Sometimes life grants you beautiful seasons of consistency and stability, like the changing of the ocean’s tide. It will rise with as much certainty as it will subside, then repeat with the occasional tropical storm or unavoidable hurricane. There are also those seasons when life is as consistent as a twenty-five cent gumball dispenser. You’ll never get the color you want until you’ve spent every last quarter, if you get that orange gumball at all. Still we are held captive by the things we want, regardless of whether or not they are truly better than what we expect.
Though a little juvenile, I think the idea of a lost child full of love and good intentions, breaking his bank to get the gumball he wants very accurately depicts my current season of life. I started gathering my thoughts about subjects like community and justice months ago, what feels like months ago. Yet I haven’t made the progress I wanted, I have been trying to force myself to believe things are supposed to be something they aren’t. I’ve been trying to convince myself that community is to be understood out of my misunderstanding, or that justice should be an extension of my incredibly finite and imperfect judgment and my even more finite and less than perfect understanding of love, and Jesus. I put boundaries, expectations, and limitations on nearly everything I have been trying to deeply understand. I want to better understand subjects like rest, community, generosity, love, justice, God, and more… But I don’t want to let go of what I expect to learn, or leave my anticipation at home when I walk out the door. I’m asking God for gumballs, and when he gives me gumballs I want it in another color. I prefer it too be more round, to roll across the table better, to keep it’s flavor for 48 hours, or to even take on unrealistic qualities like a gumball that not only offers me something sweet and satisfying to chew on but will also act like a Tylenol and take away the headache I’ve given myself.
Sorry for the sub-perfect analogy, but I guess it’s the best I can come up with. And it is honestly how I feel. I feel like a twelve year old who has put in his last quarter and got just another red gumball, not that orange one I was working so hard for. Like most twelve-year-olds, I’ll be bummed that my quarters are gone, but I still get to look down and count my gumballs and enjoy them one at time. Maybe I’ll enjoy them all at once. It isn’t that there are anything wrong with the red, blue, yellow, green or purple gumballs, I’ve just somehow told myself orange was the one I wanted, and therefore it must be best. Well, it’s not. It’s just orange.
I would like to think I am a very observant person, unless I am looking for something. A lot of people act this way, and it makes sense. When something isn’t where we believe it should be, or where it usually can be found, it becomes more difficult to look elsewhere. When I am looking for my keys, I go to where I usually leave them. If they aren’t there just shoot me, I don’t know where to start. I may lead myself to believe I am actually looking in other places but it isn’t long until I come back to the hook in my room just to make sure the keys didn’t return themselves to where they should be, like most inanimate objects with a sense of humor love to do. Either that or show up on your face, or in your hand.
The same has been true for me as I attempt to tackle difficult questions in my own life. If I’m not looking for something in particular, I am open to learning and I feel as though I learn so much. Yet if I focus my learning, I miss the world around me. I miss the fact that life is giving me answers to questions I wasn’t asking, or even the answers to the questions I am looking for are right there, they just weren’t what I expected them to be. Sometimes we have to run out of quarters before we can realize just how many gumballs we’ve gathered in the process.
It really is hard to lay down our expectations or our presuppositions, let alone our pride, biases, or everything we ever thought we knew to be true. If we knew how life was supposed to be lived out there wouldn’t be problems, inconveniences, or hang-ups. The world would be fine without us. In fact, we’d have nothing to fix, nothing to struggle against, no need for a conscience or for spiritual and moral convictions. Love wouldn’t exist because there would be no hate between people, life would be a single dimension and I assume it would nothing desirable. Life is messy, so is community, love and justice, mainly because they involve messy people. The tough questions will always bet there to wrestle with, that is why it’s important we take truth as truth and we don’t place our experiences into the tiny little boxes we’ve created for subjects like faith, God, justice, community, and love. If we do, we’ll never actually get closer to a world full of people who actually love each other in their actions instead of “loving” through our empty words.
Gumballs are those things in your life you’ve been throwing quarters at and miss because you’re focused on something else. Gumballs are as good as gold when we finally recognize them, but there as heavy as a bag of rocks when we see them as inconvenient or add them to the clutter in our life. Some people say, “Count your blessings,” and I wonder if they are really trying to say, “Count your gumballs.” Take notice of the things your time and efforts have produced in your life. Don’t forget to pay attention to everything, not just things you are looking for. Take notice of what life is trying to teach, or listen when you ask God to show up, then enjoy what you’re given and don’t focus so intently on what you don’t have. Give out of what you have, not out of what you hope to have someday.
Good things can go unnoticed every day, some times for one’s whole life. Don’t let the good things in your life go unnoticed any longer, especially because you are focused on things you do not have. Count your gumballs. Enjoy them. You won’t be sorry.