Each birthday and Christmas I recall with a shudder, my parent opening gifts received from distant relatives. Not because of eagerness that couldn’t wait until the 24th or 25th, but to assess the value of the gift.
The mercenary purpose of this open-as-soon-as-it-arrives practice was so that return gifts could be purchased with exact (or less – but certainly not more) estimated cost of each item.
It ruined things for me. Not just the surprise, but the calculated shopping seemed to remove the mystery, intrigue and and even question if there was really love for the person to whom the gifts would be given.
I read a little poem recently that is ‘author unknown’ and attributed mostly to an African missionary, but here and there to a Native American, neither documented. Now that I’ve researched it, I cannot believe I’ve gone this many years without hearing it or reading it, but it was such a wonderful pre-gifting reminder of the true meaning of a gift – any gift – that I couldn’t resist posting it.
First though, I want to mention that those readers who know me, know that like much of America we have new financial realities, an expanding family, and a decades old desire to give material things to represent my heart and soul feelings for each person. For years I did that. When someone was sad, or sick, or needy, I would buy them something. Or if there was a goal completed, a celebration in order, I’d want to give something representing my/our joy. We couldn’t always afford all that giving and sometimes God guided specifically and provided. That was one thing. Other times we couldn’t afford the giving and I let the need become a call, and used credit to obtain what I could not afford. That was a thing I long resisted to call sin. In recent past years, our family has creatively tried to guide our giving with the heart (less cost/more thought), including restricting giving to the reminder from scripture to, ‘share what you have.’ Not what I wish I had, what I wish the other person had, or even what I believe the other person needs. Sometimes, I’ve found, God was actually directing me to go out on a limb to share the burden with others who could provide (and who God wanted to bless with the gift of giving), even though it took longer than just charging it. Sometimes God was encouraging me to pray for the need to be filled and believing He could and would fill the need without my help or instruction!
This little story is a great tool for me to analyze past gifts as well as present and future – to ask who was I honoring with the gift, and how did I or could I show honor with that gift – instead of that dreaded financial analysis for each gift – analyzing the gift with grace. I pray my gifts of the past year have shown such grace, but this year I intend that each gift (whether words or time or material) will even more so be prayed over, thought over, planned, so I have time for any long walks before presenting my offering(s) of love.
Jesus took 33 years to plan and prepare for the long walk he took for me at Calvary on a road that bears one of my names.
That is why I’m still pondering on this story:
The African boy listened carefully as the teacher explained why it is that Christians give presents to each other on Christmas Day. “The gift is our expression of our joy over the birth of Jesus and our friendship for each other,” she said.
When Christmas Day came, the boy brought the teacher a seashell of lustrous beauty. “Where did you ever find such a beautiful shell?” the teacher asked as she gently fingered the gift.
The youth told her that there was only one spot where such extraordinary shells could be found. When he named the place, a certain bay several miles away, the teacher was left speechless.
“Why…why, it ‘s gorgeous…wonderful, but you shouldn’t have gone all that way to get a gift for me.”
His eyes brightening, the boy answered, “Long walk part of gift.”