Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:5-6
We so easily go inward, making it about us. My son wakes with worry this morning about a task that he has to do at school. The task is one of celebration, but the worry insulates the gift of giving and exposes raw our downcast souls only to how they might be affected. I looked at the clock last night at 3:40 a.m. with an anxious heart. With so much around me to both celebrate and simply engage in, the digital red numbers on the clock flash only warnings of my discontent. My son and I agreed to pray for one another throughout this day, reminding ourselves before our Creator that our hope is in Him and that we will choose joy-giving and praise-giving both when He does and when He doesn't.
It's the looking out that changes everything. My pastor friend says that our spiritual formation is shaped in the triangle of up (praise), out (service), and in (discipleship). Today, my day began with my coffee, a Bible, and Psalm 42:5-6 illuminated on my phone as the "verse of the day." I found the verse in the tattered Bible and sipped the precious gift of fresh, hot coffee. A note was scratched by the text that read, "turn fear to praise... verse of the day on July 7, after restless night." I wrote another note beside the one from July. It read, "again, fear to praise 12/18/12." Fear, worry, doubt - all elements of an anxious heart are served daily for our consumption. They are served hot and ready by a world that's searching for Hope, looking inward, fumbling around in the dark only to realize that the furniture has been moved. A quiet voice asks us to turn on the lights so that we can see.
And if fear is our consuming, then praise is our giving. Praise is the giving of ourselves with humility to be loved unconditionally, awed by grace. Service is the giving of what's been given to us, turning the Light on for others to see. Discipleship is the giving of what we've learned, the sharing of our stories, and the hearing of the Quiet, Still voice through the stories of others. It's all about the giving.
We sat by the breakfast table on a recent Saturday morning. We ate by the fire and talked of preparations for family arriving, Christmas plays at school, and holiday parties. To quiet the Christmas noise, we talked to our children about giving. Trying to teach them in the midst of what can easily become Christmas chaos, that it's really only about the giving - His to us, ours to them. We weren't sure how well our young sons would grasp the concept of giving to others in lieu of a present to share with a friend. We sorted through the Compassion Gift Catalog and explained to our boys three gift options that our family would consider: one a gift for a single mother and her young baby, another for emergency meals, and a third for the creation of safe places for children to play. Our boys asked questions of why and where children couldn't just play safely outside. We talked as the fire flickered and the coffee grew cold. Our boys chose a gift to help create safe playgrounds for those without. We'd count the change in our family loose-change-jar and offer these gifts of safety and nature to children we'll likely never meet. Our boys disappeared, returning later with dollar bills they'd tucked away in their rooms for a special occasion. This was such an occasion, this was a time to give. Aren't they all, really? As He gives, so shall we. They understood.
The anxiety of our souls dissipates in the giving. My pastor friend recently told me during a run that it's really difficult to be anxious when you're deeply thankful. Yes. Jesus said as much. May we drink deeply from the same cup of thanksgiving.
This season, consider looking up in praise, stepping out in service, and diving deeper in(to) relationship with a God whose love is unwavering. We can do all three when we give. The children orphaned by Aids are blessed when we do. Those served in Haiti by this life-giving minstiry are thankful when we do. And, the fatherless youth in our own backyard are mentored when we do.
It is all about this, the giving.