The Christmas season comes again and most of us are preparing gifts for loved ones. Some of us are even expecting our most-awaited gift on Christmas day. There are others who eagerly wait for the latest windfall or bonus from their employers. The holiday spirit springs to life again.

Not all of us are so lucky. The Sonoran Desert in North America is considered to be the hottest desert in Mexico. This desert only receives 3 to 15 inches (75 to 380 mm) of rain per year. You may think that it is a barren wasteland, but this desert is home for a hardy people: the Tohono O’odham.

The people who live in the present

The Tohono O’odham are a tribe of Native American people. Their livelihood consists mostly of hunting and farming. Given that they are living in a desert, this means their life is not at all easy.

Rainfall in the Sonoran Desert is unpredictable and varies greatly. It does not follow a seasonal pattern like in other places. Sometimes the rain only comes as a small shower, some other times the rains come through large storms. This makes farming complicated since plants need a regular supply of water.

Because of the unpredictable nature of their environment, the Tohono O’odham developed a peculiar language: it has no tense system. What this means is that their language does not indicate events in the past or in the future. Instead, they describe events as either close or far away. Not in distance, but how it relates to the speaker in terms of time.

This is indeed very weird for those like us who have a Western concept of time. From the tribe’s perspective, they saw time as less important than the great distances that they have journeyed.

In a way, this is not surprising. Their environment is harsh with unpredictable rains. They cannot say with any degree of certainty when the next rain will come and when they will be able to harvest. For them, harvest day comes when their crops are ready to be harvested. They do not think of the next month, the next quarter, or the next year.

Nor do they think much about the past. Even if it rained the previous year on a particular month or season, it does not mean that the same thing will happen this year. While this makes it difficult to plan ahead, this results in having more appreciation of what they have today.

Rain is more than just water

They avoid saying or assuming that anything can happen for certain. Instead, they say it in terms of probabilities or chances of events, and they ensure they do not make definite statements about the future.

As the rains are unpredictable, they don’t assume that it will come. Nature in itself is full of surprises. When the rains do come though, they treat it as a gift, a windfall.

The Bible teaches us this same principle:

Boasting About Tomorrow

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”

Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

James 4:13-15 English Standard Version (ESV)

These verses say that in the grand scheme of things, our lives are nothing but vapor. Thus it would be wise not to be conceited and assume things will happen even though we do not have complete control of the future. Instead, we should live life one day at a time.

The Tohono O’odham live on this principle not because of religious belief or doctrine, but because it is what nature taught them. Instead of complaining about their circumstances, they appreciate the unpredictable and meager rain as a gift.

Everything is a Windfall

Let’s go back to our present situation. Are we treating the things that happen to us as a gift or a lucky break? Or are we so spoiled and complacent that we think we are entitled to all the good things in life?

Take for example the Christmas season. We often go to the mall and shop for gifts. When we find that the lines at the checkout are long, we grumble. When we get back home, we are exasperated because of the heavy traffic. We fail to see the gifts that surround us and and has been given to us that day.

The money that we spend to buy gifts. Our health that enabled us to go outside and shop in the first place. The peace that we enjoy in our town or city that allows people to roam and move freely. Nations experiencing war do not even have the luxury of going outside and not worrying about their safety.

We should be more like the Tohono O’odham, and treat all of these as a gift and a lucky break. These things are not guaranteed to last our lifetime. We may lose our job or our business or a sudden illness may afflict us and our loved ones. These things do happen, and so we need to have an attitude of gratitude for the myriad of windfalls that we are enjoying each day.

Photo by Robert Murray on Unsplash

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