|(Photo: Edmund Lo, Jesuit Belieber)|
For those of you who are familiar with the tradition of Camp Ekon, the purpose for its existence is not for the general merriment of young campers during the summer, but rather the development of leadership skills in our camp counsellors and staff. This is to say that the care for campers should be seen as a critical part of such a development. Therefore, the rapport that one establishes with campers goes a long way.
We recently finished our two-week Girls Session at Ekon, which means that all of our campers were female. In other words, activities and themes tended to be more girl-friendly. We invested in a button-making machine in our arts-and-crafts division, which turned out to be a huge success. The girls loved it, and made many buttons for themselves and their loved ones. I remembered chatting with one of the campers last week about her buttons; she was known to be quite the fan of the teen sensation that is Justin Bieber, and she wanted to give me one of her (many) Bieber buttons. I thought to myself: “How about, baby, baby, baby no!” Me, a Jesuit who teaches in a university, wearing a Bieber button? The level of embarrassment would be off the charts.
Thankfully, I quickly remembered what St. Ignatius said about entering through others' doors, so that they come out of our own. I hence swallowed my pride and accepted her gift. I promised her that I would wear it at the camp, and I did. Both the campers, counsellors and staff took great delight in it. At the end of Girls Session, I told this particular camper that I brought along the Bieber button in my luggage, but confessed that I was not, am not, and will not be a Belieber. Her response to this was refreshingly mature: the button does not have to remind me of Bieber; it just has to remind me of her.
I thought that this camper has nailed down the most important attitude in giving and receiving gifts in her young age: it is more about the giver than the gift. This goes far beyond the cliche that “it is the thought that matters”; it is not the thought, but rather the person behind the thought that we are to cherish. How often do we quantify each other by valuing the gift over the giver? As Pope Francis reminded us at World Youth Day in Brazil, human relations should not be based on efficiency and pragmatism. We are not defined by our “usefulness”, but rather our ability to love. The gift merely reminds us of the giver.
Our relationship with God is no different. While it is very important that we count the blessings and gifts that the Lord has given us, they simply remind us of the Lord, who is the Source of all beauty, truth and goodness. When we only care about what are given to us and not the giver, then something is wrong. This can be illustrated by complaints such as “Lord, I want it I want it I want it. If you love me, gimme gimme gimme” or “Lord, why don't you give me this”.
While this can be categorized as a childish behaviour, I would say that we need to mature from being childish to childlike. Those who are childlike understand that the pearl of great price is not the gifts themselves, but rather the giver. The giver is the gift. The most concrete example is our Lord. While we focus on what the Lord gives us, it is ultimately the Lord himself that our hearts desire. It is this encounter with the Lord that transforms our lives and fulfils our being. Let this be a point of reflection for us all: how is my attitude towards gifts and giver? How about gifts and the Giver?