New Year’s Gift of Indifference

As we move out of the Christmas season and into the New Year, my family is cleaning up the last decorations and storing away extra gift wrap and boxes. It reminds me of a prayer from many Christmases ago, when my spiritual director suggested praying about what gift I’d like to offer to Jesus and what gift I thought he might be offering to me. This suggestion was given at a particularly difficult time in my life when I was experiencing many losses, and the idea that God might still have many graces to offer comforted me.

gift tied with purple ribbonOne evening I prayed that Jesus handed me a large wrapped box with purple ribbon. I opened the box and searched around inside with my hand. After a time of searching, I came up only with purple and gold tissue paper. In an instant, I realized that the gift was the empty box. The emptiness itself was a beautiful gift: indifference.

Ignatius’s idea of indifference describes the idea that we must hold all earthly goods in balance before God and be willing to accept the coming and going of all limited goods. Especially in a time of grief, the idea that I had yet more to “give up” to God held little appeal for me. The image of the gift box, however, helped me to re-envision the concept of indifference. I suddenly understood that indifference is not about giving up or stoically renouncing God’s good gifts, but rather about making room to be receptive to the new gifts that God constantly wishes to offer. Life is constantly changing; not only external goods and relationships but also our very selves change and do not remain wholly stable over the course of a lifetime. Loss remains difficult. Yet if we do not cling too tightly to the gifts (or hurts) of the past, we make ourselves more receptive to new graces: the beauty of fresh snowfall; the possibilities in a new yet unformed friendship; or the freedom to follow new pursuits to which God calls us.

This year as we store away our old boxes and start up New Year’s resolutions, the idea of indifference as receptivity can assist us. I still struggle with indifference in the midst of change, but the image of the gift box reminds me that emptiness is less about absence than about a continued openness to receive.

About Marina McCoy 52 Articles
Marina McCoy is an associate professor of philosophy at Boston College, where she teaches philosophy and in the BC PULSE service learning program. She is the author of Wounded Heroes: Vulnerability as a Virtue in Ancient Greek Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2013). She and her husband are the parents to a young adult and a teenager and live in the Boston area.
Contact: Website

13 Comments on New Year’s Gift of Indifference

  1. Thank you for helping me see what a wondrous gift indifference can be. I will now forever see this Ignatian quality in the context of the delightful gift box opening up to fruitful emptiness. What a great gift on this feast of the Epiphany!

  2. “As we move out of the Christmas season and into the New Year” – does the Christmas season end at the New Year?

    • I am so happy to see someone address that, Brother Graham-Michoel. Supposed to live the Christmas message every day of our lives — which is why I don’t worry about putting up a tree Nov. 28 and taking it down on the 25th, that’s only calendar stuff. New Year’s is too.

      • The Christmas message, the Easter message… “We are an Easter people and alleluia is our song.” – Pope John Paul II As we come to the end of Christmas, travel a short time in Ordinary Time, it chills me this year to think how soon we will begin Lent and the inevitable.

    • Ordinary Time begins on the Monday following the Baptism of Christ. So no, the Christmas season doesn’t end at the New Year. If I’ve won a chocolate bar for the correct answer Linda G can have it.

      • Merci. Nothing like 4:30 a.m. chocky bar with the decaf.
        Being a lifetime non-categorist I really don’t keep church seasons purposely in mind until I am reminded at Mass what “time” it — I practise indifference in that regard. That means for example we don’t wait til December to wear a Christmas personality and give to the poor and then in Ordinary Time forget about them til Advent.

  3. Well, I always think of the New Year as not as just one day but all of January, so for me, after Christmas winds down with Epiphany, I am still thinking of New Year and trying to get the right year written on my checks, too! :) But of course you are right. ( A consequence of my following both the Christian and Roman calendars, I guess! )

  4. I read the reference post to indifference as linked here, helped me appreciate today’s blog post as it formed a broader concept. Today is the anniversary of my mother’s death, 22 years. She was a difficult person, relationships of all sorts with her strained, but I take the point made about savouring that which promotes our spiritual growth, leaving behind, not investing energy in aspects that stunt my growth. I’ve been coming to understand many of our choices and experiences are not either/or, not black/white. I’m learning a lot while feeling my way around in the shades of grey where God’s still small voice enlightens me.

    • Thanks for sharing. Silf is such a wise writer. I appreciate the difficulty and promise of the “shades of grey” as you phrase it so aptly. Peace.

  5. Thanks for this post. I have felt much resistance to the concept of indifference, but your perspective of being unattached as a way to be receptive to new gifts helps open the tiniest crack in my thinking!

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