The first will be last and the last will be first.

When I was a little girl, about 5 or 6 years old – I remember being in a group of children at a time where we were doing a gift exchange. Each kid brought a “present” for someone in the group – wrapped, and not addressed to anyone in particular. The teacher assigned us all a turn, and when it was our turn, we reached in and picked out a gift to open.

It was quite the pile of gifts, all shapes and sizes – but one gift stood out in particular. It was the biggest one.  A giant box that dwarfed most of the others and was wrapped in shiny polka dotted paper.  “There MUST be something good in there!”, we all thought, of course.  It gave the kind of appearance that would probably contain something expensive, valuable, or some hot toy that was super sought after by all of the 5 year olds at the time!

One of my friends was called first to choose her gift – and immediately her eyes rose to the fancy package and she stood up hurriedly to scoot over and swoop up the coveted box as fast as she could!  I remember feeling a little bit disappointed, thinking “Awe.  Denae got the good one…”.  I sat and watched as one by one, each of my peers had their turn and stood up to pick up their gift and take it back to their seat.

I couldn’t believe I had to wait all the way until the end, being the last one chosen.  When it was my turn, there was one package left.  The one no one wanted – a tiny, oddly shaped object wrapped and taped as only an oddly-shaped package can be – without much visual appeal!  I picked it up and held it in my hand, kind of wishing the game could be over so that I could go home and eat lunch.

Finally, the teacher gave us all the go-ahead to open our gifts all at the same time.  As wrapping paper tore and tape was pulled – I watched Denae open her gift.  She grinned as she tore the paper from the large box, wondering what she would be claiming as her prize.  As the paper fell, suddenly the look of excited anticipation morphed into a slow look of disappointment…  She sat there and blinked at the box.  It was a giant cardboard puzzle of the United States.

Now, while that may be exciting to some history and geography teachers looking for fun, educational toys for their classrooms – a five-year-old who regularly has access to the toy ads in Target, Walmart, and Toys-R-Us in the Sunday newspaper once a week would not be so impressed.  I remember feeling surprise when I saw the result of what should have been the prize of all prizes in that room, and thinking something along the lines of “Wow, that is really interesting how the biggest gift turned out to be so boring!”

I focused my attention on opening my own gift, wondering what terribly boring surprise could possibly lie inside this tiny item wrapped in scrunched paper and tape.  I pulled the tape off and unrolled the paper to reveal a clear, heart shaped plexiglass jewelry box.  It was faux faceted and sparkled in the light.  On the bottom was inscribed, “pure Austrian crystal”.  I opened the box on it’s hinge and inside on a bed of black velvet sat two sterling silver silhouette heart shaped forged earrings, each with a small sparkling diamond-looking round Austrian crystal in it’s center.  I held it – stunned, as I had never received anything so pretty, let alone so seemingly valuable!

The classroom peered over my hands to see and ooh’d and ahh’d at the jewelry.  I sat quietly, looking at the gift, and even though I was only 5 years old – fully felt as though I were learning a powerful lesson.  I realized for the first time, right then and there – that there are times when our greed or our desire to be or have the biggest and the best quickly – can have a very different result than the times when we have to sit back and accept the smaller, more humble package that you would imagine would contain not much at all.  That sometimes the most valuable of all things come in packages we would not expect.  That the biggest and the best – though wrapped well and appearing to be of sizable value…is not always what it appears to be.

 And that sometimes, there is something greater than us that may choose for us – times where if we were the ones doing the choosing, our judgement would lead us to disappointment – and so we are called to wait, and then led to another thing that is instead given to us at the right time without our participation – by an intelligence that knows what is right for us perhaps better than we do.

This is again an interesting analogy when it comes to life.  We strive so hard and work so hard to get what we need and create the best life that we can.  There is competition, greed and ego to wade through in order to claim one’s “prize”.  Prosperity is a gift, in my opinion, and hard work is one of the best ways to get there.   But let us also remember that image is not everything… that patience, humility and knowing that we do not have all of the answers is a great place to start to allow some of these true gifts to come to us.

And in the end, it may be the most downtrodden – the most humble, the most kind, the most patient, and the most loving whose outer packaging and worldly successes may look nondescript… but because they treated one another with love and kindness and gave up selfishness – who end up first ahead of those who place all of their value in size, appearance and status.

I think it can be human nature to want to reach for the biggest, flashiest package…but I also think it is important stop and to ask ourselves “why”, and if we have the chance – consider what would happen if we just stopped, to wait.

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2 thoughts on “The first will be last and the last will be first.

  1. Johanna, I did not know about your website. This story was beautifully written and received. Thank you for sharing.

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