Sunday, January 3, 2010

No Strings Attached

My parents had bought me the book "The Shack" last year, which I read through fairly quickly. I'm not one to read too many books that are categorized as "religious," but this one was very different. I'm picky about books about religion and faith. Most don't really fit into how I view things, even though I am "religious" and have a faith. That's not to say that they don't have a place in literature, however. I know many people that enjoy that type. I'm just not one of them. I'm probably more apt to read scholarly texts on the subject. But again, I say, "The Shack" was different. It was real. It was authentic. It wasn't trying to fit into a mold of what someone thought a Christian book should be like. It was really an exploration of faith . . . a true exploration.

I loved every part of it, including all three of the representations of God -- the three parts of the trinity. But the one I was most drawn to was Sarayu. The descriptions of her captivated me -- how there was this constant movement about her of colors and light, how there was never really a moment when you could see her clearly. Anyone that knows me wouldn't be surprised by this, because I'm obsessed with colors and colorful things. But what they may not know is that when I was little, when Dad would talk about the trinity in church, I was always most drawn to the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. For me, that's the part of God that is always with us, always helping us, always holding us in our dark times. And to go along with that, my favorite name for God has always been "Emmanuel," which means "God with us."

The sections of the book that revolved around Sarayu were, shall we say, "thick." They weren't easily digestible, which is something else that I love. I enjoy working at understanding something . . . call me a geek! The major section that I recall with the character was about expectancy versus expectation. This was not an easy concept to wrap my sometimes dense head around. After awhile I started to understand what it meant: expectations are requirements that we place upon our lives and others', things that are supposed to happen, and if they do not, we feel upset, cheated, and sometimes even betrayed. Expectancy does not have requirements attached to it. It is dynamic and lives in the moment. It is simply looking forward to being with someone or engaging in an activity. It is an excitement for what may come -- possibilities. As the book states, when you inject expectations into a relationship, "suddenly, law has entered into our relationship. You are now expected to perform in a way that meets my expectations."

My parents and I now and then talk about this, but recently I witnessed it in action. My parents have always been incredibly generous, not only to us, their family, but to anyone that they know, and even those that they don't. They enjoy doing things for others with no expectations of it being returned. And any time that they do something for one of their kids, and we try our best to gratefully refuse, they tell us, "We're just doing what our parents did. They did it for us, and we are doing it for you."

This Christmas they gave Kevin and I an incredible gift. It was a gift of taking care of something that was a necessity . . . one that happened to be rather expensive. They simply said that it has been taken care of, no strings attached. No strings attached . . . how often is that said and not really meant? How often have I put that idea forth, but not quite followed through with it? How many times has someone been disappointed in me for what I did or did not do?

As the book also says, expectations kill a relationship. Expectancy gives it life. How many times have I "killed" one of my relationships by thinking, "Gee, it sure would've been nice if they had shown a little more outward appreciation, " or "It would be nice if they would return the favor one of these days . . . after all I've done for them."

As many times as I've held unrealistic or unfair expectations upon someone else, I have had them held over my head, as we all have. I know how frustrated I feel when that happens . . . how much I feel judged and rejected for who I am. Have you ever felt like there were so many strings attached that you had become a human ball of twine?

We're too hard on each other. We expect too much, resent too often, and forgive too little. A true gift and true love is given freely and abundantly, without ever thinking in the back of your head, "I better get good payback for this!" As my parents so tenderly reminded me, true generosity is a free-flowing current that affects all it comes into contact with, but is not affected by external forces. It gives without the thought of receipt.

No strings attached . . . what a lovely and beautiful thought. I hope someday that I can live up to my parents' example and do for our children what they have done for us. That is precisely what they tell us to do when we say that we can't possibly accept their gifts. They say, "Don't worry about it. Just do it for your kids." I will do my best to fulfill that. Perhaps in the meantime, I'll work on snipping a few other strings around here.