Poor as I am

December 27, 2012

It’s a simple tradition. We do it for the children. But after all the unwrapping of Christmas morning, it is the ritual I am still thinking about.

For weeks we worked slowly to fill a manger. Each time the children performed an act of kindness, made someone’s bed, cleared the table, let a sibling have that coveted spot on the couch for stories, they placed a pinch of hay between wood. The days were filled with plenty of non-hay-earning acts. Ugly words, pushing and punching. But there was effort. And each time I saw goodness, I tried to point it out, reward with a handful of hay.

On Christmas Eve, five-year-old Ali wrapped baby Jesus in a white dish towel and laid him in the manger. There, all our acts of charity and selflessness cushioned him, gave him place among us.

We read from Matthew 25,

Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

After I explained these verses to our children, our oldest said, “I get it… so Jesus isn’t here. But if we do something nice for one of God’s children, it’s like doing it for him!” Precisely.

Then I asked them what they wanted to give Jesus for Christmas. “What can you work on this next year? What do you think Jesus wants most from you?”

Gordon said, “a blanket.” Spencer said, “to be softer.” Sami said, “to be nice to everyone.” Ali said, “to be nice to Eliza.” Eliza said, “to be nice to Ali.” (Can you tell where we have some sibling rivalry?) Daddy said, “more patience.” And Mommy said, “more patience, and no yelling.”

We scribbled our gifts onto paper and placed them around the manger.

Days later, though, I am still thinking about my gift.

Are those the things he really needs from me? What am I holding back? What part of me needs redemption, stretching, cleansing? What is it he would ask me to do if he sat down next to me and looked past my eyes into the hidden parts of my heart?

Is there something more rooted and less visible (even to myself), that I need to put on the table? Something I need to give over, lay down, or pick up? Those aren’t easy questions to ask. But I have been searching it out and wondering.

Christina Rosetti’s words, matched with Harold Darke’s beautiful Christmas melody, have been arcing through my mind. What can I give him? Poor as I am… If I were a wise man, I would do my part… Yet, what can I give him… Give my heart.

We are poor. All of us. Flannery O’Connor wrote,

I believe that the basic experience of everyone is the experience of limitation…or, if you will, of poverty.

Spiritual poverty is something we must experience if we are to understand our need for a Savior. But ironically, it is when we are truly poor, when we realize how flawed and fallen we are, that we recognize how much we have to offer.

I know the dark corners of my heart, those things I need to stop carrying, the pieces of soul I’ve let harden, the time-wasters, the criticisms, the anger that turns me from the light. And I know how hard it is to give them up, hand them over. Because I’ve tried. And it is a process. A slow but possible progression.

Whatever gift we choose to give Jesus will involve sacrifice. Sacrifice of our habits, our time, our possessions, our insecurities, our will.

But Gordon B. Hinckley said,

Sacrifice is the very essence of religion; it is the keystone of happy home life, the basis of true friendship, the foundation of peaceful community living, of sound relations among people and nations… Without sacrifice there is no true worship of God.

We spend so much of life acquiring, only to learn, sometimes painfully, how to let go.

I am wondering, what gifts are you giving Jesus this year? And what are your thoughts on sacrifice with respect to loving God?


  1. Michelle

    December 27, 2012

    This year for Christmas I felt impressed to focus on receiving. For me, I realized that I can’t give him my heart when I don’t *feel* His love and what He’s done for me. I *know* the gospel answers, but I haven’t really known how to open my heart to what that means for this very exercise of giving my self to Him. Not just giving Him the things that bug my about myself, but giving Him my heart to care for and nurture and heal and help and strengthen…because deep down, I think I’ve always been afraid or ashamed about the things on my list, feeling that somehow I had to earn His love by working harder on *fixing myself.* And I’m coming to realize that that only keeps Him at bay in my heart.

    Wendy Ulrich says it well:

    “Like many people who have longed for a close and loving relationship with God and more regular access to spiritual impressions and direction, I used to wonder why God seemed so distant when I wanted so much to be close to Him. In recent years I have increasingly realized that I have been the one who has kept Him far away, not so much by my disobedience as by my restlessness, my distractibility, my impatience, my blindness, and, especially, my fear. Intimacy is hard enough to tolerate in human relationships, where closeness reminds us of just how vulnerable we are, how often we have been disappointed and hurt, how much we have to lose. God, for me at least, has been even harder to let in than people.”

    And so I’ve been trying to let Him in and then let *Him* shine light on my soul. Eth 12:27 is meaning more to me now as I try to let *Him* show me my weakness, rather than try harder to be stronger where *I* see weakness. I am getting a sense that the more I let Him in and let Him take the lead on my improvement process, the more He’ll help me change from the inside out, healing the roots rather than me continuing to hack at my branches.

  2. Michelle

    December 27, 2012

    p.s. That Wendy Ulrich quote comes from her Mormon Scholars Testify profile.

  3. Sarah

    December 27, 2012

    When I let go of my attachments – my desire for control (relationships, events, etc), or my desire for life to turn out a certain way (again with the control issues) – I feel closer to God.

    I need to work harder on turning my whole self over to him, to obey those little promptings even if they seem inconvenient or my mind throws up a long list of reasons why I “can’t”.

    Living further away from my attachments leads me closer to God.

  4. Sharlee

    December 27, 2012

    Beautiful. Thank you, Catherine.

  5. Catherine A.

    December 27, 2012

    Michelle – I love the way you have linked giving to receiving. Because really, they are very much connected to each other. Both you and Wendy express well the challenge it is to let God in, to try not to fix ourselves, but let him work in us and lead the process. What you said reminds me of something I read recently by Jarod Kintz.

    “The only gift I have to give, is the ability to receive. If giving is a gift, and it surely is, then my gift to you is to allow you to give to me.”

    It seems you are saying this to the Lord. And I think it’s a beautiful expression of faith. Thanks for sharing here. And I love your imagery of letting Jesus’ light shine out from you. Blessings Michelle.

    Sarah – I understand what you are saying about attachments and control. Control keeps me from God too. Thanks for your insight.

    Sharlee – Merry Christmas beautiful lady. Love to you.

  6. Adri

    December 27, 2012

    Leaving me much to ponder, Catherine. Thank you!

  7. Michelle

    December 27, 2012

    Cath, thanks for that quote. I need to add it to my list as I’m still pondering all of this.

    P.s. the tradition you are doing with your children is something my mom did with us…something that stuck with me through the years enough that I did it as activities chair, so fwiw, traditions like this can and do make a difference!

  8. Ana of the Nine+ Kids

    December 27, 2012

    I’ve been thinking along these same lines for the last day or two. We watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” on Christmas Eve. I’ve seen it a million times so I didn’t feel bad to cut out during part of it and wrap some presents. I listened while I wrapped though and came back in to watch everyone bring money to help the Baileys. That’s when it struck me that service makes people happy. I finally got it. All my life I’ve heard talks about giving and service and how we need it and how it makes us happier, better people but it’s never sunk in. (I think because I’ve always equated service with all those Saturdays my young EQ president husband left me [on the brink of what felt like a mental break down] with four kids under the age of five to help someone in the ward move. I hated it. I was so stressed and the one day he had home with us, he left.) But now I get it. I can totally imagine the Celestial kingdom full of vibrant, living, moving, happy people actively looking for ways to make life better for those around them, sort of like this show.

    And that brings me to my next point–Why would Christ sit with us and help us see what we need to put on the altar? I think for the exact same reason–our own happiness and because we stagnate if we live for ourselves. Unless we are serving, our lives slowly narrow in on us until we suffocate. We can ALWAYS serve (unless we are asleep and/or in a coma) and it is essential that we do. I think we need to broaden our view of what service is. Sometimes it will be no more than refraining from gossiping and/or praying for someone else. Other times it will be more hands-on and active like helping someone else move. (Or letting someone else help someone else move. :)) Anyway, I really enjoyed this post!

  9. Jennie L

    December 30, 2012

    Wow. Great idea and thoughts!

  10. Sage

    January 3, 2013

    Love this! Submitting to God’s will is a life-long process for me. I’ve gotten better at serving and then see my weaknesses come out, but in a gentle way that doesn’t overwhelm me wth how far I am, how far I have to go. Rather I just see that I have more work to do and know that my Savior will continue helping me. I’m so grateful for the peace it brings.

    Ana, we also watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” Christmas Eve…for the first time with my kids.

  11. Michelle L.

    January 4, 2013

    kindness, kindness, kindness. Thank you for your beautiful words and heart, Catherine. And thank you to all the commenters– you’ve all added so much.

Comments are closed.