I recently painted a picture for my girlfriend. The painting turned out better than I ever expected it would and she ended up buying a frame for it and hanging it on her wall. This weirdly makes me think of our relationship with God. In her book, Wandering In Darkness, Eleanore Stump (to simplify the idea immensely) argues that when our greatest heart’s desire becomes a desire for union with God, we reach a state in which everything else we love is loved for God’s sake. This idea is strikingly similar to Augustine’s ideas in On Christian Teaching about use and enjoyment. According to both Stump and Augustine, it would seem, the only thing we should love for it’s own sake is God. Everything else should be loved for the sake of God. For me at least, Stump provides more clarity to this than Augustine ever did. For her, when God becomes my heart’s greatest desire, I love everything else as gift. My loving it as gift—as opposed to my loving it in itself—blesses the gift-giver. Imagine if Jill had not accepted my painting but rejected it. Or instead that she accepted the painting with great love, but now having been given this gift, rejected me. In the first situation, she did not love the gift and in turn was not loving toward the gift-giver. In the second situation, she loved the gift for its own sake. She did not love it as gift. To love something as gift is to accept the gift with joy, and love the gift-giver more than the gift itself. The love of the gift heightens the receivers love of the giver, and in turn, the joyous response of the receiver heightens the love of the giver for the receiver.
I must stop for a moment and praise Jill, the one who gives and gives so much. What, in her, is a love for gift giving is truly an imitation of God, and I am utterly delighted to have her in my life so that I can personally experience that part of Him through her. I am more often than not on the receiving end of her gift giving. Being on the gift giving side this time particularly has proved to be a wonderfully powerful experience. So thank you Jill for giving so much, and modeling how God gives gifts so perfectly. You see, neither of the two situations described above were actually what happened. Jill did love the gift and her love for the gift heightened her love for me. She recognized my gift giving as an expression of my love for her and loved the gift because of it. In recognition of my love, she returned my love to me in the form of her excited and joyous reaction. She then returned my love in an even greater fashion when she proceeded to buy a frame and hang it on her wall. She even moved other things that were on her wall and that were special to her to make space for my one, not terrible but not exceedingly spectacular painting. This makes me think of God because, well, how many gifts has God given to me and how many times have I failed to respond like this?
Out of His great love for us, God gives us so many gifts in this life. Our joyous acceptance of those gifts and our returned love in what we do with them and how we express our gratitude for them stirs up within us a greater love for Him, and allows Him to draw closer to us in union. It is through gift giving that God draws us to Himself. But this closer union with God, the thing we all (whether we realize it or not) want most of all, cannot be gained by His mere giving in love — it can only be gained by His giving in love accompanied by our accepting in love. Our accepting of His giving in love in turn becomes itself a kind of giving back in love. Insofar as God desires union with each and every one of us most of all, we are giving Him what He desires most through our joyous and loving acceptance of what He so greatly gives.
So my soul, when you walk through the park, rejoice in the flowers that your Father has given you. Sing praises about the wonderful family He has given you. Give thanks for the peculiar particularity and care with which He created you. Give thanks for the fact that you like the really small blueberries that have just a bit of red in them and are therefore just a little more sour than the others. Give thanks for your best qualities and characteristics. Do not praise yourself for possessing something that was given to you by someone else. Love even yourself as gift.