Today’s Night Prayer begins with a bedtime story – with a happy ending. Regular readers may remember this from previous years: the story of the best Christmas gift I ever gave – which became the best Christmas gift I ever received. And it’s a story I love telling! This evening’s Night Prayer follows the story…
The Best Christmas
Michael would stop by about once a month just to talk, delighting me with his keen and critical eye
on matters religious and political, all filtered through his Irish-born sense of humor.
Our conversations were equal parts political debate, spiritual direction, and
By nature he was, and by nurture he became, a self-sufficient man: longing, aching to know that he was loved by God – with whom he had a
life-long sparring match. Unfortunately, his early church experience had offered
little to convince him of God’s favor – and much to make him deeply doubt it.
Over a few years’ time Michael shared with me his personal oral history, recorded not on tape but in
my heart. Especially sharp with detail were stories of his
youth, his love affair with horses and the adventures of making his way in and
around the world. I don’t know which I enjoyed more: his stories or the look in
his eyes as he told them. His words told the tale while his eyes beckoned me
into his soul, indeed a sacred place to visit.
One late October morning, complaining about the commercialism of Christmas
items for sale alongside bags of Halloween candy, he segued to a remembrance of
an early Christmas when his heart had been set on only one gift: a copy of Boy’s
Cinema Annual. He’d made sure his parents knew what he was hoping for but among his presents under the tree on Christmas morning he didn’t find the one gift he so dearly
wanted. He was old enough to know the real identity of Santa Claus and he knew what he has asked for was something his parents could have easily afforded. Sadly, this wasn’t the first time a cherished hope of his had gone
It’s painfully early in life that a child can learn to expect to be
disappointed. Some of our earliest disappointments, as simple as they are, shape our
souls and how we see things – even how we see God. My friend’s story touched
my own soul-shaping memories right in that place where the heart’s hopes and hurts are
collected and carefully guarded.
Perhaps you know such a place in your own heart…
Well, it took me only a few hours online to locate (at a used-book
shop in Australia) an issue of Boy’s Cinema Annual published in the era of my friend’s
youth. I ordered it and was pleased with the condition in which it arrived. I
remember wrapping it in red tissue paper and attaching a store-bought bow to
top it off.
Michael stopped by in early December and we talked for about an hour. When he was
ready to take his leave I produced the gift from my desk drawer. He was
embarrassed not to have a present for me and I assured him that his wit and
wisdom were more than generous gifts all year ’round. He opened the
package very carefully, even tenderlly, and for several long minutes simply looked at the magazine until his
tears began to fall upon it. Then he looked up and, as so many times before,
his gaze invited me into his soul. He asked me if I knew how much this meant to
him. Through my tears I told him yes, I thought I did.
I believe a wounded corner of Michael’s soul was healed in opening that present and I know a broken place in my heart was restored in giving it. If only for a
moment we both knew for sure that love finds a home between our hopes and hurts
– in that very place where God longs and aches to be with us, to heal us and to love us..
An old, used issue of Boy’s Cinema Annual turned out to be the best Christmas I ever gave -and the best Christmas gift I ever received.
Let us pray…
teach me to recognize
the true gifts,
the real gifts, the
that are mine to share
Preserve my heart, my soul and my imagination
from wanting what I
from desiring what I
ought not have,
from seeking what’s
passing and unimportant…
Teach me, Lord,
to long for and to share
those inner gifts of
love and patience,
kindness and generosity,
selflessness and mercy:
gifts that are always
mine to give
and always needed in others’ hearts,
near and far…
Teach me to receive as well as to give, Lord:
May the gifts I offer others, Lord,
And always, Lord, keep my heart open
gifts you offer, the gifts I truly need,
the gifts that bring
and give me joy…
The Gift of Love arranged by Hal Hopson
Though I may speak with bravest fire,
And have the gift to all inspire,
And have not love, my words are vain,
As sounding brass, and hopeless gain.
Though I may give all I possess,
And striving so my love profess,
But not be given by love within,
The profit soon turns strangely thin.
Come, Spirit, come, our hearts control,
Our spirits long to be made whole.
Let inward love guide every deed;
By this we worship, and are freed.