Last year around this time I had a vivid dream. It was the stuff of cinema, where you sit up in bed, rub sleep from your eyes, and discover your dream has come true. Only in this case there was a twist.
I place zero stock in the content of my strange and discombobulated nighttime dreams. I marvel that my brain—mushy as it is during waking hours—can concoct bizarre plots and events without my conscious assistance.
But on that freezing morning, I woke up convinced that Kurt and the boys had secretly purchased a new vehicle for my Christmas gift. I know nothing of engines or features, so the make, model and color were the only ingredients available to my subconscious. I dreamed a red Toyota Forerunner was parked in the drive just waiting for me to load my groceries in style!
We’ve never bought a vehicle without a long discussion. In our family, large purchases always require deliberation and basic math. I loved our current vehicle and had vowed to drive it until it dies. Although it’s probably in its “sunset years,” it had been performing fine. So outside of my overactive, nocturnal imagination, I had no legitimate reason to believe I’d be getting a new vehicle.
Alas, on Christmas morning, I was surprised to see my name on a large box under the tree since everybody knows keys come in small boxes. Except, of course, if Kurt and the boys were trying to throw me off the trail of their stealthy and extravagant plan.
But there were no keys in the box.
I was momentarily shocked. I also felt stupid, childish, and glad that I hadn’t told anyone about my red Toyota Forerunner dream (yet).
Shame clouded what should have been a moment of astonished joy at my actual gift. Truly it lasted less than a minute before I shook myself fully awake and the delusion lost it’s grip.
I’ve thought about that feeling all year long, especially when I pass a Toyota Forerunner—of any color—on the highway.
Wonky expectations ruin occasions for real gratitude.
But contrast my over-inflated Christmas expectations with the legitimate needs of a fourth grader in a class where I was the substitute teacher. The assignment was to write an answer to the question, “What would you do with one million dollars?”
Students pined, in writing, about video games, concerts, and luxuries.
Weaving my way between desks I stopped beside a girl who had attended a different school in our district where I had subbed earlier in the year. I remembered her mostly because her little sister was adorably chatty, while she seemed quiet and somber.
Little Sister freely rattled off details of their situation: They were living in a domestic violence shelter, and their mom was looking for a place with a fence so they could play outside. I hated to imagine what had brought them there, but since she was attending school in a different part of town, I hoped they’d found that place with a fence.
Curiously, I peered over her shoulder to see what she would do with $1,000,000. In her best cursive she had written, “I would buy food for all the hungry people.”
No wish for lunch with Taylor Swift. No blathering about new video games. No dreams of a red Toyota Forerunner.
What would make a fourth grader want to buy food for all the hungry people? I wondered if she’d been one of them.
My heart was strangely instructed. Generosity and gratitude grow more quickly in the soil of need than in the suffocating overgrowth of abundance.
To me it was a demonstration that in the places where we are most needy–whether it be the physical pain of hunger or the emotional pain of loneliness–are the places we are most sensitive to others.
It’s because we’ve “been there.” And strangely enough, those broken, sensitive places are often where generosity grows so willingly.
The one who was hungry shares food. The one who was lonely becomes a friend.
God does not squander our pain or disappointments. If we are willing, he will use them.
Need presupposes gratitude and gratitude produces generosity. Generosity meets the needs of another, and the cycle repeats.
Overabundance, on the other hand, messes with reasonable expectations.
Is the remedy to snuff out every expectation? To make ourselves artificially needy?
I don’t think so.
To cultivate gratitude and generosity in a culture of abundance we must remember that every good gift comes from God.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)
Health, strength, and education are gifts from God that allow us to work and create, produce and consume.
The fact that I can type and spell, and that you can read and evaluate, is evidence of his gifts. Our use of these expensive electronic devices to communicate at this moment classifies us as indisputably wealthy, regardless of tax bracket classification.
This year, while we’re rolling out pie crusts or scrolling for bargains, let’s thank God for every good gift, even the ones we take for granted—like being able to read.
Perhaps the exercise will keep our expectations from getting sideways and put us on alert for ways we can share with others.
“For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God.” (2 Corinthians 9:10-11 NLT)
God gives to us so we can give to others, and he receives the thanks he is due.
No matter how you celebrate Thanksgiving this week, may reminders of God’s gifts—material and spiritual—always be the basis for your future generosity (whether you get your dream car or not).