By: Tom White
2nd in a four-part series on Mental Health for Mental Health Awareness Month
The excitement of opening gifts begins at a very early age. Even before we actually do it for ourselves, we are witness to it: baptism, our first birthdays, our first tooth perhaps, and family events, like Christmas. These events usually formed the basic DNA of the joy of opening gifts. We could not wait to open them ourselves.
Was it that primitive desire for mystery and excitement that caused the writers of scripture to speak of the Magi? Perhaps they had reflected on their own sense of inner peace when they imagined what bringing gifts to Jesus of Nazareth would mean. The writers even decided on themes for the gifts not unlike our celebrations. Gold, frankincense and myrrh spoke of the path of life; the gifts were almost like milestones, markers of a journey, if you will. But the gifts themselves were not enough. They were brought by kings and they came from afar, as the story goes.
The scripture setting we read certainly paints an amazingly serene and perfect picture of mother, father and a beautiful baby boy. Angels sing, animal’s breath warming the night air and humble shepherds gather for this absolutely perfect moment. Then gifts from kings! Oh, how we feel deep inside our very being that, if only this had been our beginning, we would enjoy the greatest of gifts: unbounded peace and joy. A perfect night is all we ask for ourselves. Peace, joy and freedom from any worries or cares. It was all so, so perfect! Or was it?
When this story is told, we choose to look past the anxiety of finding a place to rest that ends up being a damp cave and we assume the straw was clean of dust and other elements of nature. We don’t account for the leavings of the odd animals that also took refuge in that cave and we may even ignore the pain and “mess” of birth as we look to the smelly shepherds to provide a bit of dignity to the wonder that is new life. It is possible that we demand to look past the curious sooth-sayers as we make them kings and make sure the gifts they bring are not harbingers of a life’s journey (that includes death) by depicting them wrapped and/or in pretty containers. Gifts, we insist, are always about happy, cheerful and carefree living. If it’s a gift then it must be perfect! Or is it?
Jesus’ birth was like all before and since- painful yet welcomed; uncertain in its fullness yet fulfilling in its very happening; tears of joy and fear; awe filled at its beginning yet awful in its prospect.
Birth is worthy of gifts or at least one special gift: His life, the fourth, unnamed gift of the Magi. This is the gift we share.
We are not born into a perfect world. We are not born without pain. We are not born into any special class, but we ARE the perfect gift to those we love and who love us. We are worthy of God’s love from the beginning and unconditionally. We are born to love ourselves as God has created us. We are born as a reflection of God’s love for all that was created. We are gifts to be shared. The story of the Magi is given to us so that we can see our own worth as the fourth gift, God with us. By understanding this precious gift, healing can begin as self-worth is appreciated. Our mental well-being can be fostered when we humbly accept this perfect gift.
Many of us have been told for too long that we must “measure up” if we are to be worth anything. We are encouraged to “reach for the stars” as the only worthwhile goal in life. We are given many different yardsticks over our lifetime as decoders of success, as the real “The Golden Rule.” The health of our minds and hearts begins with what WE judge to be important. It is really our decision after all, isn’t it?