and you shall receive
Middle of the afternoon and I’m goofy-grinning over an armful of sorted socks, their neat little knots all white like dumplings; grinning even as they bob out of my arms and roll on the floor. I’m not going to lie. Something satisfies me about folding laundry. I love those warm stacks with the clean-tucked edges, smooth and fresh-smelling and ready again for wear. My children know how to do their own laundry and often do, but for some reason I gather great delight from lining up the seams on the shirt Zoe wore yesterday when I hugged her to me; from running my fingers over the soft jeans Adam won’t give up even when temperatures run in the eighties. I don’t know if it’s just that so much love for them moves my hands as I handle their newly washed clothes or if it’s the God-given joy I find in any kind of renewal, but I sit those piles of clean things on their beds feeling like I’m delivering a gift, and happy in the giving.
Until I walk in the room and find the clean clothes I brought in yesterday still sitting on the chest at the end of the bed or toppling haphazardly across the desk, discarded in a quick effort to clear the bed for sleep. That’s when my mom-cheer curls at the edges (bye bye June Cleaver), and I feel that maternal growl I reserve only for my offspring, and I begin to wonder if they receive what I’ve done for them with any enthusiasm even close to what I felt in making the offering. That’s when I wonder if my gift has become so ordinary to them that they no longer appreciate it, and the giving sours.
Because the way I receive gifts says something clear about how much or how little I value them.
My husband bought me flowers for my birthday, several bright flats all covered in blooms. He sat them out in the sunshine, in fresh rows on the barren winter-scathed soil. Earlier that day, he and Adam spent several hours preparing for this renewal, bending and kneeling and dirtying their knees in the dirt, removing the weeds that had moved in during the colder months. Before planting that afternoon, we picked up a load of much-needed mulch, and Kevin offered to spread that over the flower beds while Zoe and I “placed” the flowers.
I stood there scanning the empty spaces between rose bushes and fiery azaleas, slowly pulling apart the flats and placing trays of flowers all over the flowerbed where I intended to plant them. I took a single tray of sun-gold mums and plopped it down in the oversized planter on our front porch and stepped back.
“Uh, Mom? Aren’t you going to plant those?” Zoe asked, not realizing that I intended to place all the flowers before I made my first dig.
Her question made me smile, because it essentially begged me to understand that the gift they were giving couldn’t be fully appreciated or fully received unless I actually planned to do something fruitful with what they had offered me. She knew the flowers would just die in those plastic trays, unable to stretch their roots and grow, and why would I want to let that happen?
I can’t help but think of that moment as I stand staring at yesterday’s clean clothes, half-dishelved because carelessly tossed aside. If left as they are, those clothes will soon get lost under other discarded things, forgotten, and gradually lose their freshness. I want to leave a note that says, “Hey, aren’t you going to put these away?” And of course, I want them carefully handled–neatly placed, not stuffed. I sit the new, still-warm, still-fresh stack beside the others, saving my question for a more opportune time. Teachable moments should be honored with face-to-face conversations.
But God is never content to let me just file away teachable moments that also apply to me. I’m not even in the hallway before He asks the question, “So, how do you receive my gifts?” The echo of a parable comes to me, conjuring images of a talent-burier, glancing quickly about, fingernails black with dirt. “Do you bury? Or invest? Do you discard? Or gather?” Salvation, after all, He has wrapped up in our receiving. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. “What fruitful thing do you do with what I’ve given you?” He asks, and I return to my work, considering. Beyond that most precious gift—the good news that I should feel compelled to pass on, He’s carefully prepared so many additional gifts for me—good, meaningful things to do, spiritual gifts to use in service to others, an eternal inheritance, a table spread , a place to dwell with Him, and grace in place of grace—countless blessings all mine to receive. I can list thousands upon thousands of His love-lavishing gifts. And yet, at times I know I can be so focused on my own muddied perspective that I push aside His blessings in favor of other things, idolizing placebos that can never truly satisfy my hunger. I have at times neglected the mercy and grace He specifically offers to help me in my time of need. Other times, I have hoarded what He’s given without planting and nurturing those gifts that they might be shared and enjoyed well beyond the reaches of my own imagination. I have oft been that child who forgets the importance of receiving well.
It’s amazing—and so loving–the way God can use a simple thing like neglected laundry to remind me to be fiercely intentional about receiving unto fruitfulness what He pours out on me by grace. And it makes me smile —right here and now—how gently He also reminds me in that same little teachable moment to lavish grace upon my children.