When I was a kid (about 100 years ago), I snooped through Mom’s forbidden closet to get a preview of my unwrapped Christmas presents. All I found was an unimpressive doll, a puzzle of the United States, pajamas, three pair of flower-printed underwear, and slipper socks.
“Surely,” I thought, “this can’t be all!” I continued to assure myself in the subsequent days up to Dec. 25 that there must be some cooler presents somewhere I hadn’t found, and I was in for a lovely surprise.
But on Christmas morning, the closet collection remained the same. My big surprise was that there was no surprise! It didn’t matter that my family’s income was limited that year or that Mom was doing the best she could while Dad was stationed in Japan. The spoiled brat in me was incensed.
I didn’t play much with the doll because I associated her with the ugly red slipper socks, et al., of my most disappointing Christmas. The puzzle lasted about three days until I no longer cared where to put South Dakota.
And those socks really bugged me. However, it turned out to be a very cold January and February, so Mom would lay them in front of the fireplace to warm them up before making me wear them to bed. It didn’t take but one or two of those three-dog nights to convince me those socks were a really good thing. I even secretly hated to take them off in the morning when I had to get ready to catch the school bus.
But, of course, I wouldn’t give my mother the satisfaction of knowing I had come to appreciate them for providing a needed buffer between my feet and the freezing floor of the house.
Slowly, something was dawning on me, something that wouldn’t be abundantly clear until adulthood: There is a vast difference between what we want and what we need. This epiphany also characterizes our relationship with God. He has always known the difference and is more interested in providing our needs than in catering to our wants (think Santa Claus). Usually, we pray a Christmas-like “gift list” of our desires, little realizing those things we want may not be at all what we need.
Some years ago, when my son was enduring a lengthy period of misfortunes, I asked God to do something nice for him. I didn’t get specific because I try to avoid doing His thinking for Him, so I merely prayed that He would give James a “blessing.” I even said, “a blessing, any blessing; Your choice, Lord.” In the back of my mind I couldn’t help hoping for a cure for his diabetes or a really great job (with health insurance). And I’m also thinking, “And, hurry, please!” Instead, God took His time and eventually gave him a blessing I never even considered. Elise re-entered his life, with the same sweet spirit and love she had for him some 25 years ago. Because of my beautiful daughter-in-law, he has the best of all possible blessings, one that surpasses any material possession a man can have. In other words, God gave him what he needed.
And as a bonus, little Catie Bug (Catherine Mary) came along to bless our family in spite of a fertility doctor’s assurance that conception was an impossibility.
Having an “attitude of gratitude” has become a cliché, but it still rings true. Once we stop focusing on what we don’t have, especially those wants, we can be happier about what we do have. We can appreciate the very things we take for granted: a sunny day, a rainy day, a roof over our heads, sufficient food to eat, good friends, loving family, faithful dog, comfortable shoes, good health, etc. You can make your own list.
We can also be grateful for those disasters that DID NOT happen: a broken leg, a flat tire on a dark and lonely road, a hurricane, a computer virus, a sick child, and falling off that rickety ladder. Again, you can make your own list of awful things that didn’t happen because Providence intervened and saved you when you didn’t even know you were in danger.
It’s as the Apostle Paul said, “In all things, give thanks.” Note that he didn’t say, “Give thanks just for the cool stuff.”
Maybe, we should be more grateful when Christmas gives us underwear and socks.
Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.