"The Gift Of God"
One of the Bible passages that has most marked my life is that of the Samaritan woman found in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Saint John. In it there is a line that has served as one of the guiding lights of my spiritual life for the past 15 years. After the Samaritan woman’s understandable bewilderment in the face of Jesus’ request for a drink of water, Jesus replies, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Indeed, if I truly “knew” the gift of God! Not a mere head-knowledge or a mere emotional understanding, but full knowledge in the biblical sense – a sort of cognitive-experiential wisdom that reaches beyond the head and heart to speak to the entirety of my person.
I have often meditated upon these words from two points of view. First, I ask myself if I truly know the “gift” of God; that is, all that God has lavished upon me and all that he continues to shower upon me. Do I appreciate and value these gifts that I have received, not because of anything that I have done or earned—often despite my failings—but simply because of God’s gratuitous, self-giving love? This reflection has the power to change even the most cynical of hearts, but it requires that we live our lives moment by moment with a sense of wonder and gratitude. In a letter, St. Ignatius of Loyola addressed one of the chief obstacles to this, writing, “Ingratitude is one of the things most worthy of detestation before our Creator. … For it is a failure to recognize the good things, the graces and the gifts received. As such, it is the cause, beginning and origin of all evils and sins.”
However, it is difficult to live with a sustained sense of gratitude. At least for me, comfortable routine can tend quite easily toward familiarity, which is only a small step away from taking things for granted. Gratitude requires that I learn to see things anew each day, to “marvel” over the roof over my head, the clothes on my back, the food on the table, and—even more importantly—each and every person that God places into my life!
An author that helps me to see many aspects of life from a new perspective is G.K. Chesterton. There is a lot of wisdom to be gleaned from his pithy statements. He writes, “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.” Another time, he stated, “I do not, in my private capacity, believe that a baby gets his best physical food by sucking his thumb; nor that a man gets his best moral food by sucking his soul, and denying its dependence on God or other good things. I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
This first reflection would fall critically short if it doesn’t lead toward a second: Do I know the gift of God? Do I know the gift that is God himself, for who He is, independently of the gifts and consolations that He may give? The greatest of the commandments is to love God and neighbor. That is, to love what God loves as He loves, and the way in which God loves is an unconditional love of self-giving, of pouring himself out in love. Many of us have experienced what it feels like when someone “loves” us merely for what they receive from us. If I am honest, I recognize that I am not immune from falling into the same. Yet, we all know that deep down, to truly love someone, we love them for who they are, not for what we get from them. It is the same in our relationship with God. Ultimately, in the words of St. Francis de Sales, “We must not seek the consolations of God, but the God of consolations.”