The other day, I pulled out the huge plastic tub of stuffed animals, teddy bears, dolls, and doll clothes my Grandmother made for me growing up.
Now, she is gone. She received her complete healing from Alzheimer’s in April 2008 and is in the presence of Jesus.
She was incredible. A gourmet cook. A gardener. A nurse. A seamstress. She could make anything. And I have a tub of beautiful, handmade toys to prove it.
I cried looking at them. Because I am an intensely amateur sewer, I know – you spend the hours sewing thinking of the recipient. She thought of me every hour she made those. Every cut, every stitch. I thought about her beautiful hands, and how her lips were constantly moving while she worked. Talking to herself. Talking to God.
I have had a lot of toys given to me in my life, but at 36 years-old, none of them are still with me. Except Grandma’s toys. I kept every one.
Today, I could buy teddy bears and dolls to replace them that are softer, bigger, nicer – whatever. But none will compare to the Sandy dog with missing eyes and worn out nose.
Why? Because of the relationship.
My grandma made me feel like if she had all the granddaughters to pick from in all the world – she’d pick me every time. (Well, me and my sisters and cousin) She loved me. Teased me. Enjoyed who I was for all my flaws and weirdness. We never lived close to them. So, we only got to see them occasionally growing up, but during the time between our visits – we were never forgotten.
She would spend some of the precious and expensive long-distance phone calls (remember actually having to pay? I’m old.) talking to me. About stupid stuff I wanted to talk about. Barbies. TV. Kids at school. Whatever. Nothing life-changing. In fact, I pretty much did all the talking. So you know it wasn’t earth-shattering stuff.
She invested in our relationship, and the homemade toys were a part of that.
But those toys would be at Goodwill decades ago if it weren’t for the relationship we shared.
You see, I think we spend an exorbitant amount of time praying and seeking God for toys: Stuff to make our life better – more comfortable – more enjoyable. I know I have spent long hours praying for changes in my circumstances, or health or family or career.
As a Jesus follower, I am well-versed in saying, “My Father owns the cattle on a thousand hills and he wants to share them with his kids. They are my inheritance.”
But I miss out on just seeking the relationship.
That is where the real treasure is.
Our relationship with God is not a business transaction. I give him my loyalty and serve him, and at the end of the week, I get a paycheck in the mail.
Don’t get me wrong. God has given me so so so much. I have a house full of things and people God has given me.
None of that would mean anything to me – if it weren’t for the relationship He pours into.
We can ask God for the sun and the stars and the moon, but if we never ask and invest in the relationship – those will soon be meaningless. In 1996, customers paid up to $2,000 for the hot Christmas toy of the year: a Tickle-Me Elmo. It’s true. How many 18 year-olds hold tightly to that doll now?
Nope. You can find it online now for less than twenty bucks.
And as I approach the Christmas season, and my husband and I prayfully consider what to put under the tree this year – I hope I am spending more time and effort investing in the relationship with my kids. Talking about stupid stuff they want to talk about. Making play-dough dresses for Rapunzel or running around the house shooting toy guns.
How many of you know that with our busy lives relationship is hard? It takes time and effort. You know what I’m talking about. You get that graduation announcement, wedding invitation, baby shower invitation in the mail and think, “Ugh. Can I just send a check? A gift card? I have so much going on right now.”
Gifts are easy. Sending a card or a gift card does not take a lot of time. You can even send it through email with takes approximately 1 minute at 23 seconds.
Relationships are hard. They require time. Thought. Purposefulness. Vulnerability.
But without them – our gifts are going to be forgotten. Meaningless.
Admittedly, this is really hard for me. Because I am a type-A, task-oriented person. I typically judge a successful day by the amount of things I crossed of my “To do” list. And the time I spent coloring, or racing cars down the hallway just can’t be categorized and marked off. I struggle with turning my “git ‘er done” attitude off to do inconsequential activities with my kids. I try not to constantly think about all of the things I should be doing instead. But I am reminding myself I am making an investment in the relationship. Just for the sake of the relationship. Not because I expect some kind of pay-off.
More importantly, I hope I am investing in my relationship with God.
You see – that was the whole point of Christmas.
Think about it this way – God could have drop-shipped salvation from Heaven. Couldn’t he? He could have sent Jesus and in one day crucified him, and had him raised to life on the third day. Right? Why go through all of the trouble of planning to send Jesus as a baby and have him grow up here?
Because He’s not interested in checking all the boxes. He wants – He’s always wanted the relationship.
Which makes the gift of Jesus so much better, doesn’t it?
If God was some kind of Greek Mythological god who says, “This is the way you serve me, and then this is what I’ll do for you.” Our religion would be methodical and dry at best.
But He comes to us. Dwells with us. Not to get stuff and not to give stuff – but to share our lives. Share Himself with us.
So He came. And He stayed.
And today, I have a life full of stuff and people I don’t deserve, but none of that would mean anything to me – if it weren’t for the relationship.
Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 13:2 “If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.”
Imagine that? Can you imagine understanding ALL of God’s secret plans? You would be the most famous person on the planet. If you possessed all knowledge? Harvard would come to YOU every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Heck, maybe even Congress would be asking (and listening) to your advice.
But without love – without relationship – you would be – what? Moderately famous? A best-selling author at least? Nope. Nothing.
Relationship is everything.
Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” The kingdom of God isn’t a place. It’s a person. It’s a relationship.
Jesus said earlier in Matthew 4:17, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” It has come near. Other translations say, “It is at hand.”
Jesus is here. He is near. When we seek him a relationship with him first – everything else comes after that.
Why? Because gifts don’t change you.
Relationships change you.
It’s about the relationship, stupid.
And Jesus proved it – because that’s how He lived. He sought US first. He pursues a relationship with us first.
Where in the Bible does it say, “Do X Y Z and THEN you can hang out with me.”? Nowhere.
All of the things I do (if I can even claim to “do” anything for God.) are a response to the relationship He pursues with me. It’s a natural response.
So I stand in the road with Jesus, holding the precious gifts He’s given me throughout my relationship with Him. And I love them. I am grateful for them.
But none compare to the relationship. That was the real gift at Christmas.