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« ’The Gum Thief’ | Main | Daily roundup »

November 27, 2007

Giving and Receiving Train Wreck

Presents Thanksgiving's gone. And though I'd like to weigh in on world peace or other culturally stimulating topics, I must turn my thoughts to the challenges of buying presents before the 25th. For me, part of pacing Christmas is the planning so that we, in fact, don't rush around. However, this is a tortured exercise, at least for my family, because we demonstrate just how lousy we are about giving and receiving gifts.

It seems easy to say "I'm great at receiving gifts! Just try me." But hold on. Who hasn't opened a package and heard the "whawhawha" music in their heads, forced a smile and began lying to prevent a relationship kerfuffle? You give a quick hug and immediately change the subject by inviting the next person to open a gift.

But I find the giving part even more difficult.

The usual questions fly: Can we get lists from people? How do we avoid doubling up between our two families? What's our price per gift? How many folks can we realistically cover on our budget? I married into a large family and we have the added challenge of at least 4 immediate family member birthdays in December, two more if we add close friends. It's an expensive month whether we spend a wad on gifts, or spend of wad of time weaving baskets from the heart (full disclosure: I've never woven; if I did it would NOT be with all my heart).

The problem arises around expectations. What do people expect to receive? Does the gift represent an adequate symbol of how much you care?

The easy way out is to spend gobs of money. Nearly everyone feels pretty good to get a high-dollar gift. Clearly a generous display, and avoids a lot of "Did they like it?" angst. However, rarely has that kind of cash been available. Certainly not enough to begin to cover a large family. Frankly, it takes courage to give and receive with grace. If I think one family member would really love to get a sweater costing $69, but another member gets a book and a CD for $30, the comparison game is now tempted to enter the scene. If we make a rule that the whole family cannot spend more than $10 per person we deprive family members who are feeling generous the opportunity to give according to their desires. And selfishly, I REALLY don't want those people restricted to $10. Let God's abundant generosity flow through them!

It's impossible to avoid: On Christmas day there will be expensive and cheap gifts, heartfelt gifts and gifts of convenience. A few years ago my wife gave me a simple but poigant gift that I still treasure--a framed photo collage of my recently departed first dog. It may have cost $20. But what joy. I also got a toothbrush. 

The irony of this process is stark. The gift of God was His Son's life. A gift we could not match, a gift we still have trouble receiving as seen in our wayward attempts to show God with our efforts that we somehow pitched in a bit. I'm just glad we have Christmas every year so I get another chance to give and receive with grace.

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Catherine Claire

Wonderful points fellow Pointificator! It's good to have you aboard, Jeff! I struggle with this too. Mostly from the end of things that I just adore finding just the right gift for someone and for seeing someone feel special and cared for. The trouble is the price tag. Each year I take the opportunity as a challenge to my creativity. How can I show my love and honor God in my stewardship. It's tricky though!


How appropriate. With the year ending and advent coming next week, we just talked about this in my church's young adults group. Thoughts we had concerning the holiday season were:

* stressed about getting everything done in time
* concerned about how to give meaningful gifts
* feeling pressured into "experiencing" Christmas in a certain way (tree lighting at Rockefeller Center, Christmas muzak, decorations arranged just so...)
* dealing with family and personal relationships which may be heightened

I found the time a very helpful way to prepare for the upcoming season and to focus on the things that are truly important at Christmas: celebrating Christ, serving God, and sharing joy with family, friends, and strangers

As an aside, someone mentioned the website: www.adventconspiracy.org which I think has a great mission:

Worship More. Spend Less. Give More. Love All.

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