As much as I love Christmastime for the religious significance, decorations, music, and good cheer, I dread the everywhere-you-look (and listen) emphasis on gifts. I am not opposed to giving or receiving gifts, but the hustle and bustle is a constant reminder that I am a “bad” gift giver. You see, I believe the entire population can be divided into two categories – good or bad gift givers. A REALLY bad gift giver – the one who hastily selects their gifts from the shelves of 7-Eleven on Christmas Eve – is on the list of the most repugnant holiday offenders along with the one who brings fruitcake to the party, the one who wears ugly Christmas sweaters (not in jest), and the mall Santa who cannot even grow a real beard. My self-given label of bad gift giver does not mean I give undesirable gifts, it just means I do not enjoy the shopping experience and I rarely feel like I have accomplished something meaningful with my resources.
While money is sometimes a factor in determining what constitutes “good” and “bad” where gifts are concerned, I would argue that being a great gift giver has less to do with financial means than a general confidence in the process of developing “outside the box” ideas. Further, a great gift giver has the endurance to shop until they’ve met their uncompromised shopping goals. These are the people who set their alarm clocks for an indecently early hour on the Friday after Thanksgiving, put on their most comfortable outfit, gather their supplies (two bottles of water, Band-Aids, Advil, and a 5-Hour Energy shot) and head out to finish their Christmas shopping while it’s still dark outside. These people are highly admirable and just as highly annoying.
I have neither great ideas, nor shopping endurance. Sure I can ask people I care for what they would like, go out and purchase these items, and call it a day. No sweat. These purchases, and the gift presentations that follow, however, lack the element of surprise good gift givers take for granted. I end up feeling like I should have handed over a wad of bills and let my loved ones shop their own lists. Why not cut out the middle man?
Surely there’s far more to being a good gift giver than the ability to neurotically circle parking lots for the closest space or grab the last limited edition Mario Brothers Wii game (or whatever is this year’s premium gift). I would argue that some of the best gifts are comprised of words and deeds. For me, the gift of my time, talents, compassion, or encouragement is a way to share something far more meaningful than anything that can be purchased or wrapped.
While improving my tangible gift-giving skills is likely a lost cause, I’ve made a personal commitment over the last year to become better at attending to the needs of others. That said, I’ve learned that desire to do something does not always lead to definitive or completely selfless action. Sometimes I look at my calendar on Thursdays and think about all the ways I would rather spend my time than reading with my reading buddies at Edwards Elementary. I long for my comfortable couch that I will not get to sit on after work because of a scheduled church outing to deliver gifts to nursing home residents. While I might not always begin these activities with the happiest of hearts, merely a moment passes before I’m in a completely different mind and heart space. I have never once regretted these experiences and the rewards are worth the effort and temporary inconvenience to my schedule.
In addition to my personal benevolence commitment, I know that my kids look to my husband and me for direction on priorities. I can’t imagine a greater feeling than knowing my children jump at any chance to give of themselves. We’ve always tried to provide our kids with opportunities to give back, and I’ve learned the journey toward selflessness is unique to each child. My daughter, age 7, has always found joy in helping others and is genuinely excited about activities such as volunteering at the Regional Food Bank. My son, however, is still in a four-year-old “gimme, gimme” stage and is slower to appreciate these activities and the meaning behind them. Nonetheless, I believe exposing them to a variety of opportunities to share their own time and talents will inevitably lay a strong foundation for their futures.
My goal for the next year is to build on that foundation by teaching them some new lessons about giving. I want them to give as a way to learn more about the ultimate gift given to us by our Creator. Yes, a less fortunate child can appreciate the dusty doll house we moved to the garage to create more space in my daughter’s room – that’s certainly okay. But we can also grow even more in our understanding of the spirit of grace and how to incorporate the concept into our every thought, word, and deed. In Christian terms, grace is the ultimate gift given freely with no ulterior motive. It is selfless. It is sacrificial. It doesn’t undergo a process of determining who deserves our good will and who does not. The concepts can be complex, but the message is simple: The more we give, the more we receive.
How do you teach your children about giving?
This Christmas, may you enjoy both the gifts under the tree and those exchanged not from hand to hand, but from heart to heart.