I have used this quote before, but it seems appropriate to revisit it, in light of the heavy giving season upon us. Many years ago, we tried to opt out of Christmas. We had “Santa” gifts for the kids, but gifts between family members and friends were reserved for the Epiphany, or “Little Christmas.” It didn’t take, probably because our kids were too old and on the cusp of teenage-dom where the world had taken a firmer grasp on their sensibilities. I loved the switch because I took advantage of the awesome after-Christmas sales and was able to do more for my family, for less. And as I have pondered that, I came to some harsh realities. Hence, my blog….
What sustains me is sometimes vastly different from what sustains others. There is a question it is fun to ask friends, “If you were stuck on a desert island and could have (1) item, what would it be?” Many in the teen-age-group would say their cell phone or iPad or computer, obviously never having seen the Disney version of “Swiss Family Robinson”!! Many people I know cannot survive a day without social media, or at the very least, their cell phones. I am often guilty of that, as well. And if we look inside ourselves, at least when I look, I think of many things I would want with me. Since it is a question of things and not people, I quickly choose and discard many items as being silly and useless in that situation. And I think of places where I would feel sustained, and what items would help me feel sustained. Places I would hate to be stuck would be a desert island, as I am not a hot-weather person and much prefer mountains, trees, and snow! And what would sustain me, if I were to find myself in a place I did not know, with a specific group of items?
This has actually, and is still, happening to us. After 25 years of married life in Southern California, we found ourselves relocated into the Pacific Northwest, and in a very short space of time. We packed up all of our things and relocated to a place we did not know, without the comfort zone of home school groups, parish communities, and people we had grown accustomed to. We felt, and still somewhat feel, like fish out of water. But we both feel God brought us to this place, because He has a plan for us. We brought a lot of stuff with us, too! And this past summer, we divested ourselves of quite a lot of it. Keepsake items I miss here and there; dozens of books we gave away; tools we sold because we never used them and now could use (of course); and many old clothing items (especially “California coats” that are useless in this climate). We tried to give away what we did not sell at our garage sale, giving out of what we had and perhaps could still use, but did not “need.” What sustains us? We found out we could do with much less than we had when we moved up here. It is freeing, in many ways. We have to pack up and move again, and now that there is just the three of us, the manual labor is going to be far more intense. For the relief of too many things, I am grateful! And still, what sustains us?
We had family arrive from out of town this past week and it was interesting what they needed to sustain them, that was not familiar to our needs. We still have some of it in our refrigerator, but our youngest son will make short work of it, I am sure. When people travel away from home, they bring with them the things they will need to sustain them on their journey. Fortunately, no one crashed or was forced to choose a single item to sustain them on a desert island! But when you travel, you try to just bring “necessities” so you can “travel light.” Could I, if I had to fit everything on the back of a donkey and walk to Bethlehem, take what I needed to sustain me? Mary and Joseph had no idea their walk would continue on, into Egypt, and last for decades. Can I pick up and go just as easily? What would I need to sustain me? Were the things we gave and received at Christmas items that sustain us in our need, or do they add to our life’s clutter? Do we grow and learn from them, or do they clutter our desktops and lives? Personally, I am thrilled with what I received. The number of items was limited and I could tell that thought went into them and I was touched. Touched more by the effort and thought than many of the items, themselves. The gifts moved me and I think that is what giving is all about. We want to move the receiver and let them know how much we love them.
I think about what and where I would be sustained quite often. Because I have been lacking in “sustenance” over the past couple of years, it has become more apparent to me. And I know my sustenance comes from the Lord. From my life of faith. If I were to be placed in a situation of crashing onto a desert island, I think that I would be wearing my Jesus prayer bracelet, so it would go with me automatically, wherever I landed, but I think I would want with me either a Bible or my Byzantine Prayer Book. Because what truly sustains me is my faith. Without my faith, or a place to practice my faith, my interior self begins to wither. We all need to feed our faith. And one of the most important things the Lord and His Apostles left for us, was the “deposit of faith” and the instruction that we are to worship as community. (Yes, individual worship and quiet prayer build and sustain us, but so does a faith community). “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him…If he refuses to listen…, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church…Amen I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Mt 18: 15-20). Even though, when we are on a desert island, we cannot have our community with us, we take with us the deposit of faith and our prayer life. I think that celebrating the giving of gifts, the beauty of the Christmas trees and all the decorations and all the feasting, if you celebrate the Birth of the Savior and have no faith, it becomes an empty celebration and that is where our over-gifting comes in. We are compensating for that “God-Hole” that exists in humanity, that only Faith can fill.
I pray that I may never get stranded on a desert island (and I stave that off by never being near one!) and be required to sustain myself with just one object, but I know that my faith will sustain me wherever I find myself. I also know that being part of a faith community builds me up and helps me face whatever is in front of me, and that without it, I tend to wither. Our Church communities help us to walk the path God has chosen for us; they help us keep our faith at the forefront of our lives. And the Liturgical Life of the Church and following the Church calendar keeps our lives moving forward in Faith and our walk closer to the “walk” the Holy Family took so many centuries ago. And so, for this next year, I pray we find our “faith” home, along with a new place to call “home,” and we absorb and enjoy all the prayers and “community” we have available, to further enrich our lives. In my mind’s eye, I would rather be in the woods and snow, and so I pray I won’t be challenged by a real desert, as living in a spiritual one is hard enough! And all the gifting in the world cannot replace a moment spent in the Presence of God, among the Faithful of His community.