When I was in college, I attended this personal development weekend, a self-help retreat of sorts, that expanded my worldview and impacted how I move through the world, interact with the world and the diverse people in it, with diverse lived experiences.
Up to that point I had lived a relatively comfortable and privileged life. I had it all together. At the beginning of the weekend I didn’t feel much different than the other participants, but as the weekend went on I eventually found myself in a room full of wounded people with complicated lives, with traumatic histories, with shameful secrets.
By day two I was looking around that hotel conference room – wondering what I was doing there?
And the truth was that I was there, because my best friend was also going through the program and had invited me to come along.
I ultimately discovered that weekend that I was been surrounded by very normal people. And by normal, I mean broken, wounded and complex. As it turned out, most had been referred to this program by their therapist – of which, I had never had at that point in my life.
What wasn’t normal, was me – and my seemingly all-together, therapy-free life. I was, for the first time perhaps, uncommon.
As I look back on that weekend, ten – elevent years old, I realize that the greatest gift that I was given through that experience was the gift of proximity to my broken beloved new friends, the stories I heard, the hands I held, the tears I cried, the compassion and empathy that was born inside of me…. For alcoholic fathers, depressed grandmothers, anxious husbands, unfaithful wives, abused daughters, recovering brothers, mothers fresh from a suicide attempt – all with different life experiences from me.
Up until that weekend, at age nineteen, I had really only ever interacted – in a deep, vulnerable way – with people whose lives looked a whole lot like mine. I was a quintessential good Christian church girl in the south thriving at my small Christian college in my small Christian college town.
But zoom out a little bit to a worldly reality that was much greater than my own. Outside of the safety of my good Christian bubble – well, that’s where I discovered God in an entirely new way – a God who was much greater than the one I had known – the a God that only existed in my neat, tidy, comfortable, privileged life.
One of the last activities we did as a group that weekend was – a gift exchange of sorts.
This activity required of us to move from person to person, looking each one in the eyes, and saying “The gifts I see in you are…” and then speaking those gifts you see in each person over them, and into them. It was an incredibly intimate, vulnerable and powerful exercise that asked us to not just identify gifts in one another and speak those out loud, but to also receive the gifts that others have identified in us.
That kind of vulnerability was uncomfortable, but in the most life-giving of ways. Of all the activities of that entire weekend retreat, the gift exchange has been the one that has stayed with me in a very real way over the last decade of my life.
My life hasn’t been quiet as neat and tidy in the years since, though I remain quite privileged. Perhaps more privileged. But my compassionate and empathic heart can be traced back to this experience in proximity to the messiest of my beloved neighbors. No suburban church service or sermon preached from a stage hundreds of feet away from where I sit could instill the kind of God-given compassion
I use this prompt “The gifts I see in you are…” as a way to speak life into people I know and love, when I feel like they need to hear them.
And we all need to hear them…
I want to offer this prompt to you to use in a few different ways.
The first one is this: Look in the mirror. At yourself. Make eye contact with you. Look at her with affection, with adoration, with awe. Tell her what gifts you see in you. Voice as many as you can think of in that moment. When you’re finished speaking gifts over yourself, write them down somewhere. Then consider making this a regular practice in your life.
Second, speak gifts into a close friend, a partner, a family member. Maybe it’s over a shared meal together. Maybe it’s before bed or when you wake up in morning. If you’re able to share these gifts in person, remember to make eye contact. If you’re comfortable, hold the hands of the receiver while you are sharing with them their gifts. If you’re unable to share gifts in person, consider writing a handwritten letter and mailing the gifts you want to give by writing them down.
And, finally, use this prompt as a prayer prompt and tell God the gifts you see in them, the gifts you experience from them.
God, The Gifts I See in Your Are: Gentleness and patience, for when I’m not – for when I’m not gentle nor patient – for when I’m raging on the inside – or the outside. I do that. But you don’t. You’re there when I’m ready for you to be there, and you’re there when I’d rather you not be. Your consistency, your steady presence and graciousness in my life is a gift.
Now let’s respond to God’s gifts and move into a time of gratitude – gratitude for these good gifts from God, for God’s goodness and gentleness – using the practice of Lectio Divina.
Lectio Divina is an ancient liturgical practice for praying the scriptures. It is a Latin phrase that means “sacred reading.” It is a way of praying and listening for the still, small voice of God speaking through gentle reading or listening of scripture. Lectio Divina has also been known as “listening with the ear of the heart.”
I’m going to read from Psalm 34, a psalm of gratitude and thanksgiving written by David.
As you settle into a place of loving openness, in a posture or position to listen more deeply, I’ll read the selected scripture three times. After each reading, there will be a moment of communal silence.
In this first reading from Psalm 34, listen for a word or a phrase that draws your attention.
In this second reading, consider how this passage touches your life today.
In this third reading of the scripture, consider if there is an invitation for you in this coming week.
I will praise the Lord at all times;
my mouth will continually praise him.
I will boast in the Lord;
let the oppressed hear and rejoice.
Magnify the Lord with me.
Let us praise his name together.
I sought the Lord’s help and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him and be radiant;
do not let your faces be ashamed.
This oppressed (wo)man cried out and the Lord heard;
he saved (her) from all (her) troubles.
The angel of the Lord camps around
the Lord’s loyal followers and delivers them.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
How blessed is the one who takes shelter in him.
God of grace, God of good and abundant gifts.
My gratitude overflows.
Thank you, for being a shelter – for the wondering, the weary, the wounded and the winsome. For being a sanctuary – for the women. For the whole world.