I was reading my Lenten study and watching the online video clip when one line Fr. Miller said really stuck with me. “It is God we seek, not His gifts.”
This took me back to when I was about fifteen years old. There was a boy, a couple of years older than me, that would come around every couple of weeks to hang out with me. When he (we’ll call him Tom) came by, he always brought me a present. It was never anything too expensive, maybe a candy that I liked or a cassette of a band I was following.
I remember one time commenting on a concert t-shirt that he had on and the next time he came by, he gave it to me. (All washed and neatly folded even.) I never really cared that much for him, but he was polite and so I would spend a couple of hours hanging out.
Around the time I turned sixteen, a boy I had a crush on asked me on a date. I was so excited and asked my mother if I could go. She got a funny look on her face and said, “What about Tom?”
I asked her what she meant. She said, “What would he think about you going about on your first date with some other boy, since he’s your boyfriend.”
WHOA!! What a minute! Who said anything about a boyfriend? But then I realized something. To him, our “hang out time” was a date. To me, it had been just hanging out. I’d never thought of Tom that way. In fact, when I stopped to think about it, I really didn’t like hanging out with him much at all. He was annoying and kind of a know it all. Until my mom made me stop and think about it, I hadn’t realized that the stuff Tom brought with him was what made hanging out with him bearable. That sounds extremely shallow and unconsciously it was. It just never occurred to me what I was doing.
So back to the Lenten study. “It is God we seek, not His gifts.” The more I read it, the more Job came to mind. Everyone likes to talk about Job when you talk about suffering. Jim used to tell me I had the “patience of Job.” I don’t think what Job patience is what Job had. Let me explain.
He loved God so much, not the things that God had blessed them with, that when God allowed Satan to take them all from him, Job still praised God. He wasn’t sitting around, keeping an account of what God took and when God was going to replace it. In fact, after the loss of his property, which was vast, his children and his health, when his wife questioned his faith, Job replied, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good at the hand of God and shall we not receive evil?”
It seems, that Job did well in his afflictions, until the outside world starting whispering in his ear. “It’s God’s fault.” “You must have sinned.” “There must be a reason.” “Remember how happy you were? How successful you were? What did you do wrong?”
I think about Job’s relationship with God and how he must have understood where all his blessings came from to begin with. We talk about it when we tithe. All our money comes from God, so it is only right to return to Him “the first fruits of the crop.” Of course, the ability to earn the money and the availability of the work come from God.
I had a job I loved and probably would have retired from before I got sick. For a time, I mourned the loss of that job. I was looking at it from my perspective: I liked being a paralegal, I was good at my job and I enjoyed the people I worked with and the people we served. From my perspective, I lost something important that was mine. My job. My ability to work. My ability to earn a living. That’s a lot of “My-s”.
But from my perspective now, I can see how all that happened brought Jim and me to where we are today. Blessings do make me grateful and make it easy to praise God. Suffering makes it easy for me to turn to God and seek His comfort. But in my sufferings, am I praising God, just for being God…or am I looking for the next blessing. And in my blessings, am I praising them or the one who provided them?
and when the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say…