It’s almost unfair how pretty Vancouver is some days.
I found myself thinking this thought a lot over the past few weeks – the ones that brought a cold snap, a dusting of snow, and bright sunny winter days where you could really feel the fresh air in your lungs and see it exhaled as mist. On one of these cold, bright days, I found myself standing and looking out over False Creek from the middle of the Granville Street bridge. And as I stood there I was overwhelmed with the knowledge that these beautiful days in the middle of a dark winter, this city we live in, the mountains, the snow, the ocean – they are all gifts.
I took a pause to enjoy the moment, and my mind began to wander to the New Year. For many, New Year’s Day represents hope, and a fresh start – for others, it is simply another day in the week. This year brought with it an extra sense of anticipation and a need for hope after 2016 – a year the internet dubbed the worst year ever.
I understand that 2016 had its fair share of difficulties and tragedy. I know that if I asked one the tens of millions of refugees who have had to flee their homes how 2016 was for them, the answer would be heart-wrenchingly painful. However, if the same question was posed to a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, the answer would be completely different – celebration and confetti, after over a century of anticipation.
In the middle of the Granville Street bridge it dawned on me how truly in-the-middle-of-things we are. Even the glorious winter weather which I had been marvelling in has a not so pretty side – for people forced to sleep outside in the cold, or heaven forbid navigate an icy sidewalk.
It is tricky to live in this middle space.
This, however, is also the place that God has put us. How do we live here well? How do we rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn when the same event causes both tears and laughter? How do we even pray?
The best thing we can do with the gifts that God gives us is to allow him to be sovereign over them.
Later on that week, I found myself looking out over the city again. It was still sunny, and cold, and there was still a dusting of snow, but I was feeling entirely different. Instead of being in a peaceful, restful state, I was full of nervous energy and anticipation. Sometimes arriving early is a good thing, it gives you time to prepare yourself for whatever situation lies ahead. Other times that extra ten minutes can be a place where tension rises to a boil. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I paced around the block to try and calm myself down. I was nervous; I wanted it to go well. I took some deep breaths and looked over the city again trying to recapture the peace I felt walking over the bridge, but neither the deep breathing nor the pacing did anything to bring me down from my agitated and excited state.
But, somehow, in that space, in the middle of my anxiety and excitement, God’s peace took hold, and the same knowledge filled me – they are all gifts.
They are all gifts.
It was easy to see how my excitement and the prospects that lay in front of me were gifts. But finding the gifts in my tightly coiled nerves proved much more challenging, and honestly in that moment, I couldn’t see them.
When we think about what we give to God, we often think of it in terms of praise or finances or service. We sing to God, because of the good work he has done, because of who he is. We are able to be generous with time and money because of the ways God has been generous to us. But we rarely think about giving gifts to God out of areas of pain and poverty. But in my anxious state, that was exactly what I needed to do – I could sense God telling me to give my nervous, anxious excitement to him.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus calls the poor in spirit, the meek, the mourning, the hungry and the persecuted blessed. Where is the gift in these states?
As I stood, trying to collect myself, I leant in and prayed silently:
Lord, thank you for these gifts. Lord, I give these gifts back to you.
In that moment all I could do with the gifts God had given me was entrust them back to his care.
The fact is, the anxiety I was feeling was largely due to the opportunities that lay in the meeting before me. That meeting was a gift, the opportunities are a gift, and the relationships that led up to and came from that meeting are gifts. They were and are gifts to be stewarded well, and ultimately gifts that need to be entrusted back to God. When I began to see these gifts in the midst of my nervousness and took a second to remember the one who gave these gifts, God opened my eyes to a bigger gift – the gift of his presence and being able to entrust all of our dealings to the Almighty One. The best thing we can do with the gifts that God gives us is to allow him to be sovereign over them.
This simple prayer has become a refrain for me over the past few weeks. Praying, “Lord, thank you for these gifts. Lord, I give these gifts back to you” – in the peaceful and praise filled moments, and in the tense moments – has become a way of inviting God into that vast middle space. It has opened me up to his presence; it has challenged me to be thankful and find joy in all situations. It has become a way of turning my worries and the hardship I see back to the one who promises to give beautiful headdresses instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit.
As we approach the complexities of the world we live in, the middle space, the grey areas, let’s do so prayerfully. And take heart that the God we approach with rejoicing, or sorrow, or anything in between is the giver of all good gifts – especially his promise of hope and redemption. But most of all, that he has given himself to us, and we have the great gift of being brought near to him.
Photo: Colin May