It was right there, with fluorescent lights shining and half a dozen tops hanging on the rack, that I froze in a department store dressing room. Over the Christmas music playing through the speakers, I could hear two voices in the room to my left. A niece and an aunt? A daughter and her mother? A teenager and her grandmother? I’ll never know, but I hope I never forget what the older woman firmly — and yet kindly — said.
“Now, remember, this is a gift. All you have to do is receive it.”
Tears prick my eyes even now, writing such a simple sentence. It’s more than the generosity of the words or the thoughtful reminder. It’s the gospel, right there in a dressing room.
Perhaps God said the same to us, to all of humanity, as heaven touched earth and the glory of God was covered with skin, a baby placed in a manger as angels sang in the skies above.
Can you picture the baby in the manger gripping Mary’s fingers, toddling around the house, growing up and playing games with the children next door, learning the family trade under Joseph’s watchful eye?
Can you picture the man who calmed the threatening storm, the One who bent low in the dirt to love the outcast, the friend that little children wanted to spend time with, the man who danced at weddings and wept when His friend passed away?
Can you picture Him there in the Garden of Gethsemane, choosing to stay instead of flee, even though He knew with all certainty what was to come? Can you see Him forgiving the deep betrayal of a dear friend, forgiving the ones who tortured Him, forgiving me and forgiving you?
A gift, a gift, a gift . . .
All of it, every day and every breath, a gift.
We’re in between Christmas and Easter now, and it won’t be long before we turn our attention to the reminder of Lent, the hope of spring, and the joy of celebrating a stone that was rolled away as death died once and for all.
But here, as a new year begins to unfold and every newsfeed fills with words about goals and resolutions and to-do lists, I’m sticking with the truth of a simple sentence that has the gospel written all over it.
Now, remember, this is a gift. All you have to do is receive it.
There is no accomplishment to strive for, no resume to build, no rung to reach for that could bring you even one centimeter closer to Him. Emmanuel is right here, with us forevermore, and nothing you do or don’t do this year could make Him love you even one iota more than He already does.
It’s a startling truth in today’s culture, and yet the most abundant gift: God’s love for you isn’t dependent on you (Ephesians 2:8-9). It isn’t tied to your progress or accomplishments, your bank account or the number of likes on your last Instagram post. You don’t have to be better, clean yourself up, check all the boxes, or have the right answers.
The things you do matter. Your words matter, your work matters, the way you treat those around you (and those on the other side of the screen, too) matters. But if it all disappears in an instant, if you make a mistake today or really mess up tomorrow, God’s love for you will not change, and His grace isn’t going anywhere.
You would not be a disappointment. You would not be called Less Than or labeled Not Good Enough. You would be named Beloved, Chosen, Wanted, Daughter.
There’s nothing wrong with setting a goal or making a resolution for the new year! Just don’t forget that the greatest of all gifts is already marked “paid in full.”
The One who made you and named you declared you to be worth it all before you had done anything at all.
The gift is yours for the accepting. It already has your name on it.
As a wise woman once said in a brightly lit dressing room, all of you have to do is receive it.