An intriguing package under the Christmas tree teased me. Red and green wrapping paper. Obvious oval shape. My name on the gift tag. What was my creative husband up to now?
It was the year we were building a new house, so I began to suspect that the curiously wrapped package was an oval picture frame. I imagined opening the present and finding an oak frame encircling a photo of our family. I envisioned it hanging in the living room of our new home.
As our family sat around the twinkling tree taking turns opening presents, I grabbed the oval package, flashed a knowing smile at my husband, ripped off the Christmas paper and discovered … a toilet seat!
My silence told my disappointment. Certainly a toilet seat was a necessary item for the new house, but I couldn't hang it in my living room, could I? It was made of oak, but wasn't designed to hold a family photo. Although the packaging announced it was a "deluxe model," a toilet seat was not my idea of a deluxe Christmas present.
My husband broke the silence with laughter at my confused face and said, "It's a joke."
I responded with an anemic, "Ha-ha." Then I mumbled, "Thanks," and we moved on to the next present.
Just as I didn't know how to react when I received that Christmas joke present, I often don't know how to respond when life sends me toilet-seat-gifts. When I receive something totally unexpected, something definitely not on my wish list, I want to ask God, "Are you kidding? Is this some kind of joke? Do you expect me to be thankful for this?"
Like everyone else, I've had experiences I wish God had edited out of my life: deaths of loved ones, challenging relationships, children with serious illnesses. One day when one of these toilet-seat-gifts dropped in my lap, I was reading 1 Thessalonians 5. The words there made me cringe, "Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus" (vs. 18).
I wanted to yell, "God, how can you expect me to thank you for this!" But then I noticed that Paul didn't instruct me to give thanks for all circumstances, he said, "Be thankful in all circumstances." Even when I couldn't bring myself to thank God for the hard times, I could be grateful for his love, his comfort, and his peace in those painful situations.
A God Who Understands
Toilet-seat-gifts come into my life more often than Christmas Eve. But now I'm trying to receive them with a different attitude. While my initial feelings still may be anything but gratefulness, I search for things I can thank God for. When experiencing a difficult relationship with someone I can't avoid, I thank God for the good friends I do have. When personal finances seem to be dwindling, I thank my Provider that he has always taken care of me. When an illness knocks me flat for a couple of days, I try to remember to be grateful for my overall good health.