their lead in telling God what we want. I'm thankful that when God decided to send Jesus into the world to accomplish salvation it wasn't because that's what we wanted, but because it was and is what we need. I'm even more thankful that God bothered to know us well enough to know our needs. I hope all of us get something we want this Christmas. I know that in Jesus Christ, we have access to what we need.

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