Taylor Swift and the Gift Not Given

It’s been awhile since we’ve spoken, reader. You may not know me well, but it’s not difficult to gather that I do not go gently into a whole week or longer without speaking. I’ve accumulated so many stories to tell you, but I’ll tell you these two for now:

First, a dear friend of mine celebrated her 23rd birthday on Wednesday. I made her a batch of birthday cookies, because I am Italian, and we demonstrate our love for others by inching them ever-closer to Type II diabetes. They weren’t my most spectacular batch of cookies, but they were certainly preferable to a certificate saying “I Could’ve Punched You In The Face, but I Chose Not To.  Happy Birthday!”

Second, it’s fall in Gainesville, by which I mean it is no longer consistently 90 degrees outside. This is the Floridian standard, and I cannot change it and will not apologize for it. As has been my fall tradition since I was 13, I’ve been listening to Taylor Swift’s album Red with few intermissions. I’m now the same age as Taylor was when she wrote this album, which has made me ponder the ways in which my 21-year-old experience is similar and dissimilar to hers. Good Swifities know that Taylor wrote the bulk of Red about Jake Gyllenhaal, who was her first real love affair before he unceremoniously dumped her on her birthday—hence the raw pain she went on to express in Grammy-nominated song. After pondering, I can say that my lack of critically acclaimed records and tumultuous public relationships makes my life more dissimilar than similar to Ms. Swift’s.

These stories may make you think I’m slightly off my rocker, and you would be correct, albeit too hasty in drawing that conclusion from the above. For there is a common thread among them, if your eye is keen to see it. The thread is in what is withheld.

What is withheld is most obvious in my story about the cookies and the hypothetical no-punching gift certificate. The certificate would have been a gift of omission, in which the only thing to be thankful for is what was NOT given (the punch). And a gift of omission is shoddy in comparison to a gift of addition. Right?

Gifts of omission may be shoddy in human terms, seeing as they don’t require much effort or thought. It was not challenging for me to not punch my friend in the face for her birthday, so that gift would have been cheap and uninspired. 

But God Almighty is not bound by human terms, nor is He ever lazy, thoughtless, cheap, or uninspired. I’d argue that some of His very best gifts are gifts of omission.

For the past eight years, my autumn Red habit has exacerbated that tender, passionate part of me that longs to love and to be loved in return.  Sometimes I’ve sat with folded hands, sometimes I’ve chased down my “godly husband,” whose existence has been patronizingly assured to me by every Sunday school teacher I’ve ever had. He didn’t manifest in the form of high school sweetheart, nor in a college romance, and even now I feel the sting of tightly-held dreams that don’t come to fruition. But as I compare the life of 21-year-old Taylor to mine, I find I have no occasion to write lyrics such as:

“Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it

I’d like to be my old self again

But I’m still trying to find it

After plaid shirt days and nights when you made me your own

Now you mail back my things and I walk home alone”

That small part of me that craves intimacy with another person is satisfied by the knowledge that there is One, not a person, who loves me well enough to withhold those feelings of brokenness and dissociation from me. What a gift it is that abiding in Him means an omission of that which is not for me. And while it took no effort for me not to hit my friend, I know it is an active and effortful blessing that He keeps His children from sin and suffering.

And I don’t mean this sentiment to be that kind of offhand remark: “You think things are bad?!  You could have cancer/be starving/lose a child…” Those are rarely helpful and leave out the sovereignty and planfulness of God. Rather, I mean it as a reminder to myself and to you: God is not a God of needless deprivation. He gives us not only the gift of omission of hurt, but also the gift of addition of His presence—which is sufficient to answer our every disappointment and fulfill our every longing.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Reality Changing Observations:

1. In what area are you feeling disappointment?

2. What might God be keeping from you?

3. Do you have faith that God is enough to fulfill your desires?

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