My 5-year-old daughter sits in the middle of our living room floor opening birthday presents. The handful of adults seated on the couch and chairs around her are the colleagues at our international Christian school who have become the kind of close our kids call aunt and uncle, grandma and grandpa.
As she rips the wrapping paper off a present, a squeal of delight bursts from Caitlin. Her head swivels to the giver. “Thank you, Grandma Joan!” Jumping to her feet, she dashes to where the home ec teacher sits and throws her arms around her. Then she dashes back to the gift, plops down on the floor beside it, and becomes fully absorbed. But every so often she glances back up at Grandma Joan, eyes shining.
Those glances say more eloquently than words, “Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is the most wonderful gift ever! Look what it does! You are the most wonderful giver ever!”
The delight reverberating around the room—delight between giver and receiver, delight causing, signifying, and caused by the gift—is almost tangible: Grandma Joan’s delight in Caitlin, that led her to know this would be just the gift for her; Caitlin’s delight in the gift that she knows signifies the love of beloved Grandma Joan, which intensifies her delight in the giver. And this delight of the receiver in the giver in turn intensifies the delight of the giver. Unlike normal reverberations, these grow with each echo rather than diminish.
This image has remained in my mind for the intervening 17 years as a picture of the ideal connection between humanity, God, and the world God has given us. As a Christian school teacher, I see my task as sharing with students in a way that it becomes their own, my delight in God and in discovering, exploring, using, and developing the gift of His creation: two delights that are not just parallel and untouching, or to be integrated at opportune moments, but each informing and intensifying the other.
Stop and imagine for a moment a few alternate birthday party scenarios:
- Caitlin opens the gift, neglects to acknowledge the giver, and then ignores, misuses, or abuses it. Of course this behavior damages the relationship that prompted the gift.
- Caitlin opens the gift, squeals and hugs her thanks, and then proceeds to ignore, misuse, or abuse the gift. This would probably cause some ambivalence in the relationship.
- Caitlin opens the gift and immediately becomes absorbed in it, clearly delighting in the gift and forgetting the giver. Whether or not there was an initial squeal and hug, Grandma Joan is happy that her gift hit the mark, and her purpose wasn’t to obligate gratitude, but there’s a hint of wistfulness as she watches Caitlin play because without the dimension of relationship, the gift has become a shadow of what it was meant to be.
- Caitlin opens the gift, squeals her thanks, throws her arms around Grandma Joan, and then remains sitting next to her, gazing adoringly into her face, forgetting the gift on the floor. Grandma Joan is warmed by the little girl’s love, but she begins to be puzzled. Was the care she put into the selection of the gift that misdirected? She did buy it to signify her love, but she also bought it with anticipation of the joy Caitlin would find in playing with it, and the joy that would give back to her.
So as I delight in God’s gift of language and literature—discovering, exploring, using, and developing the myriad possibilities and potentials—and teach students the knowledge, skills, and understandings so they can, too, I have a mental picture of myself as that little girl opening a birthday present on the living room floor long ago. I glance up frequently from the words on the page before me to the face of the Giver, who is watching, delighting in the gift and in the receiver and in the way the receiver is delighting in the gift.
As my eyes meet His, the gleam in them says just what the gleam in that little girl’s eyes said. “Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is the most wonderful gift ever! Look at the beauty of this phrase! The originality of this image! The compelling expression of this thought! The way this poem evokes memory! You are the most wonderful Giver ever!”
And the gleam in His eyes says, “You’re welcome. I’m so glad you like it.”
And we both know that as important as the gift is, even better is the love and delight that is reverberating through the room.