Not What I Ordered

What does it mean to be grateful for a gift that wasn’t what you asked for?

In my defense, I have been on both ends of the story I’m about to tell.

My beloved, in an act of angelic generosity, went to get me coffee recently. But it wasn’t made the way I would have ordered it.

Now, a decent person, they would have been so grateful for the gift of coffee that they would have wisely not said anything about it not being what they would have ordered. But some of us, those without a filter, may have blurted out “That’s not the way I like it,” before almost-but-not-quite-instantaneously recognizing the words that leapt from their undercaffeinated mouth and trying desperately to reel them in, perhaps even physically pawing at the air to try to catch them before reaching the ears of their beloved gift-bearer.

Anyone who has had a young child in their life knows what it is to get a gift they didn’t really want or need. Such is the nature of virtually every elementary school art project. And we know, in that context, that it is the intent that counts, and the fact that it comes from this little person we love transcends any objective measure of beauty, craftsmanship or utility. What a gorgeous ashtray, honey, we say, and at some level we sort of mean it.

But there are things that matter to us deeply, like coffee, things we want to be just the way we like it, and when we get those things as gifts, we do the evaluation immediately of whether or not this gift is what we ordered. To our detriment, peril and shame, sometimes.

So, let’s be real. Most of our lives are filled up with gifts that aren’t what we ordered. And how we respond – gratitude or “Excuse, me, miss?” – comes to define our character. We are all only truly humble to the degree that we are appropriately grateful. To parents that may not have done everything perfectly, but who did the best they could. To bodies that may not be adonic, but are at least mostly healthy. To circumstances that didn’t break exactly in our favor, but got us to an okay place. To a god who isn’t a wish-fulfilling genie but gives us what we need, even if we aren’t always so sure.

Whenever I would go to a movie with my parents, and later with my friends, one of the first questions afterwards was always “What would you have done differently?”, which helped form my critical mind. I can always tell you what I would have rather had. I would have chosen a God who didn’t get crucified. I would have chosen a Gospel that wasn’t so insistent on taking care of the outcast…except when I’m the outcast. I would have chosen Aladdin’s genie.

And when I order healing, I am pretty specific. When I order peace, I have a particular arrangement in mind. When I order happiness, I want it to look just so.

The stuff I get from life? From God? A lot of the time, maybe most of the time, it’s not really what I ordered. And yet it is still a gift to be grateful for.

When St. Francis of Assisi was drawing up his Rule of Life for his followers, one of the things he insisted on was “I beg the sick brother to thank God for everything and to desire to be whatever the Lord wills, whether sick or well,” (Rule of 1221).

Everything. Sick or well, whichever.

It’s worth pointing out that when he wrote the “Canticle of the Creatures,” the beautiful prayer of gratitude to God for creation, he was sick unto death and absolutely miserable. So he walked the talk on that one.

Me, I still have room to grow. I’m super grateful when my coffee order is right, and I’m working on the rest.

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